Natural Allies: The NRA

Question: What came first, the right to bear arms, or the government’s recognition of that right?

Cam’s Answer (responding to Supreme Court Justice Stevens’ proposed change to the 2nd Amendment):

…the right to keep and bear arms of individual American citizens has existed throughout this country’s history and in fact predates the founding of this nation.

The oft-debated 2nd Amendment reads as follows:

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.

By framing the 2nd Amendment to tie the right to bear arms to a theoretical “well-regulated militia” that serves to uphold a nonsensical “secure and free state” rather than a “secure and free people,” Madison (the drafter of the Bill of Rights) immediately undermined the very fighting force and spirit that led to the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence in the first place.

The Revolutionaries didn’t fight to free their government — they fought to free the people. States are governments. Governments do not hold rights, and therefore can have neither “freedom” nor “security.” Governments have an inherent responsibility, rather, to protect the people’s inherent and inalienable rights to security and freedom, or at the very least not threaten such rights through direct or indirect means.

Later in the same interview, Steve Halbrook argues that standing military forces are antithetical to liberties and rights:

“The military force is a command society. You take orders, you have no right…You don’t have choices…it’s inconsistent with the military force to have a right [to bear arms], it’s like saying you have a right to free speech the same as you would in civil society…you don’t.”

The original Articles of Confederation did not have a standing army. Even in war time, the revolutionary sentiments about domestic liberty were so vibrant as to recognize the direct threat to liberty that a standing army poses. It makes logical sense: Why should we worry about external threats to liberty if we have let internal threats to liberty run rampant by giving them legal permanence?

Let’s explore what a 2nd Amendment more in line with freedom and liberty might look like…and while we’re at it, let’s update the language to make it easier to read:

To secure the freedom of the people against oppression and tyranny, the right of the people to keep and bear arms and form militias for their common defense shall not be infringed.

The above, as framed, is an inherent, inalienable right that the people must declare, assert and drive into law.  We cannot expect the government to recognize such a right, because as an authoritarian entity, it recognizes such rights only as a threat to its authority and control.  Whereas the previous iteration of the 2nd Amendment arbitrarily anoints the government with the power to “call forth the militia” in service of the government, this iteration clearly articulates the inherent rights of persons to organize for their common defense. At the risk of being a broken record, the government doesn’t have rights, and therefore doesn’t need protection. The people, however, do, on both accounts.  As a result, we must force a structural shift to a democratic form of government.

We must also bear in mind that rights cannot violate other rights.  Although we, the people have an inherent and inalienable right to bear arms and form militias for our common defense, we have no right or basis to do so for the purpose of or in a manner that violates the inherent, inalienable rights of others (e.g., for the purpose of intimidation or discrimination). When we base law around the recognition, elevation and protection of inherent and inalienable rights, we acheive a natural balance of liberty under the rule of law.  In other words, grassroots democratic structures depend upon the recognition of the inherent rights of people — the one cannot exist without the other.

Conclusion

The NRA and supporters seems on-board with the idea of inherent, inalienable rights, and that they apply to real people, not legal fictions like governments and corporations.  The above rewritten 2nd Amendment could become local law as part of a larger Community Bill of Rights, with NRA support.  Within the context of the community rights movement, we would then assert communities’ general rights to local, self-governance at the state and federal levels, ultimately providing much stronger 2nd Amendment protections than the current top-down authoritarian system provides.  It localizes the debate over gun control, which allows flexibility for different communities to decide how they need to address the issue based on their specific needs without challenging the needs of other communities.

There also seems to be an innate inclination and sympathy toward the concept of local self-governance (respect the land and wildlife, turn in poachers, abide by a code of ethics) — perhaps because it parallels the common 2nd Amendment supporters refrain for responsible gun ownership. That sentiment is unsurprising, considering both the NRA’s founding purpose of education and history as a leading voice in safe and effective gun use, and that the repercussions of irresponsible behavior are immediate: the power is in our hands, and when we don’t use it responsibly, we — or those whom we love — get hurt.

This risk mirrors almost every inherent right: as a form of power, it comes with inherent responsibilities. The difference is that the negative feedback with gun operation is very physical, sudden and traumatic (whereas, for example, it might take us decades or even generations to recognize how we’ve ruined our freshwater supplies). As a result, we have a very powerful ethical argument for 2nd amendment rights: that they are a means for us to learn the importance of taking all rights — and their attached responsibilities — very seriously.  Again, the NRA could be a powerful leader in helping to promote this message among the people.

The discussion of ethics also relates to advocacy for the rights of nature: hunters (and anglers) who depend on a population must respect and abide by the Predator/Prey Bargain, which Derrick Jensen (via Endgame) describes as follows:

If I consume the flesh of another I am responsible for the continuation of its community.

I’ve found that most hunters I’ve known consider the above statement obvious or even self-evident, whereas most non-hunters I’ve known have difficulty grasping the concept.

The NRA seems to be no friend of the Supreme Court, which has ruled against their interests for decades.  This makes sense, given that second amendment rights — the right of the people to physically defend themselves from direct threats to their liberty — are essentially the last line of defense for the protection of all other inherent and inalienable rights and liberties. If we let our “last line of defense” fall, then everything else starts to dominoe. Imagine, for example, if the Mohawk people who lived through the Oka Crisis didn’t have access to arms. The town of Oka would have siezed the Mohawk land — whom the Mohawk people consider to be their mother — to expand a golf course in an act that the Mohawk people see as the rape of their mother. The Mohawks clearly did not want a war — but the physical intrusion forced them to set a physical boundary to protect their inherent and inalienable rights, and the rights of their mother.

What seems to be missing from much of the NRA analysis is how the US Constitution and even the Bill of Rights was expertly and deliberately Framed (e.g., by Madison, Hamilton and co) to cause both an immediate and gradual erosion of liberties (through steady increase in rights violations) in favor of the privileges of an elite few, whose interests are now represented more than ever through the rule of corporations directly and by proxy through US institutions of government (ref, for example, ALEC’s development of the ACCE).   It would be nice to see more evidence of the NRA condemning people who use guns to kill for fun and entertainment — especially if they are NRA members.  Any NRA silence on these issues taints their otherwise-strong moral arguments in favor of the right to bear arms.

Still, there’s lots of opportunity for mutual collaboration. Under the current frame of law, the Commerce Clause and Supreme Court enables infringement on 2nd amendment rights, creating a constant need for the NRA to lobby, which diverts resources away from education and safety programming. What might a government that exists for the purpose of protecting inherent and inalienable rights look like?  We invite the NRA to explore this question with us.

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