What You Say To Gun Zealots
“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.”
During a long and honored career Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who died earlier this year, heard all the arguments pro and con about the Second Amendment.
Stevens was respected by all his colleagues conservative and liberal alike. (Stevens was a Republican nominee.)
His memoir was published just days before his death. Here’s an excerpt from an important review of that book.
“For 200 years the Court took it as more or less given that this language referred to the right of states to maintain their own militias…the familiar National Guard units.
In 1939 a unanimous Supreme Court held in United States v. Miller that the Second Amendment protection of the right to bear arms was possessed only by members of these militias.
But in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, a bare majority of the Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, effectively ignored the first 13 words of the amendment (i.e. half of it) and held that it prohibited most restrictions on civilian possession and use of firearms.”
Looking back on that decision in which he participated…Stevens voted with the minority… he wrote, ‘Heller is unquestionably the most clearly incorrect decision that the Court announced during my tenure on the bench.’’”
Stevens believed that the Court should consider the impact that a decision will have on society, not just the original intent of a law’s authors. In the case of Heller, Stevens believed that it would lead to an increase in gun violence.
Stevens was unquestionably correct.
When literally millions of weapons of war are in the hands of civilians, we should not be surprised that some of them will be used in mass killings.
The Supreme Court got it right in 1939 when it unanimously decided that the Second Amendment protects only the ownership of military-type weapons that are appropriate for use in an organized militia.
Today in some places in America it is legal for civilians to openly carry AK-47s and AR-15s. But that right is not what the authors of the Second Amendment intended. That legality derives from laws that are more recent and altogether different.
If you get into a discussion about the Second Amendment, here’s a question you might ask:
“Do you believe civilians have the right to own missile launchers? Nuclear weapons?”
We’ve found that this question makes zealots squirm and exposes the weakness of their argument.
In debate this tactic is called Reductio ad Adsurdum. By using this technique, you demonstrate that the “unrestricted” right of civilians argument is a logical fallacy.
If they answer No, a zealot concedes that the Second Amendment is not open-ended. If they answer Yes, their position is obviously absurd.
Source: Excerpt from Jed S. Raskoff‘s review of “The Making of a Justice: Reflections on my First 94 Years” in the New York Review of Books, September 26, 2019.