The Second Amendment is, without question, our single most criticized, and assailed right. With every shooting, with every abuse of the right to bear arms, we are treated to endless prattle about gun control. Stricter gun control would make us safer! Eliminating guns has made other countries safer!Yet, shootings still persist in states with strict gun control laws. This is because criminals don’t obey laws. Gasp!
Our constitution codified our right to keep, and bear arms. The reasoning behind this right is to give citizens the ability to defend themselves, whether it be from home invasion, or from an oppressive, and tyrannical government. However, yet another anti-gun advocate has penned a piece for Huffington Post telling the masses that the arguments made in favor of our right to keep, and bear arms are invalid. His name is Nick Desai, and I am going to invalidate his arguments, piece by piece. Let’s start with his fallacious appeal to authority—whoops, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s let Nick speak for himself:
“Of all the pro-gun arguments used most often, the weakest is the constitutional one. I am not a constitutional law expert, but it’s pretty reasonable to say that former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by none other than Richard Nixon, is. When speak of the misuse of the Second Amendment to support private gun ownership, Justice Burger said: ‘[the Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups I have ever seen in my lifetime’…”
This is a type of “appeal to authority” argumentative fallacy, in which Desai believes that by citing an allegedly conservative judge, appointed by a Republican president, he can send pro-gun advocates into a sputtering stupor, and invalidate their position. However, just because judge Burger was a Supreme Court justice, and an alleged conservative, it doesn’t mean that he was correct, nor does it mean that he is the singular authority on matters related to the Second Amendment. We have had dozens of Supreme Court justices over the years, and many of them disagree with each other, and their various interpretations of the constitution. Additionally, there are numerous judges, attorneys, and constitutional scholars who also disagree with Justice Burger. That being said, if we want to play the appeal-to-authority game, I have some quotes from several authorities:
I would argue that Samuel Adams is an authority:
“and that the said Constitution be never construed to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms…”
Or let’s simply go to the source himself, James Madison, who drafted the Second Amendment. In Federalist 46, Madison explains the necessity of an armed citizenry:
“That the people and the States should, for a sufficient period of time, elect an uninterrupted succession of men ready to betray both; that the traitors should, throughout this period, uniformly and systematically pursue some fixed plan for the extension of the military establishment; that the governments and the people of the States should silently and patiently behold the gathering storm…Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed; and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal government; still it would not be going too far to say, that the State governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
So, if we’re appealing to authority, I think the person who actually wrote the document in question might be the best option.
Desai then makes yet another argumentative fallacy, writing
“Scholarly works like The Second Amendment, A Biography by Michael Waldman trace the origin of the amendment and show conclusively that there was no intent for it to be abused as a way to enable 18-year-olds to cruise around toy stores armed with automatic weapons.”
Oh really?! I’m flabbergasted! It wasn’t intended to be abused?! Obviously. Desai’s implication is that because the “scholars” have shown conclusively that the Second Amendment wasn’t intended to be abused in such a way that would allow a psychopath to kill children in a toy store, we must alsoagree with his other implication. Desai’s other implication is that the way in which the Second Amendment is interpreted today–which allows for the personal ownership of firearms for defense—should be severely restricted. In short, Desai’s argument goes like this: the Second Amendment was never intended to be so badly abused, but because it has been, we should enact staggering, and deeply restrictive legislation to “fix” it in its entirety.
Desai’s argument is a form of composition fallacy, which says that if one part of a whole is tainted, the entirety is also tainted. He is arguing, based on abuses of the Second Amendment, that the entire amendment is flawed, and therefore must be altered. Instead of seeking out the sources of the abuse, and dealing with them alone, Desai is simply taking a hatchet to the whole amendment.
Desai continues to argue fallaciously, using the composition fallacy again:
“But let’s say the Justices and scholars are all wrong. Let’s say the Second Amendment is what the gun lobby wants it to be. Even then, the Constitution’s greatness lies not in its infallibility, but in its anticipation of the dynamic nature of laws in society. Certainly no one can argue that a document permitting slavery and prohibiting women from voting was perfect as written.”
He alleges that because our nation, and our founding documents were not perfect from the start, with such issues as slavery, and the denial of a woman’s right to vote not being rectified until decades after our initial founding documents were written, the Second Amendment is also clearly imperfect. However, that implication must have evidence to back it up, and abuses do not constitute evidence of a flawed document. Abuse of a principle does not render the principle itself invalid, rather, it simply means that those abuses must be addressed specifically without infringing upon the original principle.
Lastly, Desai makes the claim that defense against a government tyranny is a “laughable” notion:
“If the Constitutional argument is the weakest, the ‘defend ourselves against the government itself’ argument is the most laughable. Forgetting for a moment that the very Constitution that contains the Second Amendment ensures a government by, for and of the people; the United States has the most powerful military in the history of the world. In addition to our vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, we continue to spend over $750 billion per year on military expenses. If our government, made up of us, decides to attack us, we’re screwed, pure and simple. Since even millions of guns don’t stand a chance against nuclear weapons, it must be that gun owners think their government will oppress them, but not use powerful weapons. In which case they trust the government just like I do.”
In this paragraph, Desai argues that because the Second Amendment appears in the document which also contains the assurance that our government is by, for, and of the people, we cannot possibly believe that the Second Amendment was written with the possibility of government tyranny in mind. That’s an infantile argument. It’s akin to arguing that because the government is by, for, and of the people, the First Amendment is unnecessary, because if we elect the government, and they are our representatives, how could they ever possibly restrict our freedom of speech? It completely ignores the idea of corruption, and consolidation of power by politicians. It ignores the idea that some of our rights can be surreptitiously stripped away, while others are left alone. It ignores the idea that our right to bear arms may be our last hope should our government become corrupt, and tyrannical.
Furthermore, Desai argues that guns aren’t going to stop a tyrannical government, because the United States has a massive military, and nuclear weapons. This argument is pure speculation. It assumes that a tyrannical government would use nuclear weapons during a people’s revolution. I can speculate, too. I would argue that they would not, because they would be killing their own soldiers in the field, and destroying the future of the country by loading it with radiation. I would further argue that the millions of registered gun owners could well fend off the United States military. But once again, this is all speculative, and unrelated to the core argument.
The core of the argument being made by Desai assumes that our right to defend ourselves against a government tyranny is predicated upon the strength of our oppressor. That is irrelevant. No matter the possible strength of whatever or whomever may oppress us, we still have the right to defend ourselves. The right of self-defense remains, regardless of the nature, or strength of the attacker.
And, once again, if we’re arguing authority, Justice Scalia, in DC v Heller (2008), argued that the right to keep, and bear arms is indeed intended, at least in part, to protect from potential tyranny:
“…when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny…We reach the question, then: Does the preface fit with an operative clause that creates an individual right to keep and bear arms? It fits perfectly, once one knows the history that the founding generation knew and that we have described above. That history showed that the way tyrants had eliminated a militia consisting of all the able-bodied men was not by banning the militia but simply by taking away the people’s arms, enabling a select militia or standing army to suppress political opponents. This is what had occurred in England that prompted codification of the right to have arms in the English Bill of Rights.”
The left will consistently assail our right to keep, and bear arms. But their arguments are often specious, in that they sound reasonable, but when examined thoroughly, and with a bit of logic, they deflate like a bad soufflé. Never stop examining, and dissecting the arguments made by the opposition, because that is how one comes to better understand one’s own position. Nick Desai tried his best, but his arguments are fatally flawed.