Cold, Dead Rights
What if the Second Amendment was the only one we got to keep?
It sounds like an odd question but it’s been rumbling around in my head for some weeks now and, while the thought isn’t entirely formed (my apologies as I Braille my way through it here), it’s beginning to focus into a plausible – if disturbing – picture.
What if the Second Amendment – the passion-inspiring, rhetorical battlefield of the American right to keep and bear arms – was the only civil liberty we ended up being able to recognize, much less exercise? What if the threat to it is deliberately overblown to distract us from the other freedoms that are being stolen as you read this? What if we end up keeping it because it will pose no threat when there’s nothing left to fight for?
Many conversations with passionate believers in our right to be armed lead to the declaration, “The Second Amendment protects all the others.” But it doesn’t, really. What protects “the others” is our willingness to demand respect for them and while I do believe that an armed citizenry is perfectly capable of putting an overreaching government in check, overwhelmingly, Americans do not do that.
Over the past two decades, the Second Amendment has become a rallying point and has witnessed national gains – while we have allowed various other laws to diminish each and every other right. In the same time period during which we defied, opposed, and abolished government laws restricting our right to be armed, we have willingly relinquished countless other liberties to that same government. And we did it with barely more than a grumble. Worse – we sometimes did it eagerly for the sake of safety or perceived “law and order.”
So, it makes me wonder, what if the public attacks on our Second Amendment protections are a feint to keep us distracted? What if, while we make bold statements, quote our Founding Fathers, and sometimes intimate violence “if they try to take our guns,” the “other side” doesn’t actually give a tinker’s damn about whether we are armed because they know we won’t actually do anything with those guns?
Think about it. We now have “free speech zones,” in which we can exercise our First Amendment rights… at a suitable distance, in a limited physical space, located where other citizens can’t hear our protests and the object of them needn’t be troubled by witnessing our opposition. Our Fourth Amendment protections are becoming a distant memory, as groping and virtual strip-searching by government employees is now the price for use of private transport, and we read almost weekly of some new database being compiled by our government for the purpose of storing our electronic communications (and now physical travels), collected without warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing. We have secret courts, which can authorize American citizens to be held indefinitely under “suspicion of being suspicious,” without the opportunity to confront their accusers - a direct affront to our Fifth Amendment protections. Both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments have been gutted by the abuse of the interstate commerce clause, allowing Congress to mandate everything from what food we can or cannot grow on our own land to what products we are compelled to purchase under penalty of fine.
And, with the possible exception of the 2014 standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada, not one of these infringements has been prevented or even hampered by the exercise of “the Second.” I have this cartoonish vision in my head of massive sheriff’s posse, bristling with weaponry, fiercely guarding the approach to a bank… while the vault is being cleaned out by thieves who have tunneled up through the floor.
Suppose for a moment that there is a complete victory for advocates such as myself. Background checks are done away with; no database is kept to track individual purchases of arms or ammunition; there are no picayune regulations of how many rounds a magazine might hold and you no longer need some written permission to simply don a coat over your holstered pistol; suppressors are sold over-the-counter at any neighborhood Target and machineguns are sold in two-for-one value packs at Walmart. The Second is completely uninfringed and open for all American citizens to enjoy.
But it’s the only freedom left. We allowed all the others to be bled away, so focused on “keeping our guns” that we’ve forgotten why their possession was enshrined in the document that forms the very foundation of our nation’s government.
Not a pleasant thought, is it?
I am in no way suggesting that anyone stand idly by while their right to be armed is assailed. But I am warning that some attacks are diversionary, and sometimes the most dangerous threat you face is not the obvious one before you.
The Second does not protect the others. We do. And we're falling behind.