How Crazy Is The Gun-Crazy Right?

Ken AshfordConstitution, Gun Control, History, Right Wing Punditry/IdiocyLeave a Comment

Pretty crazy.

After all, how fringe do you have to be to criticize Justice Scalia's views on gun control?

Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said Sunday that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was wrong to assume that the government had the right to place limits on the Second Amendment. "He was not speaking from a constitutional perspective," Pratt said.

"The amendment does provide it's own degree of scrutiny: It says, 'shall not be infringed,'" Pratt said on "Fox News Sunday" after host Chris Wallace read a quote from a 2008 case in which Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment was not "unlimited." 

"And we know that at least one justice, Mr. Thomas, takes that point of view. This is not something where the government is supposed to be free to tell we the people, the government's boss, how much — how far we can go with the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment is there to constrain the government."

There's a lot of terribly bad information now bouncing around the right-wing, fact-free, pro-gun bubble.  

There's the "Hitler passed gun control" myth — which is completely wrong and beside the point.  One component of the Hitler-gun myth is that, if only the Jews had been armed, they would have staived off the Holocaust.  Well, that's a nive unable-to-be-proved-or-disproved proposition, the kind of the thing the insular echo chamber likes to tell itself ad neauseum.  However, it's probably not very likely.  The Germans had tanks and planes, which would have, in time, probably won the day against Jewish resistance.  Take the Warsaw Ghetto, where Jews did arm themselves against the Nazis.  Only about 20 Germans were killed, while some 13,000 Jews were massacred. The remaining 50,000 who survived were promptly sent off to concentration camps.

But let me address another stupid argument floating around wingnut-o-sphere: one articulated by the World's Dumbest Blogger™, Aaron "Worthing" — that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to preserve the right of Americans to overthrow a tyrannical goverment.

That's right — he (and others) think the point of the Second Amendment was to destroy government.  OUR government.  In his mind, the Constitution is a suicide pact.

Is there any historical evidence for this?  None.  Which is why Worthing makes facts up, you know, as a "joke".  Written as a tongue-in-cheek piece, he imagines that he has discovered an early draft 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.  That means that just having finished throwing off British rule and being concerned that this new government might also become tyrannical, and believing also in the moral but not legal right of rebellion as explained in the Declaration of Independence, we aren’t giving up our guns, stupid.

Ha. Ha.

It's a nice theory, but unfortunately, it is only a theory which can only be supported by making up "joke" facts.

The problem, of course, is that this argument begs the question: who gets to decide when the government is being tyrannical such that a rebellion, led by the well-regulated militia, is necessary?

Is it Aaron Worthing?  James Yeager?  Timothy McVeigh?

What did the Framers have in mind?

Fortunately, we don't have to guess, or make things up.  We just have to refer to the Constitution itself.

I direct everyone's attention to Article 1, Section 8.  It states:

Congress shall have the Power…

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

So, if Aaron's thesis is true, Congress has the power to train and call forth the militia… to overthrow the federal government, of which Congress itself is an integral part.

Does this make sense to anyone?  

Of course not.  

But that's an inconvenient fact for Worthing.

Why does the hardcore right want to assert this fact?  Because it lets them keep their hardcore, military-grade assault weapons.

For weeks, the left and responsible gun owners have asked: "Why does one need a military-grade assault rifle for hunting, or even for self-defense?"

Lacking an answer, the gun nuts have to explain why they really want those guns: to overthrow their government.  But they can't say that without sounding crazy, so they make up the fiction that the founding fathers wanted the American people to be able to overthrow their government.  Let's see how they make this argument.

Worthing, a supposed history major, claims that the United States had just won a war against a tyrannical Britain, and the Second Amendment was thrown in there to address the concern that "this new government might also become tyrannical".

That's what we have the Second Amendment.  So that citizens can get all Rambo'ed up against Uncle Sam.

Nice try, but the explanation doesn't hold water, and avoids inconvenient facts.  

Yes, the Constitution was written after the end of our war with the British, but there's not much to suggest that "concern over a tyrannical government" was at the forefront of the framers' minds.  The Revolutionary War ended in 1783.  The Constitution was drafted in 1787.  And a lot happened in between.

The controlling document before the Constiution was the Articles of Confederation, which was thought to be woefully inadequate.  Why?  Because (among other things) it failed to establish a mechanism for a centralized military force or militia.  This, as it turned out, was a rather difficult problem, as brought to light by Shay's Rebellion.

Shays' Rebellion was an armed uprising that took place in central and western Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787. Caused by economic depression, an aggressive tax and debt collection, and tight state fiscal policy, the goal of Shay's Rebellion was to overthrow state government.  It was the very thing that Worthing claims the Second Amendment was meant to protect.

It was under this setting, and not the British, that the Constitution was written.  And as originally written, there was no Bill of Rights, and no Second Amendment.  The Bill of Rights was therefore added on to protect individual rights against the federal government.  It was not intended to replace the newly-centralized powers of the federal government, i.e., it was not intended to overwrite Article I, Section 8, and give "the people" or even "the states" the right to mount insurrection against the federal government. 

The militia powers enshrined in the new constitution were soon put to use by President George Washington (i.e., the government). After the passage by the United States Congress of the Whiskey Act, protest against the taxes it imposed began in western Pennsylvania. The protests escalated and Washington led federal and state militia to put down what is now known as the Whiskey Rebellion.

So basically, before the Constitution, you had an internal rebellion that, under the Articles of Confederation, was tough for the federal government to put down.  And then, after the Constitution, you had an internal rebellion which the federal government was empowered to put down.  What was the difference between Shay's Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion?  The Constitution and the Second Amendment.

Worthing and his like-minded liars would have you believe that the Constitution was set up to make Shay's Rebellion possible, and the Whiskey Rebellion impossible.  But history shows us that it was the reverse.

UPDATE: Not to mention the preamble to the Constitution, which reads:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

How does taking arms up against the country fit in those categories?  It doesn't.

So I'll say it again: The Constitution provides for the militia to be controlled by the federal  government, for the purposes of, among other things, suppressing rebellion and insurrection.

Whatever the Second Amendment says, it does not reserve power for the people to form their own militias and engage in insurrection and rebellion.