Notes From Babel

Archive for the ‘Gun Rights’ Category

The Bill of Pleasures

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E.D. Kain thinks the right to own advanced small arms is “silly.”  True, most people who use advanced small arms do so for pretty trivial and even gratuitous things, like shooting soda cans in rapid succession.  Even hunting, perhaps necessary for personal survival at some points in U.S. history, is properly regarded as mere pleasure or sport than the sort of fundamental liberty that we enshrine in a constitution.  When you come right down to it, Americans haven’t had the need to use guns for the true purpose the Second Amendment contemplated since, ever, basically.  As E.D. concludes:

I think it’s a lot more about pleasure than about liberty in cases like this.  Nobody needs a thirty-round magazine. But it’s a lot of fun to fire off that many shots without reloading.

But I think this betrays a certain presumption—fundamentally disputed by many, including me—that we ought to assume the perpetual continued peaceful coexistence of government and free individuals.  The right to bear arms, like the other rights in the Constitution, was not put there idly. The reason any individual right or government limitation is inserted into a constitution rather than a mere legislative enactment is as much for structural reasons as it is for the sheer gratuitous pleasure of exercising liberty.

Our Founders did not take for granted, as we do today, the stability of our political order. We don’t continue to honor the Second Amendment to protect a liberty interest in cutting down soda cans. We honor it because it is absolutely essential to the galvanizing idea underlying our political order: that our government serves by and through the people’s consent, and no version of that government could ever be deemed to have the power to strip the people of their means to exit that political order upon [the people’s] declaration of a long train of violations of their natural rights.

Again, our Constitution was not based upon the presupposition that E.D. appears to hold—i.e., that there is no longer cause to reserve a means of exit. If we want to give rise to this new assumption, we’d either need to convene a constitutional convention, or abandon the idea of operating under a written constitution.

[I posted in a rush, and forgot to come to the point.  Modern liberalism might be said to comprise two mutually reinforcing ideas:  (1) trusting government to organize human efforts to bring about greater pleasure, and (2) treating rights as mere “pleasures” that can be regulated by government.  Repeat as necessary.  I won’t say there’s nothing to be said for arguments upon these premises, only that these premises are not those upon which our Constitution is based.  Thus, there’s really no traction, within a framework that accepts these premises, in talking about whether arguments about the Second Amendment are “silly” or not.]

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Written by Tim Kowal

February 10, 2011 at 8:26 pm