2.24.2009

Anarchism and The Second Amendment

A request from Fellow blogger Fearless has me contemplating how Anarchists view the second amendment. It would be all to easy to say that Anarchists support it outright. Although many of us do in fact support it, and the various interpretations of it, that is simply too easy of an answer. So let's begin with some basics.

The second amendment states:

Amendment II

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.


One would think that the amendment itself is rather clear cut, but for years the debate has been ferocious. The original intent of our forefathers is unclear. While states had militias, and rag-tag militias were created at different points in history, the amendment would seem to encourage the arming of actual military personnel. At the time it was written, that would be the people, but in today's world, that would be a professional military. The other argument for a regulated right to bear arms focuses on the type of weapon being bought and used. Some argue that many modern day weapons were never intended to be used by the general public, and so should be highly regulated or outright banned for personal use.

The other argument focuses mainly on the forefathers intelligent reasoning that the people must be armed in case the need to revolt against an illegitimate government, should one come to power and take control of the national military. Much in the way that England's professional army was used against the original American Revolutionaries. Their argument for access to certain modern day weapons may also stem to the previous argument in the sense that we would need to have equal access to the same weapons being used against us.

Both arguments have some credibility.

We cannot know the original intention of the amendment outright, but I would argue that the pro arms argument that we need to have access to weapons just in case of a dictatorship forming sounds like the most plausible intention. After all, that is exactly what our forefathers experienced just prior to writing the constitution and it's amendments. Honestly, it isn't a stretch.

On the other hand, I give the pro regulation crowd some leeway with their interpretation of the right to regulate arms with regards to certain modern weapons. Full automatic weapons designed to kill dumptrucks do seem to be excessive, and, would certainly not have been considered by the authors during the addition of the second amendment. Weapons like that simply didn't exist, unless you include cannons, which was not considered an arm we had the right to bear. So they may have a point there.

There is a strict divide of opinions regarding guns ownership for personal safety, and almost no divide on the right to own arms used for hunting.

More to the point, the real debate now resides over regulation of such arms.

As it stands now, most states have similar laws and regulations regarding the attainment of personal weapons. Namely that one must pass a multiple day hold and background check prior to purchasing a gun legally, and most states require licensing and gun safety courses for the right to carry a gun on one's person. There is little debate on the inability to carry firearms into certain buildings or public spaces such as schools, government buildings and courts, and most states have regulations on where and when a person can hunt.

Speaking on a personal level, Anarchists have, use, or carry guns. Generally speaking we use guns to hunt, first and foremost. Although not all Anarchists hunt, the ones I know personally do. Many of them are also ex-military and have been well trained in firearm safety and use. We also follow the laws and regulations on gun ownership.

There is little debate among my fellow Anarchists about gun ownership and the right to arm oneself. Contrary to popular belief we aren't nearly as violent and destructive as the media portrays us, and wreak very little havoc in our daily lives. But because we are so adamantly opposed to illegitimate authority, the threat of having a dictatorship or dictator-esque take control and seize our rights or ability to defend ourselves is enough of a threat to keep us supporting the second amendment.

Now, you may be thinking that the notion of a dictatorship taking control of our country is a silly one. We have checks and balances, we have elections. We have a well armed and trained military at our disposal. But to think that we are impervious to such a coup is to be arrogant and foolish. Dictators have been democratically elected in other countries, and forceful coups can happen. Our forefathers did exactly that, and gave us the ability to arm ourselves in case another group decided to do the same thing. The relatively apathetic ideology that any and all governmental problems and coups can and should be solved by our government is irrational. Not to state the obvious but, if a dictator were to take control, we would have no government to turn to.

Which brings me to another point, the argument of regulation and record keeping. While the regulation and well kept records of gun ownership seems legitimate in our current national climate, it could prove detrimental to us should a dictator ever take control. Obviously, our rights would be revoked. Particularly the right to own and bear arms. The best way to safeguard a newly formed dictatorship is to disarm the public, quashing any hint of revolution. In fact, the registries would not only prove to quickly disarm us, but could also prove to imprison those of us who legally own arms. In this regard, the Anarchist or any revolutionary would be forced to the black market, essentially putting us back to square one with regards to arms regulation, and rendering the second amendment, and all of it's interpretations moot.

Of course, we Anarchists are not consistently worried about dictatorships and coups. But I would dare say that Anarchists and supporters of democratic republics could at the very least agree that dictators and fascists are the highest form of illegitimate authority, and should be rebelled against. So at least we'd have that in common. The other arguments of personal safety, and the ability to protect ones home do seem to vary a little bit in the Anarchist circles, but tend to remain on fairly even ground. Generally, we like having the ability to protect ourselves, we like being able to use guns to hunt, and some of us just like guns to shoot in target ranges as a sport.

*A note about guns and gun ownership. Guns are successful with regards to their intended purpose, which is to say they kill things, and well at that. The only reason I personally support licensing and regulations on guns at the moment is because of the requirement of gun safety courses. They outline the law, they teach you how to use a gun, and they teach you what not to do. Guns are serious business, they are not toys. If citizens could take it upon themselves to self regulate their gun ownership educations we could do away with licensing altogether and avoid future problems down the road. However this requires a great deal of personal responsibility and accountability. You do not point a weapon at someone unless you intend to kill them, period. If you do point and pull the trigger, you must be willing to face whatever consequences that result from that action. If you own a gun, you are responsible for it, end of story.

Further reading:

Cornell Law, annotated Constitution
Court Rulings on Firearms - Second Amendment Interpretations
Civil Liberties, Second amendment interpretations
History Matters, the second amendment
US Constitution online, state's rights and the second amendment

17 comments:

CSIUNATC said...

Regarding your statement:
"Weapons like that simply didn't exist, unless you include cannons, which was not considered an arm we had the right to bear."

Those weapons are exactly what they intended.

If we are to maintain the notion that the population may have to rise and fight an illegal government. Who will bring those exact weapons to bear against the population. To argue that we should only be allowed muskets because that is what existed in 1776 falls short.

The military development around this time was rapid and dramatic. It only stands to reason that the authors of this amendment understood that they wouldn't have been able to fight the brittish with 240 year old equipment. Which would have brough you to swords and crossbows mainly. Therefore we can't argue that they would expect the population to fight with antiques in the future either.

Fearless said...

Anok,
Well said, well written, well done. I think I may be an anarchist as well. My husband is a founding fathers history buff and he also read your post!

Nice work!

Anok said...

Erik, I agree with you to an extent, and I tried to bring that into my post by stating we needed to have the proper weapons in order to defend ourselves. On the other hand, I don't feel that the founding fathers necessarily meant that individuals should have and keep arms of a massive nature. No one individual owned a personal cannon before or after the revolution.

In the same respect, we aren't allowed to own rockets or missiles now. SO, I agree with the pro regulation crowd to an extent about which arms should at the very least be regulated, in the context of constitutional interpretation.

Of course if we the people were building a civilian militia to defend ourselves, the constitution, and it's amendments would be moot at that point anyway, rendering the whole thing useless. We'd grab whatever weapons we could.

Fearless, Thanks! I hope your husband also enjoyed the post! I have found that there is a little bit of Anarchy in everyone, my job is to bring it out ;)

Monkey Wrench said...

Anok, I really couldn't have said it any better myself. Very well written, and I too can see both sides of the argument.

I blogged about violence the other day as well, examining passive, pacifistic protest and aggressive protest tactics. Check it out if you have time, I would be honored.


Peace and Love,

Wrench

The BoBo said...

Spot on Anok - more common ground! Uh-oh! :)

Great discussion. Given today's circumstances, I would sat, now more than ever, we need to ensure our rights to bear arms to protect us from our government.

There have been many encroachments upon our constitutional freedoms - and - even with this new administration - those encroachments continue.

Kyt Dotson said...

I just cannot articulate my thoughts on this matter. I just couldn’t go away without saying anything, so here’s something.

There are too many angles. From how justice is inextricably linked with force to having no promise that other people will not want what we have and notice that taking it by force may be possible vehicle to do that.

A community need not own artillery to ably force a would-be oppressor to make a risk analysis, knowing full well that the men and women of that place are ready and capable of making any invader bleed for every inch of their advance.

I would like a culture forged from the accountable and wise, not from doctrine and regulation, because justice born of the former is more human than the justice of the latter.

I suppose that it’s still a shortstop, a milestone on that journey.

Anok said...

Wrench - I'll have to pop in tonight to read that post. I love posts about that!

Bobo- I know! something must be wrong! I would say that the only real concern I have about the Obama administration is gun control. I haven't seen anything yet to get too worked up about, but believe you me, I'm getting my license, and all the guns I can buy with my tax refund this spring :D If for no other reason, to have them just in case (and to use on the range, I mean, I'm not dragging my husband's old, tired, shotgun to the range :D).

Kyt - i think taht all of us would really want a society built on wisdom, compassion, reason, and equality. I think it's fair and right to desire just that. Unfortunately some people are just not...enlightened yet. So force becomes a necessary evil which must be used sparingly, and justly.

I'm definitely not one for outright revolution unless the climate is o bad that it must come to that.

I prefer "velvet" revolutions ;)

Sunnyberra said...

To your latest comment:
My favorite saying? 'Revolutions are necessary to remind the government that their sole purpose is to serve the people.'

A bloodless revolution is the utopia must would desire. However, by the point where the majority realizes the government is unforgiveably corrupt that ideal is no longer viable.

To the article in general:

I agree with you. I believe most people feel that way. I just find it slightly ironic that, in the mainstream, the top defender of the 2nd amendment is the NRA. Their credo sounds noble, but they uphold everything that makes private gun ownership seem like a negative thing. Just my opinion.

Ram Venkatararam said...

Nicely written. I'm no expert on the subject (nor do I intend to be) but I appreciate the perspective.

Thanks. I'm enjoying what I read here very much

Csiunatc said...

I can't say.. and I'm pretty sure that you can't either with any certainty, that no one owned a private cannon around the time of the revolution.

What i do know is that it wasn't illegal for them to do it directly after the revolution. It wasn't until much later that we started nibbling away at the verbatim statement of the second amendment.

However, a civillian resistance can, and have in the past. Taken advanced weapons from the enemy. But they didn't do so using slingshots against assaultrifles.

Only by ensuring that the population has no weapons that can defeat the people manning those rockets and cannons can the government ensure that a resistance can't win. It is by removing effective personal weapons they ensure their ability to protect the bigger guns.

Anok said...

Erik, I absolutely agree with your last paragraph. I think it would be fair to say that the sentiment you expressed in that paragraph is more along the lines of what the second amendment means. Which is why the large weapons - the "big guns" literally are often looked at as something not outright protected by the second amendment.

But I would think for matters of practicality, access, and ability, few if any individuals owned a personal cannon ;)

StillThinking said...

Wow Anok, Your post is so well written and well argued you almost convinced me. ALMOST being the key word. I understand the need for access to firearms in the event of an illegitimate government and for hunters, but I think that most firearms in the US are not being used for this purpose. I don't take issue with the right of Americans to own guns with the reasonable expectation of responsible ownership. That means learning to use it and store it properly. I do think that it is reasonable to ban private ownership of semi-automatic assault weapons. I feel much more comfortable knowing the guy in unit 409 doesn't have an Uzi and a personal rocket launcher. Also, I touched on this on the Texas discussion thread, I have major issues with total lack of regulation that exists with gun sales at fairs and conventions. This is actually the starting point of much of the illegal gun distribution that arms gangs, drug dealers etc. I also think this a major issue with domestic terrorism. Didn't Timothy McVeigh claim to be a patriot overturning an illegal government?

Mike said...

The most thorough, thoughtful, well-stated discussion I've read on this subject.

Dave Dubya said...

For smart guys, the founders really twisted that one around.

The first half can be confusing, but mlitias were civillians, not federal troops. They were not about to disarm the minutemen. And it is about states' rights.

The second half is clear as a bell. It is the right of the people, as in we the people.

As much as I hate to agree with the Bush-loving, authoritarian idiots in the NRA, registration of firearms can certainly be seen as infringement.

Too bad the NRA is unable to read the rest of the Bill of Rights.

Now, where's that gun owning ACLU members club meeting this week? My kind of people.

Jeremy Janson said...

"On the other hand, I give the pro regulation crowd some leeway with their interpretation of the right to regulate arms with regards to certain modern weapons. Full automatic weapons designed to kill dumptrucks do seem to be excessive, and, would certainly not have been considered by the authors during the addition of the second amendment. Weapons like that simply didn't exist, unless you include cannons, which was not considered an arm we had the right to bear. So they may have a point there."

Actually Anok, the problem is that they may send Tanks our way and those are tougher then dump trucks and usually better armed. They may also send aircraft our way, and cannons and gatlings are really the only kinds of gun that are useful against such even at short-range, and even then these are insufficient for use against missile-carrying aircraft. I can agree with the need to educate the public on the safe, effective use of firearms, and perhaps high-order explosive projectiles should require a certification and very strict limitations on when they are used, but for defense against a government to be effective you need the weapons themselves to be nearly unregulated. A few common sense regulations regarding mental health to qualify for a license and certifications make sense, much as we already have with automobiles, but that should be pretty much all and perhaps we should even, to counterbalance the possible abuse of such qualifications in terms of limiting the number of people in possesion, REQUIRE most of our young citizens to receive these qualifications as part of their high school diploma

angelshair said...

I just wanted to share this link.
One of my favorite songs, I don't know if it is a coincidence that it is about anarchists ^_^.
Unfortunatly, it is in french, but maybe you can find a translation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUFm8UsHPWw

Maladjusted said...

Thank you for the thought provoking post, Anok.

It's my (maybe hopelessly misguided) impression that what makes the second amendment so ambiguous and ultimately problmeatic is the distinction between the (small "r"!) 'republican' spirit in which it was written (a spirit that often, I think, counterbalanced the Founder's veneration for Locke) and the tendency of our own epoch to translate everything in the Bill of Rights into liberal (in the English not the American sense!) terms.

Thus: the right to bear arms is, as you say, surely mainly about the right of the American people to overthrow a tyrannical government. It's supposed to be insurance against the kind of tyrant who would use the army as a praetorian guard ("janissaries" in the language of the Founders) to keep him in power long after he had been rejected by the people to whom he was supposed to be responsible.

But the spirit of the amendment is completley lost, I think, if it's interpreted (in the gun lobby way) as the inalienably, divinely santioned 'right' for every American to keep an Uzi on her bedside table. The amendment was surely never meant to say anything about the 'rights of individuals', as much as it was supposed to be about the rights of citizens (the people insofar as they form a collective interested in/dedicated to the welfare of their fellows -- res publica -- to the things we hold in common, the commonweal...

In this light: a situation in which virtually everyone has a gun (that could be turned on everyone else) is, in a sense, the OPPOSITE of what the amendment is supposed to articulate. It's not supposed to be about my private "right" to have a gun (or yours), but OUR right, the people's right to take up arms against their oppressors.

If this right is interpreted in indivdiualistic terms, the republican amendment becomes something that can contribute to the division between people (everyone thinking they live in a Hobbesian universe where they need to arm themselves not against governments but against the danger represented by their fellow citizen) in a way that I think would have been a nightmare for the various Anti-Federalists with Roman pseudonyms who got the amendments through...

Anyway. Not sure that whatI've said useful or interesting to you, and I DO admit the possibility of extreme ignorance, being after all a non-American (Australian)country that a) lacks a Bill of Rights and that b) frequently looks at the second amendment as the representative of a peculiarly American perversion (not liberty) but gun craziness.

(I'm also not an anarchist). But then one of the reasons, I think, that this amendment causes so much trouble is that most of the others are 'liberal' in the sense of being about personal liberties (rights of the individual more than the 'citizen'.)

Regards,

-Mal