An Argument Against the Logical Consistency of the Second Amendment, by Certain Interpretations

  1. There is a certain interpretation of the second amendment, commonly quoted and possibly correct as to the amendment’s original intention, that says its purpose is to make sure the citizens of the nation are protected in case they need to defend themselves from a tyrannical government
  2. One way to refer to this is that in the event the government becomes tyrannical the citizens have the ability to engage in an armed rebellion.
  3. But an armed rebellion is always by definition illegal – it is an act of defiance against the current governing authority
  4. Thus, this interpretation of the second amendment would require the government to be sanctioning illegal action against itself
  5. This is self-contradictory, as if it’s illegal it cannot be sanctioned
  6. Therefore the second amendment under this definition makes no sense

I am in favor of an armed populace.

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23 Responses to An Argument Against the Logical Consistency of the Second Amendment, by Certain Interpretations

  1. dpmonahan says:

    Can’t a government create self-imposed limits to its own authority?

  2. Crude says:

    Thus, this interpretation of the second amendment would require the government to be sanctioning illegal action against itself

    I think this is the weak spot.

    You’re seemingly interpreting the second amendment as granting a legal right to an illegal act (armed rebellion.) I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. The government is granting a legal right to own and use weapons for an explicitly extra-legal purpose, if certain conditions are met.

    Put another way: the 2nd amendment is granting the right to bear arms. It’s not granting the right to rebel. The arms are being provided with the understanding the the citizens will justifiably rebel if certain conditions are met – but for the very reasons you outline, it doesn’t bother granting THAT right. It’s not necessary.

    • I have no issue with the section that says citizens have the right to bear arms. I dislike the language of rights, but that’s small potatoes in this case. Arm the populace! And let the teachers arm themselves.

      I question the justification given though, because it is saying that people are allowed to bear arms in case they need to rebel.

      But rebelling is by definition illegal, so saying you need to be armed for a potential rebellion is the equivalent to giving people permission to plan for an explicitly illegal act – which makes no sense.

      • Crude says:

        Well, I don’t think it’s just ‘in case they need to rebel’ either.

        An armed populace is a populace that would-be tyrants would only push so far, in theory. It’s arguable that there is a tangible social good that comes just from an armed populace, sans any planning or actual rebellion.

        And I’m not sure why it makes no sense. It’s like zombie movie/game character X telling someone ‘If I start to turn, kill me.’ They’re not granting license for homicide at will. They’re saying that if a certain condition is reached that is robbing them of their humanity and making them dangerous, kill them. They may never turn.

        The 2nd amendment intention is reminding people that their government (yes, I know, under those modernist principles that even I am not a huge fan of) can in fact become illegitimate, and the people are allowed to arm themselves in case of that eventuality. It’s illegal? Great – who cares about the laws of an illegitimate government? But that doesn’t mean that the government was, at first, illegitimate – any more than the character in the movie was already turned when they gave someone permission to kill them in a certain eventuality.

        It’s more a reminder of a God-given right than a right allowed by the government.

      • Consider this: The nation is supposed to be a democratic republic, yes?
        So, what if the people voted one way – and the government refused?
        i.e. President X runs for a second term. People vote for candidate Y (popular and electoral). X says, “screw the vote, I’m staying president.”

        Did X do anything wrong? Is the wrong act just morally wrong or also illegal? In that instance, is the people taking up arms to enforce their vote still illegal?

        Essentially you’re “gotcha” only applies if you assume the Constitution is NOT a legal contract between two parties with recourse spelled out in said contract. It also only applies if you assume the government can do no legal wrong.

    • To put it another way – If the second amendment were ever used for its intended purpose the people using it for that reason would *by definition* be breaking the law.

  3. MishaBurnett says:

    I see the second amendment as the necessary collerary of the ideal of sovereignty residing with the American people as a whole. Political power was never intended to rest with a political class–it was supposed to be the entire population who held political power and delegated some of their number to administer it. I see the second amendment as a logical extension of that ideal into military power–the professional military and police forces are the designated representatives of the people, but the exercise of military force rests with the people as a whole. Thus any citizen, in theory, is empowered to use force in any way that it would be lawful for military and police to use force–against an armed insurrection or a political junta, for example.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      That is to say, the right to bear arms is not a right to rebel, but a right to put down a rebellion, even if it the political elite who are the rebels.

    • Bedarz Iliachi says:

      MishaBurnett,
      You elide from “sovereignty residing with the American people as a whole” (note it does not reside in any particular individual) to “any citizen, in theory, is empowered to use force”.

  4. Bedarz Iliachi says:

    I agree that the “right to overthrow tyranny” interpretation is self-contradictory.I think the 2nd Amendment is adequately grounded in individual self-defense and right to life and does not need political defenses (such as right to oppose tyrannical govt).

  5. John says:

    I think the second amendment is implictly saying that if a government were to become tyrannical, then it actually wouldn’t be illegal to rebel against it, simply because the government would have lost any of the moral and legal legitimacy it once had.

    But that isn’t explicitly stated, so it seems the best bet would be to add an appendix to the second amendment which states “In cases of tyranny, the government loses it’s legitimacy and rebellion is no longer an illegal act”. One could even argue that, were the US government to become tyrannical, it would undergo a sort of “transformation” which would then no longer make it an actual government, and as such rebellion is a necessary action in order to preserve the former government which was an actual government.

    This would make armed rebellion a self-protective function of the legitimmate government under certain circumstances, which means that it wouldn’t be inherently illegal.

  6. Chad says:

    Malcolm
    Stop framing it in the modern lingo, and you’ll see where the truth is and avoid the snares set up by the use of rights as a concept.

    In natural law, there are certain powers, honors, and authorities that belong, in justice, to individuals and, in particular, to households.

    The encroachment upon these is, through justice, something that can be defended with legitimate force when guided by prudence.

    One of the basic, easiest, and available ways is through firearms.

    Thus, you defend the citizens bearing of arms.

    Yet they don’t have the right to do so, and the government limiting the availability of such weapons is certainly within their authority as long as they don’t encroach upon the familys ability to hunt and defend itself as natural law demands.

    The fact that this is not a concern of modern Americans for day to day living affects both the judgements as to how far astray we may be, as well as how much such encroachment may be legitimate

  7. Timotheos says:

    Your 3) is false, at least if we are following the interpretation from 1), since that reading holds that the second amendment does not grant one the right to bear arms, but merely recognizes that right pre-exists the government, and may not be justly infringed. Now any unjust law does not in fact have the force of law, so it follows that the government cannot pass any law that infringes on the second amendment that has any binding force. Thus 3) is false, at least as long as we are not legal positivists, and think that unjust laws are laws in name only.

    And even if we were legal positivists, while that might save 3), the argument would still have a problem, since we may just take our reading from 1) to be saying that the government of the past is sanctioning the citizens of the furture to be able to rebel against itself if it later decided to revoke the second amendment, in effect binding any future government from legally revoking the second admendment. (Unlike in the case of UK’s parliment, there is no clause in the Constitution that says that a past Congress cannot bind a future Congress, at least that I’m aware of)

    So either way, I don’t think this argument quite works.

  8. Pingback: Arming the principle of subsidiarity | Zippy Catholic

  9. GJ says:

    Why stop at popular interpretations of the second Amendment, when one can consider the two most significant events of the USA.

    ‘The original Rebellion was doubleplusgood but the Southern rebellion was illegal and illegitimate, and deserved to be put down!’

    • Well, for starters, I’m not even sure a majority of my readers think either that the southern rebellion was illegitimate or the original rebellion was legitimate.

      • GJ says:

        I meant to indicate that the double-mindedness you analysed in your post springs from the double-mindedness that the average American has about rebellions to secede.

      • GJ says:

        There is some very deep doublethink that results in ‘the government must actively preserve its means of destruction’.

  10. GJ says:

    While people own guns for many reasons, many guns are owned for the express purpose of rebellion, whether to overthrow or rebel in some limited form such as the Bundy standoffs.

    No sensible government would tolerate this.

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