What if a large comittee of white mostly rich men gathered and wrote a document over too years ago? A document that was brilliant, progressive, ahead of it’s time, but also limited by their joint experiences, their personal and historical cirumstances, preconceptions, and prejudices? What if portions were left intentionally vague as a manner of settling the tremendous differences that even popped up among this group?
As we used this document to guide our decisions, how far would our assumptions drift from what they meant? At what point would our circumstances become so different from the original that it became absurd to say “The founding fathers would have felt X about Y” Because circumstance Y would have been so alien to their life experience we can really have no way whatsoever to know how they would have felt.
At some point, the game becomes one of “The founding fathers were my kind-of people. If they had been born today, they would have been like me. That’s why I think the constitution supports my position.”
Again, I think the Constitution is an amazing document. It ought to be rated among the top human-created documents ever. I think it is is still informative, instructive, and useful. But I think we are in a time and place that we need to proclaim the emporer naked: we have to admit that there is places where we are without constitutional guidance.
A test case: The Second Ammendment
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.
The word “arms” written above can sometimes be narrowly defined as “firearms”– pistols, rifles, etc.
But it can be more broadly defined to include all sorts of weapons. If somebody had a knife, and I asked, “Are you armed?” They would answer “Yes.” More to the point, I could say “Is that airplane armed?” and if it had a missile, or a bomb, or a chemical weapon, we would answer, “Yes.”
When the constitution was written, the second ammendment could and should have meant “People can have any available weapon that the military can have.”
I hope most people will agree with me that holding such a position today would be a little bit crazy. The second ammendment does not guarentee a person’s right to have a rocket propelled grenade. A conventional missile. Chemical weapons. Nuclear weapons.
So here’s the question for the NRA and all their friends: What limits would you place on the second ammendment? What weapons is a person NOT entitlted to bear?
I haven’t heard a serious answer to the question. It’s a thorny one. But can we please just stop saying that every difficult question is a slipper slope? Because an awfully slippery slope has been created by the failure to answer questions like this one: we now live in a world where the slippery slope implies an every day average joe has the right to mustard gas and nuclear bombs.
The fact of whether or not said Joe currently owns them is irrelevant. What I am throwing down the guantlet for is a guiding principal: how will we know when someone owns something that exceeds their right to bear arms?
What many members of the other side don’t want to admit is that their is not a qualitative difference between our positions. It is one of degrees. Every thinking person has to put some limits somewhere on what a personal can own. These limits may not be agnowledged. But I’m now pointing at the elephant in the room for the gun-rights folks. What are you going to do about it?