Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Second amendment

Well, the blood is hardly dry at Virginia Tech, but the gun nuts are out in full force, trying to strike pre-emptively. Paul Craig Roberts claims that if guns are banned, knife crime will increase (but when did you last hear of 30+ people massacred by a knife-wielder?) and that England is "discovering the truth" of the claim that "when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns" -- ignoring the fact that violent crime in the UK is negligible by US standards and the British police are (mostly) unarmed to this day. Matthew Clarke says blithely that if the other students had been armed too, the massacre wouldn't have happened.

Bush has weighed in via his spokesperson: he defends the right to bear arms, but there's a caveat.

"And certainly bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting ... obviously that would be against the law and something that someone should be held accountable for," Perino added.

It's against the law. Who'd have imagined that? And who will be held accountable? The shooter is dead.

Cenk Uygur has a good post on the subject, with a title that someone should spraypaint on the NRA headquarters: "Guns don't kill people, bullets do."

Anyway, I have a much more basic question. All this noise about the right to keep and bear arms comes from the Second Amendment to the US constitution. But here's what it actually says:

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.

Where is the "well-regulated militia" in all of this? Even if the people have the right to bear arms, where does the Amendment say that they have the right to buy them at a drugstore, with not even a cursory background check, let alone licensing? Even the most liberal interpretation I can make of the Second Amendment does not lead to that: in fact it explicitly refers to the necessity of the militia being "well-regulated". Americans have the right to keep and drive cars, but there is still a process involved. Surely regulation should be far more stringent for guns.

And the amendment doesn't say "guns", it says "arms". What about hand-held rocket-launchers, as Cenk Uygur asks? What about nuclear bombs? When people talk about arms, these days they generally don't mean handguns. If the Second Amendment really gives an unregulated right to arms, do Americans have the right to keep weapons of mass destruction at home?

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