Guns and governing philosophy, Part 1
Mention the word, and the walls go up, the blood-red line gets drawn in the sand: Guns.
Since these pages have seen lots of rhetorical ammunition expended in recent months about the issue of gun control, I decided to waste a little more ink and space to try some logical thinking instead of emitting emotions.
Here we must honestly agree on some basic premises, or the communications have ended, like a yes-no decision tree.
Our Declaration of Independence contains this famous sentence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
We will return in a moment to pick up the sentence fragments that follow that first famous line.
Our Founders went to bloody war using guns to kill people who looked just like themselves in order to establish that basic premise: Each individual human possesses rights that are not conferred — indeed, are not conferrable — by any other person, group, or government.
Premise One: To say it in a contemporary way, rights are not created by governments, whether run by Democrats or Republicans. Rights come before governments, before laws. According to our founding American document, there is no chicken or egg argument here.
If you cannot agree with that basic principle, you should peel off from this discussion: We have no common ground.
Now those un-famous sentence fragments, each beginning with a “that” and meant to be understood in connection with the first clause, “We hold these truths to be self-evident ...”:
“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Now those words truly are revolutionary.
To say it another way, people agree to form a government so that these “self-evident” individual rights might be “secure,” safe not just from individual lawless thieves and murderers, but also from organized groups of thieves and murderers.
Premise Two: Our Founders thus give us the American philosophy of government — Rights are paramount, above every other principle and before all laws, and governments that try to take away those rights deserve to be changed or abolished.
Again, if you can’t agree with that foundational principle of the American revolution, you should peel off. We have no common ground and the concept of “guns” will remain to you an incoherent morass of emotion, devoid of reason.
Premise Three: Inherent in that right of “Life,” as annunciated by Thomas Jefferson, is the right of self-defense. If one cannot defend oneself from the taking of one’s life, then no other rights have any substantive meaning.
If you think that you or I have no inherent “Right” of self-defense against those who would kill us or enslave us, then you also should peel off. Our conversation is over.
Let’s see who remains:
1. A small but fervent group of self-described Second Amendment absolutists who might be surprised to learn they share at least one belief attributed to Chairman Mao Tse-Tung: “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” (No aspersions intended.) Group 1, thy name is “Cold Dead Hands.”
2. A much larger group that says, “Yes, but ...” These are the “degree” people: “A six-shooter is okay, but I draw the line at 10-round magazines.” Group 2, thy name is “Arbitrary Buts (just one “t”).”
3. A group of unknown size with two subsets. Subset A says, in effect, “That was then, this is now. What may have been valid in 1776 (or 1789 or when the amendment was adopted) is no longer valid in 2013. Times have changed and we must change with the times.” Subset B says, “The Second Amendment doesn’t say what you think it says. It actually limits gun rights to National Guard units and is not applicable to individuals.” Group 3, both subsets, thy name is “Living Constitution.”
Have I missed anybody?
You’ll let me know, won’t you? We’ll all be civil, right?
In Part Two, I’ll do some more fingernail scratching on the blackboard for all three groups.
[Cal Beverly is editor and publisher of The Citizen.]