By: Sean Cribben
The aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre has been marked by a seemingly endless torrent of heated arguments and bitter recriminations between supporters of gun-control and gun rights advocates. Questions pertaining to the Constitution and public safety have, of course, been at the fore, with the NRA and its acolytes typically claiming that gun ownership is intrinsic to the well-being of both. That their paltry statistical evidence, tortured reasoning, and deliberate obfuscation have been all too successful in swaying countless Americans into believing such nonsense does nothing to diminish the utter mendaciousness of their claims.
But perhaps the gun rights crowd's most pernicious and dangerous assertion is that concerning the Second Amendment and its alleged sanction of armed insurrection as a means of redress. From Sharron Angle to a legion of anonymous online commenters, the argument has been made time and again that widespread gun ownership is the only bulwark against government “tyranny,” and that any encroachment upon said right will inevitably deprive “the people” of their ability to defend themselves against state-sanctioned thuggery.
Over the years a number distinguished historians and journalists, including Jill Lepore, Garry Wills, and Andrew Rosenthal, have taken this claim to task by exposing the various logical fallacies and historical inaccuracies that serve as its intellectual foundations. Perhaps the most important piece of evidence, however, and one which the insurrectionist crowd conveniently ignores at all costs, is the Constitution itself. Here is the full text of the Second Amendment (the emphases are, of course, mine): "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."
Now here is Article 1, Section 8 of the same document (again, emphases are mine): "The Congress shall have power to . . . provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States . . ."
Only the most rabid and desperate gun rights advocate could possibly interpret the Second Amendment as a license to revolt after reading that part of the Constitution which directly assigns the "well-regulated militia" the role of "suppress(ing) insurrections."
What's more, the notion that men of great wealth and property like the Founding Fathers would have drafted a constitutional provision permitting any yahoo with a (perceived) grievance to violently usurp the state and its representatives is beyond absurd. For despite occasional paeans to rebellion, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and their ilk were devoted to the Union and the Constitution through which it had been forged. They did not look kindly upon armed revolt or mob rule, as can be evinced by their reactions to the Shays' and Whiskey Rebellions, as well as by legislation like the Militia Acts of 1792, 1793, and 1795, and the Insurrection Act of 1807. They did not, in other words, believe that the Constitution contained within itself a self-destruct button.
Perhaps, ultimately, the rhetoric regarding armed insurrection and the Second Amendment is merely a by-product of Democratic rule; the years of the Clinton Administration were, after all, marked by much right-wing blabbering about the Constitution and government "tyranny," blabbering that dissipated as soon as the Bush Administration assumed office and, ironically, oversaw one of the greatest expansions of government power in American history. One can only hope in the meantime that the right's violent rhetoric is merely the barking of a toothless dog.Back