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. ~ 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.
Nothing seems to evoke more passion from either side of the political aisle than America’s illustrious 2nd amendment. People on my side of the fence often cite the “shall not be infringed part,” but those who wish to limit or eliminate the citizenry’s right to carry arms often cite the “a well-regulated militia” part.
Their argument seems pretty sound on the face of it. What they’re saying is that our Constitution framers meant for only the militia to be armed. These people then define a militia in today’s society as the police or military. Makes sense, right? Not so fast.
If we apply logical thought for a minute, it makes no sense whatsoever. The Constitution was drafted, not as a set of laws for the people to abide by, but instead it is a limit to the government’s power over the people.
“We the people” grant government the right to infringe on our freedoms in order to serve the greater good of our nation. But fearing that such a government could become as oppressive as our recently defeated European overlords of the time, they drafted the Constitution to protect us from future similar oppression.
For instance, our first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” versus something like “You are free to practice any religion of your choosing.”
This pattern is consistent in the entirety of the Bill Of Rights, and while most see both those phrases as essentially the same, there’s an incredibly important distinction. As the Constitution’s written, the people have the power and are imposing a limit on the government’s ability to limit their religious freedom. In the following theoretical example, it implies government has the power and is granting religious rights to the people.
So with that in mind, let’s revisit the meaning behind the word “militia” in the second amendment. If we assume the term “militia” refers to the military and police, which are government entities after all; those who wish to limit our gun rights believe our forefathers wrote an amendment that says that government cannot infringe on government’s rights to bear arms. This is not only inconsistent to the rest of the Bill of Rights, but its redundancy is nonsensical. If government cannot infringe on government’s rights to carry guns, then there would be no reason to even mention it in the first place.
So why do gun control advocates believe this is what the 2nd amendment implies? It’s a simple case of confirmation bias. In the world of psychology and science, confirmation bias is a phenomenon whereby someone attempting to prove something they hope to be true/false, eschew interpretations that conflict with their bias and/or accept suspect data that supports their bias, due to an inner desire to substantiate their argument.
We are all prone to do this, and with the exception of devout skeptics like myself, we’ll rarely even know we’re doing it, nor act to correct it.
For instance, imagine a guy that fancies himself a ladies man. He encounters a woman he finds attractive who then politely smiles at him. He decides this means she, like all other women, “wants” him, when in reality, it could simply mean she’s just being nice. He has taken a bit of evidence (her smiling at him), and interpreted it in a way that confirms his belief that all women want him. Thus, confirmation bias.
In Dale Carnegie’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, #5 is “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” It is easy to assume gun control advocates are simply people who hate guns and want to take them away from those of us who don’t.
While this is often true, many may me be like former US representative Gabby Giffords who was brutally shot in 2011 by a crazed killer on an unhinged political shooting spree, or former Reagan White House Press Secretary James Brady who was shot in a failed presidential assassination attempt. Their lives were forever changed because of gun violence, so it’s quite reasonable to assume they would advocate limiting our right to bear arms.
But, anecdotal evidence, which is what those instances are, is not evidence. As I pointed out in a previous post (Click here), the data (approximately one murderer for every 100,000 gun owners) simply doesn’t support that America has a dangerous gun culture. We do have a higher rate of gun incidents, but that correlates to the fact that we simply have more guns. It doesn’t have to mean that we wouldn’t have similar murders using a different weapon if there were less guns. There are a lot of variables that factor in to murders, and pinning it all on guns is flawed logic.
The “militia” thing is also misinterpreted because people fail to realize what our country was in the late 1700’s. Between when the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and the Constitution which followed in 1787 was ratified, we were in essence an anarchist nation. There was neither a military or police. We were just a band of people breaking off of Europe’s rule. While there were cities established, most people and communities outside of those few highly populated areas were largely left to fend for themselves.
How would they go about doing that? They would form a militia. Our forefathers understood that in these outlying areas especially, the people would be under threat of robbers, murderers, or even people who might decide to set up a local government and impose oppressive laws similar to those we declared independence from.
But more importantly, it’s fairly well understood that as they wrote the Constitution, they enumerated rights ambiguously on purpose. They knew every instance where rights might be in question could not be thought of and accounted for, so by being ambiguous, they covered them all in an effort to ensure our nation remained one of liberty and freedom.
For instance, instead of saying the right to criticize the government, criticize the church, or say generally hateful things shall not be infringed, they declared that the right to free speech shall not be infringed—an all encompassing phrase. Such ambiguity ensured that as our nation grew, and new reasons for those rights to be preserved arose, they always would be.
So apologies to those who wish to limit our rights to bear arms, but if you want to argue against gun rights, using the “militia” argument, it just isn’t consistent with the rest of the Constitution.