As I troll through right wing websites, few things irritate me more than the constant raving by every Conservative, from deranged bloggers to the leaders of the Republican party, about the Constitution and how they are the only people in the country with any respect for it. This jingoistic nonsense is inevitably paired with a total misrepresentation of what the Constitution really says, or what the founding fathers meant when they put it down on paper. Partly this is wilful lying to get their way, and partly just ignorant parroting of whatever idiocy some other right winger has said, but it is inevitably a very distressing phenomenon, and never more so than when they spout their distortions about the second amendment. I want to make an effort to find out what the second amendment is really about.
First of all, let us remember the text:
"A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed..."
Now, I think it is important to understand a little of the context for the inclusion of this amendment. In England, for many centuries before the American revolution, the right to own handguns was largely limited to the upper classes. This was justified by the claim that the large landowners also owned the game on their land, and that guns would largely be used for poaching (the idea of some lunatic slaughtering a bunch of first graders never even occurred to them, in what was a much simpler time.) Here is a statement to this effect by a man by the name of St George Tucker, who was a Federal judge and associate of Thomas Jefferson:
"In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty."
In England, being banned from owning guns was felt by many to be a mark of inferiority, which the new American government, in its zeal to wipe out the privileges of the aristocracy, wanted to prevent. This is the real motivation for the second amendment; it is virtually totally ignored by the crusaders for "gun rights."
Now, let me move on to dispel some of the patently false claims made by right wingers about the second amendment. Much of what I am going to cite here comes from Federalist Paper 29, in which Alexander Hamilton explains the rationale for the second amendment. It is short, and I suggest that you read it if you have any fear that I am misrepresenting its contents.
First, and most importantly, Hamilton explains exactly what is meant by the term "well regulated," and who is to do the regulating:
"It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense... This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union "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...
If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security...If the federal government can command the aid of the militia in those emergencies which call for the military arm in support of the civil magistrate, it can the better dispense with the employment of a different kind of force."
It is the Federal government which is given the task of regulating the militia. That pretty well leaves out the likes of this guy, a leader in the Arizona militia movement whose main accomplishment consisted in gunning down his own family:
Or this bunch of subhumans, whose preparation for war against the government was so laughable that the Feds just walked away and forgot about the whole thing:
So, sorry, militia guys, border "guards," and "Patriots" everywhere, owning guns and tramping around in the woods in camo gear pretending you are at war does not make you a "well regulated militia."
Of course, the stipulation that the militia be regulated by the Federal government pretty well destroys the argument that militias exist to protect us from the Federal government:
"What reasonable cause of apprehension can be inferred from a power in the Union to prescribe regulations for the militia, and to command its services when necessary, while the particular States are to have the sole and exclusive appointment of the officers?
...In times of insurrection, or invasion, it would be
natural and proper that the militia of a neighboring State should be marched
into another, to resist a common enemy, or to guard the republic against the
violence of faction or sedition. This was frequently the case, in respect to the
first object, in the course of the late war; and this mutual succor is, indeed,
a principal end of our political association. If the power of affording it be
placed under the direction of the Union, there will be no danger of a supine and
listless inattention to the dangers of a neighbor, till its near approach had
superadded the incitements of self-preservation to the too feeble impulses of
duty and sympathy."
The militias, regulated by the Federal government, were intended to protect us against insurrection or invasion- the very thing that the alleged militia movement is constantly yearning for.
Now, another argument to be heard on the right is that all Americans should be armed, and that everyone is part of the "militia." I'm not sure if this is intended merely to increase gun sales, or if it is just one more right wing lunacy, but it clearly doesn't come from the founding fathers:
"...the scheme of disciplining the whole nation must be abandoned as mischievous or impracticable; yet it is a matter of the utmost importance that a well-digested plan should, as soon as possible, be adopted for the proper establishment of the militia. The attention of the government ought particularly to be directed to the formation of a select corps of moderate extent, upon such principles as will really fit them for service in case of need."
Again note that it is the job of the Federal government to select the members of the militia, which is to be a "select corps," not a collection of whatever jackasses can afford a gun and a suit of camo gear.
Now, one final Hamilton quote, from Federalist paper 28:
"When will the time arrive that the federal government can raise and maintain an army capable of erecting a despotism over the great body of the people of an immense empire, who are in a situation, through the medium of their State governments, to take measures for their own defense, with all the celerity, regularity, and system of independent nations? The apprehension may be considered as a disease, for which there can be found no cure in the resources of argument and reasoning."
Well, many of us may very well feel that, two centuries later, the Federal government has indeed reached that point; however, it is clear that the founding fathers regarded the whole notion that militias existed to protect us against the Federal Government as a "disease," as unbelievable as bombs that could destroy whole cities, or guns that shoot dozens of rounds a minute.
"In reading many of the publications against the Constitution, a man is apt to imagine that he is perusing some ill-written tale or romance, which instead of natural and agreeable images, exhibits to the mind nothing but frightful and distorted shapes --
"Gorgons, hydras, and chimeras dire";
discoloring and disfiguring whatever it represents, and transforming everything it touches into a monster...
Are suppositions of this sort the sober admonitions of discerning patriots to a discerning people? Or are they the inflammatory ravings of incendiaries or distempered enthusiasts?"
Well, things haven't changed that much, huh?
Of course, given that their whole argument for the existence of unregulated, uncontrolled "militias" is easily refuted by anyone who cares to look at the most pertinent and readily available source of information about the intent of the founding fathers, it will not surprise you to hear that Conservative writing about this subject is filled with numerous grossly distorted or simply made up "quotations" from the founding fathers. Here are two common examples (this time from the Council of Conservative Citizens, but they can be found all over the wingnut world) of invented remarks:
“A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.” – George Washington"
“The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” – Thomas Jefferson"
I repeat: there is not one shred of evidence that Washington or Jefferson ever said any of this. I could give you many more examples of this sort of thing, but I am sure you get the point.
Well, there you go. From Antonin Scalia down to the likes of Jim Hoft and Sher Zieve, the right peddles a massive lie about the second amendment. As usual, they care nothing about the Constitution and the people who wrote it. They only care about what they want, and their "patriotism" does not extend to showing a shred of respect for what this country is really about.
An addendum: Here is a most interesting article from Daily Kos discussing the history of the passage of the second amendment, titled "The Second Amendment Has Nothing to Do with Gun Ownership." It reveals even more clearly the fraudulent basis of the entire NRA-Republican nonsense about guns.