A Philosopher's Blog

The Founders, the Future, the First & the Second

Posted in Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on February 4, 2013
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In the discussion over guns and gun control, one interesting approach is to note that the authors of the Second Amendment wrote in a time in which the most advanced weapons were muskets, sailing ships and muzzle loading cannons. Folks who take this approach usually contend that because of the radical difference between the weapon technology of the 1700s and now, the Second Amendment needs to be considered within the modern context. A common interpretation from such folks is that the right to keep and bears arms should thus not be taken to apply to high capacity magazines and assault rifles. Some folks also attempt to predict what the founders would say about modern weapons. Naturally, the folks who support additional gun laws sometimes put forth the view that the founders would clearly oppose civilian ownership of weapons with high capacity magazines and assault rifles. Presumably the founders would modify the amendment as follows:

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. This right does not apply to high capacity magazines, assault rifles and scary looking arms in general.

Naturally, folks who favor guns are quite confident that the founders would consider modern arms to be arms and thus fall under the amendment.

There is, obviously enough, considerable risk in speculating what the founders might or might not think about modern weapons. On the one hand, Ben Franklin was visionary enough to consider the possibility of airborne troops and thus it is not hard to imagine the founders envisioning the possibility of weapons more advanced than those of their own time.  On the other hand, perhaps they could not have envisioned the fire power provided by today’s weapons and might have restricted gun rights if they had.  However, we will never know what they would think about the guns of today since they are long dead. As such, we rather have to go with what was written.

Naturally, what was written can be, as folks have claimed, taken as not applying to modern arms because of the change in technology. However, this would seem to be a problematic approach. After all, suppose that the principle is accepted that the constitution only applies to the technology available at the time it was written (and amended). While this would entail that modern weapons do not fall under the Second Amendment, it would also entail that all the advances in technology beyond the 1700s would not be covered by the First Amendment. As such, First Amendment rights would no apply to film, blogs, television and so on. Given this absurd result, it seems sensible to reject that principle and accept that just as the First Amendment applies to today’s technology, so does the Second.

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6 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on February 4, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Agreed. I sense a disturbance in the force.

  2. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 4, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Concerning the US Constitution, you’re missing the point.

    The Second Amendment concerns a well regulated militia.

    This is and has been for many years the National Guard.

    I’m of the opinion the National Guard is not and has never been run as the Founders would have desired.

    Ideally, the USG should compel everyone serve in the militia, thus insuring the People are properly armed and trained, then send them home with their gear and weapons, where they will carry on with their normal lives until they are need to defend themselves and the USG from all enemies, foreign or domestic.

    The US Congress is tasked with regulating and deploying the militia, so if and when the US Congress were to ever become treasonous, as it has, long a go, this sort of militia would be more in tune with the people than the USG and would be able to resist it and hopefully put it down with help from those in the US military and foreign governments.

    Bill of Rights – Second Amendment to the US Constitution:

    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.

    US Constitution – Article I, Section 8

    To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

    To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

    To provide and maintain a Navy;

    To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

    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;

    To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings

    • Adam said, on February 5, 2013 at 10:33 am

      Very nice, couldn’t have said it better. However maybe I can distill it?

      The second amendment was designed to allow the people a level playing field and eliminate a governments power over the people as the people would have equal ability to defend themselves against the same arms available to the government.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on February 6, 2013 at 12:35 am

    The right of the People, individually, to own firearms is one of the rights that are so obvious it is presupposed and goes unmentioned. The US Constitution doesn’t outline in detail every right the People are to be guaranteed, it outlines the limits of the federal government. The right to keep and bear arms as a militia is mentioned because it’s to be a controlled by the federal government. It goes without saying people owned – and had the right to own – firearms as individuals.

    • biomass2 said, on February 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

      Rights and responsibilities. In my opinion the beginning of the end of the American education system as we knew it—or at least thought we knew it. The loose interpretation of the phrase in the Seventies and forward led to swarms of students graduating from high school believing they could have it all for nothing.

      A fairly contemporaneous interpretation of the responsibilities that came with that right the Second conferred came three years when the government chose to pass the Militia Acts of 1792. All men could own firearms but , if they were between 18, and 45, and if they were capable, they had to serve in state militias. Of course “congressmen and stagecoach drivers, and ferryboatmen.” did not . 🙂

      ” It conscripted every “free able-bodied white male citizen” between the ages of 18 and 45 into a local militia company. Militia members were to arm themselves with a musket, bayonet and belt, two spare flints, a cartridge box with 24 bullets, and a knapsack. Men owning rifles were required to provide a powder horn, 1/4 pound of gunpowder, 20 rifle balls, a shooting pouch, and a knapsack.[5] Some occupations were exempt, such as congressmen, stagecoach drivers, and ferryboatmen. Otherwise, men were required to report for training twice a year, usually in the Spring and Fall.”

      The Militia Act of 1903, possibly, by eliminating many of the responsibilities and altering the very broad membership requirements s was perhaps a step in the wrong direction?

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