Friday, June 17, 2016

A Tobacco-Based Second Amendment

It is extremely rare to hear someone refer to the entire text of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Instead, so entire sentence doesn't have to be quoted, people more typically say "Second Amendment" when claiming a right exists to unrestricted gun ownership.

The Second Amendment:

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.

Quoting the entire sentence is a problem for pro-gun advocates because it includes the context of a "well regulated militia" as the reason for the "keep and bear arms" part at the end. This context should be the basis for talking about this amendment because it contains the logic for the amendment itself: we need X, so let's allow Y. If the reasoning for the end of the sentence wasn't necessary, it wouldn't be included for us. So, we should look at the reasoning, which can be seen more clearly by doing a thought exercise with the amendment's framework to see what holds up.

For centuries leading up to the American Revolution, tobacco was used as currency in some of the colonies. Tobacco was, for a time, essential to the operation of the economy in these areas. Imagine for a moment that the Revolutionary War started a few decades earlier than it did, a time when tobacco was still being used as a currency. If that had happened, it's entirely possible that a version of what we now know as the Second Amendment would have been written to protect tobacco:

Currency being necessary to the economy of a free State, the right of the People to grow, cultivate, and sell tobacco shall not be infringed.

After tobacco was replaced with a different form of currency, would it be proper to still let people grow tobacco without restriction if it was decided otherwise by lawmakers? Of course not. What about after it was scientifically shown that tobacco use kills millions of people every year? Would we still insist that we can't regulate tobacco based on an ancient law from a time when tobacco was used as money? Some would, of course, as pro-gun forces do today with the Second Amendment. But it would be an untenable argument—just as untenable as a pro-tobacco argument would be based on a similar contortion of logic.

The Second Amendment includes within it the reason it exists, meaning it should self-destruct if that reason disappears, something that has certainly happened. We don't need citizens for a bring-your-own-gun militia system because the military, the FBI, and many other agencies are in place to do that now. To insist an ancient document written when a gun was lucky to be shot once per minute on a good day should apply to guns that can now be used to kill dozens of people per minute, and by people who have nothing to do with a defunct militia system or any other "well regulated" agency.

We can be better than this if we want to. We just have to want to. And logic supports wanting to.

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