Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The GOP and the Second Amendment

As the Republican Party attempts to rebuild it will have to navigate the coalitions that tend toward its support. The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment lobby are such coalitions. The GOP, to its detriment, is loath to insult this lobby for the sake of electoral practicality.

The Second Amendment states: “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.” For the Republican Party this should not be about citizens buying weapons but one of states’ rights, as reference to “the people” is a reference to self-government. Such a position satisfies GOP principles and keeps it within the bounds of common sense.

The intent of the Second Amendment is to protect from the tyranny of the federal government and foreign invaders. The context is the American Revolution. The weaponry of that day was far different from the weapon technology of today. That conflict featured muskets and cannon. The rationale of the Second Amendment is to provide deterrence to a standing federal army when there was no significant gap between the weapon technology of the army and what was common in the 18th Century American home. Further, the assumption of the time was that a standing American army of 30,000 would be no match for state militias numbering 500,000.

This past August saw armed protestors, at least one with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, attending events featuring President Obama. These protestors were operating within the rule of law. However, the symbolism of the semi-automatic weapons was a dull annunciation of their opposition to President Obama’s healthcare reform legislation. One can only deduce that these protestors were symbolically saying that they would bring a gun to a pen fight.

Setting aside reality to host the armed protestors’ extravagant exaggeration that the debate over healthcare reform could culminate in armed conflict on America’s streets; let’s instead examine how that armed conflict would unwind. This also requires a suspension of belief that the general public would idly allow such a gathering storm to reach critical mass. To carry forth this fantasy one must also allow the assumption that America’s military personnel and key federal government officials would act in conspiracy to unilaterally take to America’s streets to violently quash their fellow citizens, armed or not. In the end, even the best shot with an AR-15 is no match for the best armed and trained military in the world.

Nor should it be ignored that the National Guard is a state militia, nullifying the claim by the National Rifle Association that the Second Amendment is violated when the federal government passes laws regulating the sale of weapons to private American citizens.

The Republican Party is so anxious about its relevancy and winning, generally and particularly in the 2010 midterm elections, it has long abandoned all common sense relating to gun ownership. When extremists bring weapons to a public meeting the GOP has the opportunity to condemn the provocation. In doing so the GOP would edge toward the mainstream and provide a precedent to America’s moderate and independent voters to see it as rational and not captive of the extreme right. This can be done without violation of its republican principles if only there were the courage.

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