02 January 2013

Gun policy and the Constituion

The Supreme Court has taken the position that gun ownership is a personal right guaranteed by the Constitution. I beg to disagree. The Court has often been wrong before, and appears to be so again in this case.

State militias are mentioned, but not explained, at several points in the main body of the Constitution. They seem to be connected to the need for raising an army, when and if needed, to protect the country against invasion. Perhaps militias were the 18th-Century equivalent of the reserves. The second amendment (the only one with a preamble) connects the right of gun ownership to the need for these militias.

Any serious hermeneutics (the art and science of interpreting texts) insists on the need to take all the context of any portion of a text in its interpretation. The second amendment must be interpreted as being created for the sake of the militias mentioned in the amendment itself. The amendment, in turn, must interpreted in the context of the entire Constitution. Up until the current Court, all Supreme Courts were careful to interpret the text as a whole and consequently ruled that the right to own firearms was created for the sake of the militias. To rule otherwise is to be an irresponsible interpreter.

One wonders, therefore, what motivated the present Supreme Court to make a ruling at variance with the Constitution itself and with over two hundred years of precedent. I would hazard the hypothesis that the politicization and polarization of the Court, which mirrors the polarization of the nation, is the culprit. The current justices were, in their majority, appointed by Republican presidents who, in turn, received major donations from the NRA and from gun and ammunition manufacturers. Both of these interest groups work in tandem and at present put immense pressure on our elected officials.

The question is then, what is behind this intense pro-gun lobbying and the answer is clear. Gun and ammunition manufacturers, like any manufacturing corporation, must have growth, that is, to continue, year after year, to sell not only as much as the year before, but more. By now 49 per cent of American households own firearms. The only way the companies can grow, or even stay in business, for that matter, is to convince even more people to buy guns and ammunition. When every household has a gun, what will they do? Convince us that a gun is not enough and that our safety depends on owning an arsenal? When we all have an arsenal, then what? We are conducting a domestic arms race and it is just as mad as the arms races between countries.

Do we really want our lives to be driven, not by our own true interests, but by those of commerce? All indications from our one single national value shared by all, which is to consume in ever greater amounts, are that the answer is absolutely yes. Well, not all of us share that value. Some of us like to think for ourselves and make our own decisions. Would that our elected officials do so as well.

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