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Letters of the law

By Tom Toles



Friday rant, guns and poses edition

We could argue all day about the Second Amendment, as commenters did here on Wednesday. Takeaway: same as ever, the amendment can be interpreted different ways, and it is and always has been. The Supreme Court saw its opportunity to do the same and it took it. But step away from the legal arguments for a moment to consider the reasons people usually give for wanting unrestricted gun availability. You hear basically two.

First. To shoot burglars. Although Americans have ALWAYS had the ability to buy a gun to shoot burglars, they could never feel sure they had ENOUGH firearms to deal with the wide variety of burglar-shooting scenarios that they could think of. And while the data show that you are less likely to bag a burglar than to accidentally shoot your brother-in-law who stopped in to get a beer out of your fridge, one can imagine a defense of "close enough!"

Second. To shoot government officials, when the BIG TYRANNY gets underway, if it hasn't already. This one has the ring of patriotic heroism until you actually think about it for a minute. The level of government overreach that would justify gunning down government officials, and the size of private arsenals large enough to make this a REMOTELY plausible strategy requires a fevered imagination of coma-inducing proportions. And the scenario of STATES protecting themselves against federal depredations? The last time we went through that exercise, the aggrieved states were not exactly fighting for the lofty cause of "free people." --Tom Toles




By Tom Toles  | July 2, 2010; 12:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guns  
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If we're all done calling each other names and squabbling like children, I think maybe it would be pertinent for us to look at the real issue here. Whether or not you think the right to bear arms applies only to an organized militia or to every private citizen across the nation or to no one at all, the fact remains that the chances of the Second Amendment being repealed are slim to none. This debate shouldn't be about whether people should be able to own guns; rather it should be about how. As we've seen time and time again, in instances ranging from accidental shootings to the Virginia Tech massacre, the regulations about the ownership and purchase of fire arms are woefully minimal and in some cases non-existent. That's not to say that any reputable dealer won't do an extensive background check on the intended purchaser. Any gun dealer worth his salt isn't just going to hand someone a weapon. But where's the real accountability there? How do you truly ensure that only those people who know how to handle their fire arm and treat it with respect for the weapon that it is are allowed to buy?

Well, we've been doing something similar for almost a hundred years with another deadly weapon: the automobile. We don't just let people get into cars willy nilly and let them drive around without knowing their clutch from their brakes. It's an offense punishable by jail time and fines.

So why shouldn't it be the same for fire arms? I say that if people want to be trusted with the responsibility of owning a gun, they should at the very least know how to use it properly and maintain its upkeep and have tangible proof of that knowledge. Granted, this won't stop accidents from happening, just as drivers' ed doesn't stop car accidents from occuring every day on America's roads. But some sort of education, I think, is the best method of gun control.

I swore I wasn't going to use more than one metaphor in this comment, but another good analogy is sex ed in schools. I know this is another point of great contention, but its been proven in numerous studies that the kids who get the 'abstinence only' line tend to have more unprotected sex than those kids who received a more comprehensive form of education. Theoretically, the same should apply with guns.

Thinking about it rationally, the way the system of gun purchasing works now, we're essentially letting people drive without licenses while having lots of unprotected sex. I know. That's probably a bit of a stretch. But how is letting a 21 year old who has never held a gun in his life, any safer? Honestly, its like playing with fire...arms.

Posted by: adweinberger | July 8, 2010 10:16 PM | Report abuse

Note to the Supreme Court: When gun laws are overruled, the guys with the guns make the rules. – Leif Rakur


The guys with the guns ALWAYS make the rules. That's why government has power because of the implied threat of violence against those that would go against them.

That's why making sure there is no monopoly of force by making sure everyone has equal and plentiful access to arms is 100% needed for the long term preservation of liberty.

Posted by: BradG | July 6, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Someplace in this discussion was a comment about lead shot and Condors and the Left... something about hunting rights? I'd be really interested, whoever you are, to hear how Oregon's restriction of lead sinkers for fishermen (also because, as some of us know, lead really is not exactly a good thing to put in the food chain) is an example of creeping Leftism.

How about lead in paint? Gasoline? Are these, too, examples of creeping Leftiness?

Or, is the, "If you don't agree with me, then you are a Left-wing, Liberal, Commie-pinko Gay Socialist America-hater," thing just getting completely out of hand?

Seriously, what does hunting and/or fishing have to do with Left or Right?

Or, IS it really only Lefties who want to keep neurotoxins out of the food chain?

This, apparently, is why we need truth in labelling. Pun intended.

Posted by: jonroesler | July 2, 2010 5:43 PM | Report abuse

"Do you think California's ban on lead bullets was really about Condors or one more chip toward depriving us of our hunting rights. The left will keep chipping away with a whole bunch of new regulations that are on the way.

Posted by: CAservative | July 2, 2010 1:13 PM"

It was really about condors.

Do you insist on reading hard core gay porn in a public place simply to assert your First Amendment rights? Do you make a point of telling uniformed soldiers that they can't be quartered in your home, lest your Third Amendment rights be eroded through non-assertion?

Posted by: simpleton1 | July 2, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Wow, the gun-nuts seem to really have it in for you! Even when the cartoon is about Wall Street - like this one - it doesn't stop them from spewing NRA talking-points.

Keep up the good work! Thank you.

Posted by: OttoResponder | July 2, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

In a rather heated discussion with a friend who likes to hunt but does not believe there is a threat from the government to take away his rights, I asked, "What makes you think they won't take your guns?" He replied, "The NRA won't let them!"
I rest my case...join the NRA!

Posted by: CAservative | July 2, 2010 1:16 PM | Report abuse

There is a third reason for wanting to own guns, not just burglars or an oppressive government. Some of us just enjoy shooting and hunting sports and thank the second amendment guarantees for the privilege. I would quite possibly be willing to give up certain kinds of weapons if that was the end of it, but that won't happen so long as the liberal left keeps chipping away at our gun rights. It's the old "Give them an inch and they will take the whole mile" (or the whole Second Amendment). Do you think California's ban on lead bullets was really about Condors or one more chip toward depriving us of our hunting rights. The left will keep chipping away with a whole bunch of new regulations that are on the way.

Posted by: CAservative | July 2, 2010 1:13 PM | Report abuse

If the argument over the interpretation is over, then the necessary next step is obvious. The Second Amendment can and should be repealed. After that, we can negotiate some sensible regulations.

EB53, You are absolutely correct. I do not agree with you on wanting to do this, but if everyone is so concerned about gun violence and disagree with the SCOTUS's ruling, get off your duffs and get the Amendment repealed. I would have a TON of respect for the folks that tried this. Again, I would not agree with them and work against them, but I would at least respect them. As it is, the anti-gun folks are trying to do this the lazy way.

Posted by: ATrueChristian | July 2, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I've been an NRA member for over forty years.

I believe in the right to bear arms, but not necessarily all arms.

I see no need for average joe to have a fully automatic weapon for home protection, hunting or anything else unless this country is invaded by a foreign army and we are at war.

At any rate, anybody that has fired an automatic weapon knows after the first round goes out the barrel, it may as well be a shotgun cuz the the rest of the bullets seldom if at all hit on or even near the same aiming point unless you're standing right in front of the target and just as well be using a pistol.

But this doesn't change the facts of constitutional right of person weapons ownership. Where others see ambiguity and room for interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, I see none.

If you don't want a gun don't buy one, that is "your" right. But your right(s) do not extend beyond yourself to me and anyone else choosing to own weapons, even if they are ignorant enough to think they need an automatic weapon.

By the way the best weapon for home protection is a shotgun...stops the agressor and won't go through your neighbor's house walls.

I know a lot of people disagree, and even understand their positions on weapons.

Personally, should my home come under attack and I am there, my intent is to stop the attack by whatever force I'm caused to take, from scaring off or holding the criminal for law enforcement officers as first choice, through and up to, without hestitation dropping the criminal agressor in his tracks if that is the only option and choice the criminal gives me. If my wife of thirty six years, the only family I have left is under threat of being held hostage or in imminent danger of bodily harm, God help the criminal because I will kill him stone dead if at all possible.

Posted by: thomas_pearson46 | July 2, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

Sure...but I as an Individual Also have a right to own and use a gun for pleasure and/or protection when necessary...punctuation not intact

Posted by: bertzel | July 2, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

OK, here's the solution kiddies:

The 1st Amendment without a doubt protects personal speech, the right to print a newspaper, book, etc. (whatever else "press" may cover). It does not mean that you are only allowed your protection of speech when you are a member of the press who peaceably assembles, etc. It means you have the right to speak freely, the right to start your own "press", the right to peaceably assemble, etc.

The true interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is that States' rights to form a militia cannot be infringed and the right of citizens to keep and bear arms cannot be infringed. Two separate rights combined into one Amendment. The punctuation gives it away, since they are separated by commas.

If the SCOTUS interprets the 2nd to mean that only State sponsered militia members can own or carry arms, then they also have to interpret the 1st Amendment to mean that speech, press, assembly and petitioning the gov't can only be done if all those things are combined, otherwise it can be prohibited!

THAT'S what the lefty's DON'T UNDERSTAND! If you interpret one Amendment one way and the other Amendment the other way, consistancy is thrown to the wind and we get a Constitution that is not worth the blood spilled for it if a panel of judges changes the meanings willy-nilly.

Posted by: ATrueChristian | July 2, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

To both sides, I see a lot of misquoting the 2nd Amendment by both sides here is what it says, exactly, punctuation intact:

"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."

Compare this to the 1st Amendment and the similarities are astonishing, for brevity I quote it in part:

" ...; or abridging freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people to peaceably assemble, ..."

Any takers on what the similarities are?

Posted by: ATrueChristian | July 2, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse your view of the world eb53,iceman,&pjohn anyone who believes in the right to bear arms is small, weak, vulnerable and insecure, and be also has imaginary attackers????
Why don't you break out of that glass bubble you live in and take a good hard look at the real world.....sexual predator abound in my neck of the woods....women and children are missing, murdered, and raped.
I am not gun crazy nor a troll....I do have a right to protect myself. From "creepers" and you know who you are!

Posted by: bertzel | July 2, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

"A good example of Government intimidation by the gun is that incredible picture of Elian Gonzalez absolutely terrified at the site of a Government agent in full gear holding an automatic weapon at him. How revolting.

Posted by: bobbo2 | July 1, 2010 6:22 PM"

Actually, not really. That photo literally captured a second in time; as soon as that agent saw what was in front of him, he lowered his weapon. But the photo recorded the instant for posterity.

Of course, it was all a setup by Elian's Miami-based relatives. They'd spent months stoking events to create just such a confrontation, and they'd convinced little Elian that the agents coming were bogeymen. Total child exploitation.

And in the ultimate irony (for your argument), they were all only here in the first place because of a specific government (yes, government) policy favoring Cubans over other immigrants. If Elian had been Haitian we'd have never heard of him. Once the decision to return Elian had been made, the agents were only enforcing the immigration laws. I'm assuming you have no problem with that, or do you want to arm immigrants so that they can forcibly resist US government authority?

Posted by: simpleton1 | July 2, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, jamesmmoylan. You said it all. The 2nd Amendment gun-nuts are whiny, little scared pimples on the bum of society.
If the government REALLY wanted to oppress, your big supply of guns would be reduced to powder by a single drone strike.
Gun nuts are America's home-grown terrorists intent on terrorizing all non-gun owners. Cowards.

Posted by: pjohn2 | July 2, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

I'd like to see a state or city take the Second Amendment seriously and pass a law stating that all gun owners must join the "well regulated" state or city militia, train one day a month, take gun safety education, keep their guns locked up, maybe even buy only the types of guns acceptable to the "well regulated" militia. Could the Supremes over turn it? Hard to see how, given the actual wording of the Second Amendment that specifies the well regulated as the reason for the right to bear arms. I know it's dreaming.

Posted by: moore_te | July 2, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Tom, I read this blog periodically (and usually the comments), and although I don't usually comment on a discussion so dominated by trolls (bobbo2, et al. - you know who you are), I thought I would make a brief contribution.

The 2d Amendment is, if anything, designed to ensure that the people can fight against tyranny, should that occur. It does not deal with -- or apply to -- scared little people who think they need to be able to shoot a burglar to feel safe. Since its only sensible intention is to enable the people to take arms against the US Government, can there be any question that this is (in the 21st century, at any rate) not only crazy but also impracticable?

As a result, I not only agree with your point but also with the sentiments stated in eb53's post. Let's repeal the damn thing, put some sensible regulations in place and stop killing each other.

Posted by: Iceman3 | July 2, 2010 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Tom, if I feel small, weak, vulnerable and insecure, I should have the right to buy a gun to make me feel big and strong. It's in the bible.

Posted by: Kevin71707 | July 1, 2010 11:35 PM | Report abuse

If the argument over the interpretation is over, then the necessary next step is obvious. The Second Amendment can and should be repealed. After that, we can negotiate some sensible regulations.

In the interest of fairness, individuals so fearful they feel the need to arm themselves against imaginary attackers should be provided unlimited free therapy. And a nice blankie.

Posted by: eb53 | July 1, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Toles...if I am out on the trail and some 'creeper' decides to 'pounce' on me or if I am in my car and some 'creeper' decides to carjack my car or some 'creeper' breaks into my home (and I guarantee it wouldn't be a relative, they wouldn't be that stupid!) isn't just your run of the mill house burglar....I should have the right to protect myself period.
As for shooting government officials....come on another lame arguement....if someone wants to shoot a government official it will happen no matter what "rules" are enforced!
Been done before.

Posted by: bertzel | July 1, 2010 8:21 PM | Report abuse

I always wanted to visit Australia. But I wanted to do it between plagues. Let's see, there was the mouse plague, the locust plague, the rabbit plague, oh yeah, and the cane toad plague. Oh, i forgot about the fires and cyclones. When is the safest time to visit Australia?

Posted by: bobbo2 | July 1, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

You Americans are simply insane.

Apparently you need guns to keep you safe because there are so many guns in your society - does anyone see a logical glitch in this sort of reasoning?

No other country on earth would tolerate the sort of wholsale butchery that occurs on a daily basis in America.

In Aus we have an average of about 200-250 gun deaths a year (almost all suicides).

In 1999, there were 28,874 gun-related deaths in the United States - over 80 deaths every day.

Between 1993-1999, gun deaths in the United States have declined 27%.

In 1999, 58% of all gun deaths were suicides, and 38% were homicides.

Of all suicides, 57% occurred by firearm

In 2000, 75,685 people (27/100,000) suffered non-fatal firearm gunshot injuries.

You Americans are crazy - I wouldn't visit your country even if I was provided an armed troop carrier - it is simply too dangerous. Any fool can buy a gun, any criminal can buy a gun, any insane crazy can buy a gun - just about anyone can buy a gun!

(I have led a less than sheltered life in Australia for just about half a century and I have never encountered an illegal handgun in our country - I know they must exist but they are as rare as hens teeth.)

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | July 1, 2010 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Note to the Supreme Court: When gun laws are overruled, the guys with the guns make the rules. – Leif Rakur

Posted by: leifrakur2 | July 1, 2010 7:26 PM | Report abuse

The Second Amendment doesn't say "the right of a well regulated militia to keep and bear arms", it says "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". People have many reasons to own guns. To protect their home, to hunt, to target shoot, and to collect. Guns are fine examples of craftsmanship that many people admire like fine art. Dads teach their kids to hunt like their Dads did. Target shooting is a skill that should be appereciated like the use of a bow and arrow. Mr. Toles, your Big Tyranny argument falls flat. And there have been about as many left wing shootouts with Government officials as right wing. Don't ever forget the Symbionese Liberation Army. I firmly believe that the American voter will defeat Government overreach at the voting booth. A good example of Government intimidation by the gun is that incredible picture of Elian Gonzalez absolutely terrified at the site of a Government agent in full gear holding an automatic weapon at him. How revolting. I support the right of any law abiding American to own a gun or guns. Oh, and by the way, I have never, and probably never will own a gun. My choice.

Posted by: bobbo2 | July 1, 2010 6:22 PM | Report abuse

Hey Tom, here’s a thought: how about it’s none of your damn business why I want a gun or how many I have? I dont care to know how many copies of the Communist Manifest you have or how many abortions Amanda Marcotte has gotten.

The legal arguments are OVER, you lost and liberty won.

Posted by: SharpshootingPugilist | July 1, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

Actually, the Second Amendment isn't open to interpretation, unless you're a gun nut that thinks that qualifying phrase about militias, well, they really didn't mean that.

Posted by: aprilglaspie | July 1, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Tom, please correct the next to last sentence. You probably meant "against" rather than "again"...and it's driving me into a homicidal rage. Just kidding, of course.

But there are many people out there who, even now, seem ready to take arms against the government or anyone they don't like. Of course, many of them belong to organizations like Stormfront and Gunslot.

Even so, I'm a gun owner and believe in the right to bear arms. Unlike most other gun owners, ( _I_ admit that ) I can understand why banning or strongly controlling guns is so appealing. My socially libertarian philosophy, which applies to individuals, is to give people the maximum latitude possible in personal behavior. Thus, I don't object to gun ownership, prostitution; think all illegal drugs should be decriminalized; believe the minimum age for sexual consent should be 14 yo; think the the minimum age for drinking alcohol should be 18 yo or lower under certain circumstances, yad, yada, yada... . My libertarian philosophy does not apply to financial institutions or other corporations, since they have already shown themselves to be irresponsible and are capable to doing tremendous harm to so many people.

Then there's the inconvenience of the 2nd amendment. I don't see much room for debate here. You've no doubt read it many times. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, where infringe means "to limit or undermine." Clearly the SCOTUS did not go far enough in granting 2nd amendment rights to the people.

Posted by: ptgrunner | July 1, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

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