Them’s Fightin’ Words

Maybe someone can explain this to me.

I’m no legal scholar, as I’ve said before, and I have a decided bias on this issue. But let’s talk about the first two amendments to the Constitution.

Wasn't this cop on The Sopranos?

Wasn't this cop on The Sopranos?

The brouhaha over the Plaxico Burress more-money-and-football-talent-than-brains shooting incident has brought out a few Second Amendment advocates (it doesn’t take much), including a guy from the Cato Institute who wrote this op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. I was struck by one phrase, a simple phrase, which often appears in the gun-control debate: “his constitutional right to bear arms.” I don’t deny Plaxico or any one else that right. But what I don’t get is, why some gun folks think it is, or should be, unconditional.

I know the Supreme Court gave the pro-gun side a boost with its recent decision in Heller, saying private ownership of guns for self-defense is perfectly OK and the District of Columbia can not ban handguns (though it did allow for some limits on gun ownership).

JP - my new legal hero

JP - my new legal hero

Then, John Paul Stevens, bless him, showed how once again the strict-constructionist gang, the originalists, led by Scalia, are just full of shit. (I love it when JP says Scalia’s argument is “feeble,” “overwrought,” and “failed”; the way the fur flies in the SC chambers!) They will ignore precedent and original intent whenever it suits their interests, as it did here. And it’s pretty scary, reading Stevens’s dissent, how blithely Scalia ignored facts and a unanimous-decision precedent to elevate his views on the right to own firearms.

But remember, I am not a legal scholar.

Still, even after Heller, the gun guys and gals seem like they will never be satisfied until they can buy and use any kind of gun, anywhere, any time. They choose to ignore, as the majority did in Heller, that the Second Amendment pretty clearly ties the right to own guns to the function of a militia. Now, I won’t go into the parsing that went on before and in Heller, and that still goes on, about which clause means what in that amendment, and that how you interpret the commas shapes how you construe the rights conveyed. Hell, I was not an English major, and I just don’t understand it. But compare the convoluted phrasing there to the oh-so-clear wording we have in the First Amendment. I am highlighting only the part regarding speech and the press:

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;

What could be simpler. No law, no exceptions. Yet look at the number of laws we do have limiting speech and the press (media), along with court decisions and federal regulations. The media (and I include myself here) understand these restrictions and work within them, usually, even if they don’t like them. They don’t whine nearly as much as the NRA and its ilk does. Even though our amendment is better than yours.

So we have limits left and right on speech, on words, but God forbid we try to regulate ownership of devices that kill and injure thousands of Americans every year (30k-plus killed in 2005, the most recent year for which the government has stats).  And hey, guns in the house are great. Makes it so much easier for the suicidal to get their wish. More than half of firearm deaths come from suicides.

And the number of people killed by people speaking out against unjust wars, or swearing on TV, or calling gun nuts “poop heads”? Probably just one, when some of them come and hunt me down.

Some polls show only a slight majority of Americans favor more gun control or stricter enforcement of existing laws. And some polls say the number of people in favor of more gun regulation is falling. So with that and Heller, the gun folks should be happy. But of course, we have a Democrat about to take office. Surely that spells trouble (as I wrote about earlier). Well, actually, no. Some gun-control advocates say Obama is a pretty good supporter of the Second Amendment, though I doubt he would call for an Uzi in every pot. Still, Illinoisans and others rushed out to buy new guns, as was widely reported. I hope they feel safer.

Me, I’ll stick to those other dangerous things – words. Though lords knows I’m as likely to shoot myself in the foot with them as Plaxico is to blast his own hip. My self-inflicted wounds just hurt less, and don’t put anybody else in harm’s way.


~ by mburgan on December 7, 2008.

2 Responses to “Them’s Fightin’ Words”

  1. “But remember, I am not a legal scholar.” Yeah, we know. Keep playing fast and loose with the second amendment and your precious 1st amendment right will not be far behind. Please tell me how we can have a right to self defense if a government can deny the means to effect it.

  2. My larger point is my precious First Amendment right has already been subjected to conditions left and right, despite the absolute nature of the amendment as the Founders wrote it, and I think Second Amendment supporters have to be a little more willing to accept conditions too. Nobody is looking to take away all guns or the right to own them–at least I’m not. And the right to self defense was what Scalia et al talked about–it’s not in the Second Amendment as written.

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