I am not a Constitutional scholar. Although I taught Constitutional law at the graduate (nonlaw school) level for a number of years, my course focused on civil rights and criminal justice. Nonetheless, I generally buy into the idea that the Constitution was not meant to last, but was intended to be replaced as society changed. I particularly believe this is true of the Second Amendment, an idea whose time is gone.
The Founders were rightly concerned with a unique type of tyranny of rulers–a sort of tyranny we are simply not faced with any longer.They wrote the right of rebellion into everything they drafted. But we, as Americans, are never credibly faced with oppression at the hands of our government. Our government pushes the line, yes, and we push back, yes. Arguably, our government oppresses others, but not us, not any longer, despite the continued need for habeas petitions and a free press and civil rights marches. Our president cannot and will not do anything by fiat.
Go ahead and argue that point, if you like. I’ll listen, but I won’t be convinced. Not when you look at how our society works, compared to how imperial and monarchical societies worked at the time of the America, French or Russian revolutions. Not when you look at how our society works, compared to the Arab spring.
You see, the right protected in the Second Amendment is the right of “the natural right of resistance and self-preservation when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.” Which is a right against the government, for all that it is easy to misread as a right against a petty criminal. Our laws–however imperfect–are more than sufficient to restrain the violence of oppression. We now have two hundred years of suing the government, suing police departments, appealing convictions and proving the innocence of the convicted, of invalidating capital punishment, to feel pretty damned secure against the violence of oppression.
Further, the Founders were rightly concerned with a potential for government failure that we are no longer faced with. Remember, the colonies, and the colonists, were occupying land already occupied by Native Americans and the First Nations, who were more than willing to fight to protect their lands. I also would not have trusted a fledgling government on the East Coast to protect me in my manifest destiny to settle native-held lands. The government is no longer needed to protect us against internal armed conflict. We can trust the government to wage our wars (as well as to wage random ones); we do not need to protect our right to wage them ourselves.
I’m not even going to get into how the 2nd Amendment validated oppression of the new freed men after the Civil War. You’re smart; think a little about it; you’ll figure it out.
Finally, the weaponry available now was absolutely not contemplated by the men who wrote the Second Amendment. Narco-terrorism and survivalist rhetoric were not in the discussion. Domestic violence (.pdf) was not considered a thing of concern.
I know, we don’t live in Star Trek: the Next Generation, but honestly, truly, the world of the Second Amendment is no longer our world.
Rewrite it, if you must preserve the right of rebellion in some codified manner. But codify it so that no-one may easily, and without censure, acquire the means to kill large numbers of their neighbors in a few short minutes.