This is an attempt to nail down some of the recurring patterns in the debate
about the Second Amendment. It occurs to me that mapping the territory of the
discussion in terms of its recognizable features may be the first step to traveling
in a straight line, as opposed to these too-familiar rhetorical circles.
The "God Given Right" Assertion: Probably employed by the
user to divert attention from the Constitution, not in fact to assert that
God at some point gave the speaker authority to bear arms. It is true that
the constitution merely recognizes rights, does not grant them. The right
may be granted by god, or inalienable humanity; that is not our concern. Constitution
is merely a pledge to respect the right, not a grant in itself.
If the user of this phrase means to borrow from the dignity of the Constitution,
then, he is a scoundrel. Who gave the right? If God, well then it's a religious
debate. If the Founding Fathers, then why? And does their reasoning still
hold? The "God Given Right" assertion provides some advance cover
for the user, as it draws the mantle of holiness over the Constitution, surrounding
the thought of amending the Constitution with associations of sacrilege.
The Argument by Metonym, or Euphemism, or Elision: Conflation
of the entire amendment to the words, "The right to keep and bear arms",
sometimes shortened to the acronym "RKBA". In fact the entire amendment
is complicated by notions of "a militia", that militia being "well
regulated", in service to the "security" of a "free state".
Simplifying it to "the right to keep and bear arms" precludes a number
of objections to many interpretations of that phrase, objections based in the
same authority as the phrase itself. The user of this shorthand summation
may be hijacking the process of interpreting the wording of the amendment.
Argument ad Absurdum: Defense Against Government: Responding
to the assertion that the amendment clearly indicates the Framers' desire to
arm the citizens against a government gone tyrannical, one points out that
even if that were the case, the military hardware protected by the amendment
as being needed to defend against today's military would include nuclear missiles,
nerve gas shells and land mines. Certainly if one's neighbors are allowed,
indeed encouraged to keep these things in their yard the housing market will
plummet? The sidewalk will not be child-friendly?
The "Lots of things are dangerous, but we don't ban sharp sticks"
Argument: An argument ad absurdum which conflates "banning guns"
with "banning any object that may cause harm", and then reasons that banning the silliest example of a harmful object (say a frozen leg of lamb used to bludgeon someone) is reason not to ban any harmful object at all. Plays possibly on the fear of a slippery slope, that <bogeyman>the government, the liberals,
politicians, non-founding-fathers</bogeyman> will grow more tyrannically powerful if allowed to exercise their tyrannic power in this matter.
The "Guns Hurt People" Argument: An assertion that guns lead to violence and damage to society. Useful only as part of an argument for changing
the Constitution, or as part of an argument that denies the notion that the Second Amendment recognizes the right of all people to keep arms in their daily
possession and bear them as they see fit. One could agree that yes, guns are
bad, but we are powerless to regulate them because of the amendment, but this
argument is rarely heard. Usually those who bring up harm caused by guns are
doing so to strengthen the argument that even if the Amendment is an obstacle,
it should be overcome by the utility of reducing harm. Interpretation or alteration
of the Amendment are a separate issue.
The "Guns Help People" Argument: Another argument of utility,
i.e. that the positive effects of gun ownership are a present argument to retaining
or strengthening the interpretation of the Amendment in favor of gun ownership.
The "Guns Are Tools" Argument, a.k.a. "Guns don't kill people...":
Equates guns to other tools, implicitly asserting that tools are neutral in
their effects, as often helpful as harmful depending solely on the user's intent.
Objection: as the magnitude of help and harm a tool can bestow grows, it is
acceptable to place limits on access to the tool. Tools are often regulated,
as are constitutional rights limited. Mere physical tools like pesticides
are regulated, based on the inherent ability of the tool to cause unintentional
harm (]DDT] for example.) Constitutional guarantees are obviously abridged,
as you can't yell "fire" in a crowded theater, or have a free assembly
on your neighbor's roof at midnight without his permission, or enter an airport
without being searched. So a gun, even if it were a constitutionally guaranteed
and neutral device, might be regulated to reduce its involvement in dangerous
The "Places With/Without Guns" Parable: Taking the form:
In Switzerland everybody has a gun and there's no crime. Or, In Japan
nobody has a gun and there's no crime. Or, My cousin had a gun and stopped a
holdup. Or, My cousin had a gun and it accidentally killed a saint. The
user of this parable may be asserting that given the presence/absence of guns,
the U.S. would be exactly like some other country in the matter of crime. Or
that one situation, plus or minus a gun, would have a certain inevitable outcome.
This is a simple generalization, but does serve to establish a possibility
of the wished-for outcome.
- I have always liked the term "Monograph", but
it is far better not to use it first. I would prefer that some chappie came
up to me unasked and bestowed the term on my collection of notes: "I
say, Smokey! Read your monograph on the S.A.D., old chap. Smashing!"
- Towards? Or Toward? Somewhere there is a dry and pedantical
explanation of which is which, and somewhere even an interesting one. This
is not there .
- I took an interesting course with Damien Conway, the great
guru of OOPerl and a great explainer. He illustrated, without defining, the concepts of grammar and grammar generation so well that I finally
caught a glimpse over the wall into a rich province of programming and
algorithmic thought. But it's not Parse::RecDescent that I'm talking about
here. It's the basic collection of tropes that you tend to find in a S.A.D.
- Which reads, "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."
- An acronym need not be an initialism, but this one is.