01 August 2005

The Troubling Adoration of The Second Amendment

Another last-minute decision by the Senate was to pass a bill that essentially gives immunity from law suits to gun sellers and gun manufacturers (Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (S.397)). Conservatives would add “frivolous” before the term “law suits” since they argue that those who legally and innocently sell a product that is protected under the Second Amendment should not be held accountable for what wicked, evil people do with their products.

Well, I agree. There is nothing inherently immoral about producing guns. In this fallen world there will be violence and people have a right to defend themselves. What is more, John Jay, writing in The Federalist, argued that “[a]mong the many objects to which a wise and free people find it necessary to direct their attention, that of providing for their safety seems to be the first” (essay no. 3). His essay included both foreign and domestic violence as threats to this safety and argues that it ought to be the prime responsibility of a unified state to guards its citizens against them. Thus, weapons are a necessary tool in defending the safety of the state.

It would be easy to laugh off the red-faced tirade of the senior senator from Massachussetts against Republican plans to pass this legislation as another looney liberal, anti-gun craze. But unfortunately, Mr. Kennedy is right on this issue. The legislation that was passed does “lock the courthouse doors to gun violence victims,” as president of the anti-gun Brady Campaign warned. Perhaps not all doors, but many are now locked.

So, how do we reconcile these two viewpoints? How can one hold that self-defense and defense of innocent citizens is a valid right while at the same time holding that it is unconscionable to exempt gun makers and sellers from lawsuits?

But look at the reasoning there. The allegation that such reasoning is contradictory is based on the premise that gun makers and sellers are somehow not a normal industry but are immune to all kinds of corruption and deviousness. The legislation the Senate passed declares not so much—as Republicans wanted us to believe—that this protects good and honest businesses from “politically motivated predatory lawsuits,” as the NRA put it, but rather that gun makers and sellers are canonized as saints and cannot be touched by almost any lawsuit. It preempts nearly all judgments by judges and juries by declaring the entire industry innocent of any charges that could possibly be lodged against them.

Now it is true, that lawsuits can stil be brought against gun manufacturers and gun sellers, but the burden of proof has now become so onerous that hardly any civilian will be able to avail himself of the legal expertise to meet that burden. In other words, the game is now rigged to such an extent that the gun industry is almost certain to win. Even if the actual words of the legislation allow for an escape hatch, that escape hatch only leads into a blind wall.

For that reason, we must agree—as much as it annoys me—with Senator Kennedy. He alleged that this legislation is nothing but a huge pay-off to the NRA. In essence, he claimed, the NRA are in control of the country. He is probably right. While no-one should ever dare to claim that citizens do not have the right to defend themselves, America’s religious adoration of the Second Amendment has made the country complacent about gun safety and responsible use of guns.

If the Founders had only seen fit to phrase the Second Amendment in terms of “the right to defend oneself” rather than a blanket approval to “bear arms,” we would still have had reasonable legislation defending the rights of good and innocent citizens while there could not have been a gun crazy NRA. Surely, you do not believe the NRA backs this kind of legislation for any reason except that it rakes in the cash from the sale and manufacture of guns, do you?

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