Second thoughts?

Some folks got seriously wrong ideas about the Second Amendment  ,  — what  police officer wouldn’t respect the rights of a hood wearing,  body armored, open carrying citizen walking into the station? At least they lived to tell about it. Oh, and then there what was seized:

Officers seized a loaded AP-14 firearm, a rifle magazine containing 47 rounds, a loaded Glock 19 handgun with four additional magazines containing 66 rounds, body armor and ballistic vests, the ski mask, a gun belt, several pieces of camera equipment, an AR-15 rifle and an AK-47 style rifle.

Open Carry advocates recognized immediately, there is protection, and then there is the sort of craziness.

Open-carry advocates walked into a police station with a loaded rifle. Officers were not amused.




Second Amendment Despair?

That certainly seemed to be on Dave Diephouse’s mind when he read Burton Newman’s The NRA’s Fraud: Fabrication of Second Amendment Rights

How many times does it have to be said?

But should we despair?

Interpretation of Second Amendment is nonetheless social in nature. There is no reason one needs to (or should) accept the understanding of the Second from the gun lobby. There is no reason to think that such extremist interpretations are anything other than social constructions, a product of their time, and if so, then as social constructions they are liable to change. For activists the question is of keeping heart, of hope.

On that score, a couple of items come to mind.

First, there is the matter of demographics. by most surveys, gun owners generally represent a decreasing portion of the American public: white, male, and often financially stable.  This is the same shrinking political base that drives other maximalist positions, such as the Tea Party. The signs of this sectarian turn are all around, not least in the current environment where the gun advocate reject positions he once held.  That’s not principle at work, but politics. And politics can be changed.

Second, there is the electoral problem for the gun crowd, as Ronald Brownstein  pointed out: no matter how fervently held, their positions are a losing hand in when it comes to national elections. Again the turn to a variety of rearguard political actions from the likes of ALEC (most notorioulsy, the Stand Your Ground legislation, but there are others) ought to be seen as the sign of political weakness that it is.

The difficulty with all extremist positions is how they routinely differ from lived reality. That difference from the common life coupled with the desire to win elections, creates its own gravitational pull to the center, and better policies. That said, since this is also the process of a decade or longer, and certainly not the stuff of one or two election cycles.

Arms, Rebellion and Autonomy

At The American Conservative, Samuel Goldman brings a skeptical eye to the current common place in gun discussion, that the bearing of arms and militias are there to secure the community against tyranny. The short answer: well meant, but ineffective.

What often goes missing is one other condition, that of civil rebellion itself.

Bearing arms in resistance can only be legitimate to the extent that it is just. Theologically, this is a tough nut; the standing rule is go with even unjust kings. The religious violence of the post Reformation era undercut such an easy answer. For those in the Reformed tradition, obedience is conditioned by obedience to God. Even here, there is a social element.  Calvin lays out the conditions in The Institutes  Book IV.xx.31: the just rebellion against the king is done by the righteous magistrate.

The Second Amendment discussions of arms as a deterrent to tyranny broadly omit the discussion of when it is just (treating it in Frontier fashion as self-evident), and even less who then becomes the summoning authority.  To the degree that individual arms bearing is understood as a formal protection against the central State, it remains one bounded by collective decision making, something I think can be seen in the notion of “militia” itself.

(What I find that further confuses  this discussion is the role of individual arms bearing not as a protection against political tyranny, but as an assertion of individual autonomy against cultural “tyrannies.” In this, the language of resistance to a tyrannical state, a language often conveyed with great emotional vehemence, is more a kind of political theatre for what is finally a more interior sensibility. As a lover of theatre, I don’t doubt the legitimacy of the gun as a sign of autonomy.)

Personal firearms and resistance

A great many gun owners express their ownership through the grid of resistance to tyranny. Apart, from the fact that little in the way to suggest incipient tyranny, the vocalized meme is too strong to ignore. This suggests that its holders do so, not for policy or political reasons, but for those resting in a more private drama. Much of that inner life if in a somewhat more extreme form is captured in Arthur Farnsley’s “Flea Market Capitalism” in the current issue of The Christian CenturyPrivate ownership  borrows the language of armed resistance, but it is of a more emotional sort, turning on the question of autonomy.

A gun represents the ultimate ability to say no to coercion. Guns are about freedom—again, not the freedom to do whatever you want, but the freedom from being forced to do what you do not want.

Here, the gun ends up as the symbol of freedom while also being the sign of a lack of freedom, that one’s freedom to act, one’s freedom from authority is itself limited. Closely tied to the self is that of the implicit community, and why  narratives of oppression by elites reinforces the desire to resist, all symbolized in the gun. Any discussion of Second Amendment and especially of the restriction on guns can sound like an attempt to further erode this psychic resistance. And so a political non-starter.

A Hobbesian note on guns

The continuing discussion on guns has been fueled by the question of race from this article. In a discussion on his Facebook page, Charlie Clauss notes

I agree with the idea that gun ownership rights is centered in the need to protect the people from the over reach of civil authority, stemming from the practice of the British taking guns from the colonists.

Still, any assertion of Second Amendment as protection against tyranny is misplaced, and in fact is contradictory to the act of writing and binding oneself to a constitution.

The Hobbesian question is what to do about anarchy, the war of all against all. How do we forgo the use of political violence to secure our advantage? And perhaps more importantly, how do we secure or bind the powerful? the act of mutually agreed government, of constitution, seems to be a fundamental rejection of direct, political violence. If that hypothesis is true, then the notion that the Second Amendment provides this guard against tyranny (especially expressed in the private holding of guns) would be internally contradictory. One cannot bind oneself to a constitution while reserving the right to violence as well, the former forbids the latter.

In any case,  the turn to political violence  always remains as a potential option; it is not a right so much as a fact.  So then the question must be that of justice or righteousness: under what circumstances is the act of rebellion permissible? This is the same question that John Calvin wrestles with in the Institutes. The generallyt agreed answer is that it absolutely cannot be determined by an individual (see the book of Judges), but only by a community with its locally officers. Thus, the Second Amendment can only function in the context of existing, local civil authority: militias.


Guns and Civilization

The news that Sen. Meekhof was out to reform Michigan’s already liberal gun laws brought out the usual thoughts.

Ralph March 22, 2012 at 12:17PM
 I’m just glad and proud to live in a State that recognizes the Second Amendment. Both Open Carry and Concealed Carry are legal in this great state !! As for me…I will continue to carry everyday whether the “sheep” like it or not.

Just an idea, but the proof of a civil society is actually one where violence is constrained and people can live peaceably. Carrying a weapon of lethal force also carries the implicit threat of coercion. Any friend of self-government should be at least cautious about naive and sentimental embrace of firearms.

The underlying point, not developed on MLive, is that self-government depends on an equality of citizens. The intrusion of coercive tools (guns) into public sanctuaries like schools, voting booths, and especially houses of worship, is an assertion of voice by one segment of the population. Because it is both voice and lethality, the necessary outcome is one of coercion. Although they certainly do not intend it, the Second Amendment fan club is laying the foundation for the role of tyranny.