Friday, October 30, 2015

Second Amendment Obsolete?

Full Disclosure: I am about to muse on a subject about which I AM NOT AN EXPERT in any sense of the word.  I am not a constitutional scholar.  I am not a lawyer.  I am not a historian of the Revolutionary era.  Thus, my thoughts bear no special weight in this discussion.

Nevertheless, I am an expert in ancient texts, specifically the texts of the New Testament.  Now, while the U.S. Constitution is by no means nearly as ancient as the texts of the NT, it is now quite old and the world has changed considerably.  Yet, with all texts, as they age, some parts lose the power they once held.  They can become obsolete in many ways.  We see this all the time with biblical texts. Take just the following example.

In Acts 15:19-20, James, the Brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem, makes the following proclamation concerning Gentile believers.  He says,
"Therefore I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood."
This is the famous Jerusalem council that was supposed to address the issues that had arisen between Jewish and Gentile Christians regarding how Gentiles might be accepted into the faith.  The big questions were about circumcision and food laws and led to open fights between Paul and Peter (see Galatians 2).  What I find interesting is that three of the four requirements for Gentile Christians, those about things (probably food) polluted by idols, things (food) strangled, and blood (probably food again), are not even afterthoughts among Christians today.  There is no section in my grocery store for food that is blood free, not strangled, and not sacrificed to idols.  Many Christians today eat bloody food and have no idea whether or not it was strangled.  More importantly, they don't care. And the issue of idols, talk about obsolete.  The only bit of Acts 15:19-20 that Christians still bother to pay attention to is the prohibition of fornication (however that may be defined).  Three of the four prohibitions, which were clearly hot button issues of the day, are no longer on our collective radar screens.

And now we get to the second amendment.  Is it possible that this portion of the constitution has become obsolete, meaning that it cannot really speak to our present situation with any real relevance? Here is the full text of the second amendment:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Many people cut off the first half of the amendment which speaks about militias, and skip right to the good part about the government not infringing the rights of the people to bear arms.  They then take this as an absolute right never to be infringed.  If the people want guns, they have the right to have guns.  But the key to this amendment, the context if you will, is found in the first part about militias. The purpose of bearing arms is for the formation of militias to make for a secure state.  Now, the question becomes, how does a militia make the state secure, and secure from whom?  Are the people supposed to use these guns to form militias for protection from foreign powers?  Perhaps, but think about when this amendment was written: right after the revolutionary war in which the colonies were fighting against their own government, the British.  Moreover, who was trying to take their guns and prevent them from revolting? Once again, their own government, the British.  So, what was the purpose of this amendment?  To protect the rights of the people against one's own government.  Fair enough, and a good and necessary amendment in that context.  The people need recourse against any government that grows too oppressive.

But, herein lies the problem. While a militia equipped with muskets might have been sufficient to repel the British in the late 1700s, a thousand militias today equipped with legal guns of all sorts would stand no chance against the United States' military (or any other developed countries' militaries) today.  The guns, which the second amendment seems to guaranty the peoples' right to, are "obsolete" in modern warfare.  Sure, the military still uses guns, and highly advanced ones at that, but they also use attack helicopters, tanks, stealth jets, drones, aircraft carriers, and, God forbid, nuclear weapons.  I see no one seriously arguing that the second amendment protects the right of private citizens to own any of these previously mentioned weapons.  Although, to fulfill the purpose of the second amendment, the right of citizens to protect themselves from either a foreign power or their own oppressive government would require private citizens to own such weapons.   The second amendment cannot function properly in our modern society of highly advanced weaponry.  Think of the destruction possible if some of the recent gun rampages had been performed by people with the right to own tanks, or attack helicopters, or the like.  Perhaps, just perhaps, this portion of the constitution has become obsolete and we need to rethink the original purpose of the second amendment and the best way forward in seeking the "security of a free state"?  I am not sure, given the ongoing gun violence in our country that the second amendment is still the best way to provide for the security of a free state.  What do you think?


  1. "What do you think?"

    For what it's worth, my opinion as a foreigner (Norwegian) is that you're completely correct. The second amendment is from another time and place, and certainly made sense in that context. Now it does not make sense at all.

    This seems to be a touchy subject, though!

  2. Den Vantro,
    Thanks for your comment and your unique perspective. Yes, obviously it is a touchy subject for Americans who hold our "rights" near and dear, and the very thought of taking those rights away is sometimes a non-starter. But, I still think thoughtful conversation is needed on this subject.