Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Prodigal Amendment?


Imagine having a favorite child, a ‘prodigal son’ whose best interests, in your mind, take precedence over the concerns and care of all your other children. Spectators to this doting protectionism will invariably wonder as to why that ‘special’ child receives so much more attention than does his siblings. Your answer to them might entail claims to legacies and posterity, because this treasured child will become the future guarantor and protector of his not-so-favored brothers and sisters. They become, in relation to him, nothing more than appendages and remain forever codependent to that singular, all-important “wunderkindt”. Imagine being one of the ‘others’ for a moment, living in his psychological shadow, relegated to second tier status.

This favoritism is a common mistake of most 2nd amendment supporters in failing to recognize the inherit danger in affording special or elevated status to one particular right from among the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. I do not pick on 2nd Amendment advocates because I support gun control or gun confiscation, and this article should in no way be misconstrued as an attack on individual gun ownership. However, it does appear that 2nd Amendment supporters and lobbyists for the gun manufacturers tend to have a narrower overall focus than do those whose efforts are applied to 1st, 4th, 5th, or 14th Amendment issues.

This myopic view stems from two colossal errors in judgment, one principled and the other practical. The main roadblock is the predominate misperception that gun ownership among the general populace provides the sole guarantor of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights. The assumption, although not totally off base, is that as long as the forces of tyranny know that the people will shoot back, they will be very reluctant to ever exercise undue power over the citizenry. On its face, it sounds like a very good, common sense theory. The threat of a motivated and mobilized citizenry taking up arms in revolt, providing the necessary deterrent to government, hangs looming over the heads of agencies and politicians alike.

However, this assumption is patently false. Not that it couldn’t work in theory but, at least since the American Revolution, it just hasn’t ever happened. In fact, several periods of our history i.e. Sedition Acts when enacted in violation of the Bill of Rights and enforced, the bulk of the gun-owning American populace stood by and did nothing. The shot-guns, muskets, pistols, and revolvers sat in perfect quiescence. In many cases, it was the armed citizens themselves who offered to use those guns to help the government! Couple this with the realization that the overwhelming force of a modern and quickly deployed government agency cannot be outmatched by even by the most able of local insurgencies. A prolonged stand-off is possible; a victory, not likely.

In addition, supporters of individual gun ownership tend to be more conservative and Republican in their outlook, though libertarians tend to be very outspoken as well. In today’s divisive and polarized political atmosphere, there are no longer Democrats and Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives, but a highly charged, issue driven world of hatred borne from conflicting political, social, and corporate interests. If the ACLU, for example, supports the 1st Amendment right of a socially unfavorable group to disseminate literature, then the social conservatives will, without just cause, dismiss any and all issues the ACLU supports as ‘liberal’, and refuse to consider the deeper implications of censorship. The conservative never imagines that he or she might ever have any thoughts or ideas worth censoring, and therefore 1st Amendment arguments are moot. They would also falsely conclude that since they have nothing to hide, at least at the present, that the breaches of the 4th and 5th Amendments are also of no immediate concern.

The abrogation of civil rights is always acceptable when that violation is intended to affect the freedoms someone else deemed ‘subversive’, ‘foreign’, or ‘threatening’. As gun control advocates ask for stricter regulation on ownership, for more comprehensive background checks, or for the restriction of certain types of weapons, the 2nd Amendment supporters go, for lack of a better term, “ballistic”. Yet, when a critic of government policy is wrongfully jailed or persecuted for his beliefs by that government for some contrived reason, the gun owning, 2nd Amendment true believers are suddenly nowhere to be found. The gun they promised would protect and uphold the Constitution is again strangely silent. Their pens and keyboards seem to be gathering dust as well.

I can fully understand the desire of some to engage the latest technology in protecting our borders from real threats i.e. foreign invaders, terrorists, and governments whose rhetoric disparages the freedoms and liberties that we enjoy. I also understand the need for law enforcement to have the latest tools thwarting criminal enterprise and ensuring public safety. Yet, the eagerness of many gun advocates to permit government the carte blanche, universal surveillance of ALL Americans in the name of ‘national security’ befuddles me. How does one stand so strongly for one of the rights as inviolable and, one the other hand offhandedly discard the others?

Many who support the 2nd amendment right to bear arms, myself included, believe there is an element within that inalienable right that allows the people access to an ability and wherewithal to organize and engage in violent revolt when they feel the government fails to redress their issues or becomes tyrannical in other ways. This is where the FISA surveillance problem and the erosion of Habeas Corpus interfere with the practical implementation of your 2nd Amendment rights and the purpose for which that right was established.

Let’s say the horrific day comes around that the once docile and law-abiding American people have had their fill of warrantless wire-tappings, asset seizures, writs of eminent domain, and fewer government services even with much higher taxes. Their peaceful redresses of the various grievances fall upon the deaf ears of bureaucrats and elected officials alike. They sense a bad government and want a radical change to bring about new momentum moving us back to the old liberties. We, the people, decide then and there to take up arms. Yet, we have an insurmountable difficulty blocking our way. How exactly are we going to organize to fight an already organized government, even if we had a hope of out gunning them in the first place? A revolt requires a network.

During the 2nd World War, lightly armed underground resistance militias were very effective at hampering the occupying or advancing Nazi forces in several countries. This was possible because within these countries, both nationalist and Communist underground movements existed and were able to organize, assemble, and continue clandestine operations throughout the war. The Germans did not have the technological means to listen in on every telegraph wire, radio signal, transmission, or phone call and that inability allowed for the people, many who relied also on word of mouth or written communication, to actively organize a resistance. Their obscurity afforded them time to organize. Secrecy keeps you one or two steps ahead of your enemy.

Fast forward to our modern era to a technologically perceptive and advanced society, in which well-funded government agencies operate in league with complicit and submissive communication conglomerates to know everything they want to know about anyone they desire. Certainly, the claim is made for national security or criminal justice. They may claim it’s about terrorism and border security, but as we know, the definition of what constitutes ‘terror’ can be interpreted as foreign and it can just as easily be translated to take on a ‘domestic’ character. Speak of revolt or radical change and you instantly become a ‘terrorist’, irrespective of whether or not your cause is a noble one. Even quoting the Constitution can get one sent to prison.

Once our emails and telephone conversations are closely monitored and our ability to communicate is hamstrung by wiretaps and wide dragnets of our emails for ‘subversive’ elements, then how would we ever organize well enough to fight the government and exercise, what Thomas Jefferson called our ‘right’ to revolt? In practical terms, even should the right to bear arms remain sacrosanct, the stated purpose of said right loses its effectiveness in the erosion of any other right needed make that right an effective recourse to a government gone awry. The leaders of the proposed resistance would end up being singled out for arrest long before any organization could manifest and thus be quickly removed before the revolt takes hold. The government, that ominous monster so feared by gun advocates will, through closely monitoring communications, undermine the very purpose of the 2nd Amendment through destruction of the others.

Let’s not play favorites with the Bill of Rights. All those ‘children’ need to be loved equally. Ignoring the other ‘siblings’ to favor another will, in the end, leave a child standing alone without any help at all. The Founders were neither saints nor savants, nor were they always motivated from the noblest of desires, yet they were wise enough to forge an ideal from within a framework of interdependent political and social imperatives. We call these ‘rights’, and each right is mutually inclusive of the others.


“In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.” (Carl Sagan, 1934 - 1996)

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