In response to the Orlando terrorist attack, David S. Cohen penned this article which was published on Rolling Stone’s webpage. It’s title, “Why It’s Time to Repeal the Second Amendment” is refreshing for its honesty. Statists who wish to further empower government at the expense of individual liberty usually do so in small doses, with suggestions of ‘reasonable’ impositions on our liberties in order to give the government ‘just a little’ more authority over us in order to fix some perceived problem. The goal is usually to induce us to take that first step out onto a slippery slope where we will then be expected to acquiesce to further incremental losses of our liberties. Cohen’s call for the complete repeal of the 2nd Amendment is refreshing because it is honest. No slippery slope here – he wants you to agree to an outright repeal of your right to keep and bear arms.
Unfortunately, the honesty is confined entirely to the title. The body of this short article is filled with unsupported leftist propaganda. Included are inaccurate criticisms of the Founders (they “enshrined slavery into the Constitution in multiple ways”); straw-man arguments against the perpetual perfection of the Constitution (no one seriously argues that the Constitution is perpetually – or temporarily – perfect); a leftist checklist for how the Constitution might be improved (an equal rights amendment, Senate representation based on population); and misdirecting arguments about gun control which avoid discussing the reason the 2nd Amendment was proposed and ratified (firearms are capable of more damage than the founders could have imagined; the risks of the right to keep and bear arms now outweigh the benefits; though Cohen offers no analysis or comment on what the benefits are).
Though Cohen has posited several assailable propositions in just a few sentences, one who wishes to clearly and demonstrably refute them is forced to do so in substantial detail. The refutation necessarily takes more time, and words, than does the statement of the simple proposition. For that reason, I’ll limit my criticism to only one aspect of Cohen’s article…the conflation of ‘liberty’ and the ‘right’ to be safe and secure.
Statism cannot prevail for long where liberty is understood and appreciated. Statists know this. For that reason, they’ve gone to great effort over the years to muddle the definition of the word ‘liberty’ in order to introduce confusion. We see this tactic utilized in Cohen’s article. He wrote:
“Gun-rights advocates like to make this all about liberty, insisting that their freedom to bear arms is of utmost importance and that restricting their freedom would be a violation of basic rights. But liberty is not a one way street. … It includes the liberty to…go anywhere and feel that you are free to do to so without having to weigh the risk of being gunned down by someone wielding a weapon that can easily kill you and countless others. The liberty of some to own guns cannot take precedence over the liberty of everyone to live their lives free from the risk of being easily murdered.”
Cohen misunderstands and therefore misrepresents liberty. ‘Liberty’ connotes the relationship between government and citizens. It involves the question of what impositions the sovereign can place on the freedom of citizens. It has no place in any discussion regarding citizens’ actions among each other. The usage of the word ‘right’ in the context of interactions both between and among individuals and between individuals and government has possibly helped to further this confusion. A good case in point is the 2nd Amendment itself which provides that “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.” Thus, the right to keep and bear arms, like the right not to incriminate oneself, and the right to free speech, is a liberty because the government is restrained from limiting or regulating our autonomy in that regard. In contrast, the right not to be murdered by a fellow citizen is not a liberty because it does not involve the misplaced force of government.
When Cohen attempts to place the ‘liberty’ to keep and bear arms in the same context as the ‘right’ not to be murdered, he implies a false equivalency between liberties (from government intrusion) and rights (vis-a-vis fellow citizens). These concepts are not one in the same. Statists hope that the casual or uncritical reader will accept this false equivalency and perform their own balancing test between a real liberty (the government can’t infringe on gun ownership) and a right mislabeled as a ‘liberty’ (not to be murdered by a fellow citizen). Faced with that deceptive choice, some would quickly determine that that the ‘liberty’ not to be murdered is more important that the liberty of keeping and bearing arms. Thus, statists hope that the failure to understand and appreciate the difference between liberty from governmental intrusion and a right not to be murdered by a fellow citizen will lead one to embrace the notion of voluntarily yielding liberty in exchange for a mere promise of better security and safety. While some would suggest that such a trade-off is advisable, one should come to that conclusion only after coming to a full understanding of what the tradeoff is – real liberty for a mere promise of security – rather than what Cohen portrays it to be – yielding one liberty to enhance or protect another.
Once properly understood, the proposition that the 2nd Amendment should be repealed gives rise to some obvious questions which should be carefully considered before yielding a liberty which has been held inviolate since the founding of the country.
- How will the government meet its promise of providing better security?
- What basis does the government have to suggest that we will be safer without the right to keep and bear arms?
- If we yield our right to keep and bear arms, we’ll be less secure in our own homes. How will the government replace the personal security we can now provide for ourselves and our families?
- Once we amend the Constitution to eliminate our right to keep and bear arms, it will be very difficult if not impossible to turn back. What if it doesn’t work and we end up less secure as a result of the fact that we may be prohibited from owning guns to protect ourselves?
Finally, we must keep in mind the real reason the 2nd Amendment was ratified in the first place – not for hunting, target shooting or even home defense, but to safeguard against tyranny. Just a few short decades ago authoritarian tyranny was rampant in the world. Today it still exists, though in smaller, often ignored pockets. But throughout all of human history, authoritarian tyranny has prevailed.
Over the course of the decades since World War II, democratic governments across the world have acted to restrict the liberty of their citizens to keep and bear arms. As such, America stands as the last major western democratic nation where the people have retained that liberty. We once learned and should now remember the horrible consequences that can befall an otherwise free people when their liberty to keep and bear arms is breached. We should not be so cavalier as to yield our liberties when times are such that they may not seem to be crucial. The liberty to keep and bear arms is crucial and will always be crucial because times change. History is not static. We must maintain that particular liberty in order to have any hope of maintaining all our other liberties should the day come when it is necessary to defend them. If we yield the liberty to keep and bear arms, all others will be placed in a state of perpetual jeopardy and we will have willingly exposed ourselves to all that history should by now have taught us to guard against.