2nd Amendment Response

I got some good responses to my last post; let me see what sort of mileage I can get from them.

Let me try to restate what seems to be the most common objection to my argument in list form:

  1. The government can become illegitimate for various reasons. Let’s grant the premise, it seems uncontroversial.
  2. Force may be required to fight back against an illegitimate government
  3. People have a God-given right to be able to defend themselves, including in cases when the government becomes illegitimate
  4. Therefore the state must recognize the right of citizens to bear arms to fight them in the event they one day become illegitimate
  5. An example of this in action is the Battle of Athens (this is not actually a premise of the argument but it does help illustrate it)

This is pretty good.

The Battle of Athens was about the subjects of the rightful sovereign fighting against rebels who attempted to oust the sovereign in place of their own, illegitimate sovereign.

Let’s replace election with “King” and see how it looks:

After the death of the king, the rightful king is meant to be the king’s son, Joe the 4th. But the nephew of the king, Bob the 2nd, makes a power play, and claims he is the rightful king, even though it is well known that this is not how the line of succession works. So Joe the 4th leads his subjects to take back his rightful throne from Bob the 2nd. He does, and we all live happily ever after.

If the 2nd Amendment is interpreted in such a way I don’t see an obvious problem with it.


Let’s take a look at the Civil War, or again, a certain interpretation of it.

The Southern states did not see themselves as rebels. Rather, they saw themselves as keepers of the proper, original government of the United States, which had been ousted by an illegitimate leader in Lincoln (let’s ignore for the moment whether their view was actually correct). In their view the leaders of the government were usurpers of the rightful sovereign. Therefore they were fighting to let the rightful, sovereign government keep control at least of their half of the country.

The fighting of the Civil War itself seems to indicate some issue with this interpretation of the second amendment; at the very least it is hard to see how the government can possibly recognize it in practice, since it will always judge those fighting against them to be illegitimate usurpers.

The only way the second amendment can possibly work is if a legitimate sovereign actually backs those bearing arms. If the U.S. federal government had stepped in and declared the original election legitimate, like it or not the fighters of Athens could do nothing about it.

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31 Responses to 2nd Amendment Response

  1. Bedarz Iliachi says:

    The southern states claimed to secede from the Union. I have not heard of the claim that Lincoln was illegitimate ruler. The rebels simply held that the individual states had right to secede from the union. Thus, they claimed that the individual states were sovereign and not the United States.
    So, in the rebel interpretation, the United States was rather like European Union.

    • I’ve heard everything under the sun and was trying to give one interpretation that fit the understanding of the 1nd amendment given.

      That’s also a plausible sounding one.

      • Bedarz Iliachi says:

        It is simply a matter of fact, not interpretation that the rebel cause was secession and not legitimacy of Lincoln’s election.

      • The question is what justification they used for secession. That they seceded is clearly not at question.

        You’re right that I phrased it badly, though. What I meant to say is that the South believed that they had no requirement to accept the result of Lincoln’s election; that being forced to accept it was illegal.

        They ABSOLUTELY – and this is also historical fact – believed themselves to be the heirs of the original, historical government of the founders. It’s the reason they set up their Constitution to be nearly identical.

      • Bedarz Iliachi says:

        “the heirs of the original, historical government of the founders. ”
        But they did not hold themselves to be The United States of the founders.
        According to the rebel interpretation, the United States were a voluntary arrangement of sovereign nations (i.e the States) such that these nations could exit the arrangement at their own wish.
        But the North held to the everlasting nature of the union, effectively the constituent states were NOT sovereign and the sovereignty resided in the United States collectively.

        And who can say that interpretation the Founders would have held. Sovereignty is a fact, a fact prior to legal arguments and constitutions. That is, a nation could be independent for a thousand years but could see its sovereignty snuffled out tomorrow and no amount of legal arguments and historical evidence could change this fact a whit.

        Sovereignty is an assertion a people make. Even if the States were sovereign in 1776 or 1861 they were not in 1865.

      • They held themselves – as you yourself are arguing, right now – to be holding to the proper interpretation and intentions of the founders when they formed the nation. They were the bearers of the torch that the Northern government had dropped.

      • Bedarz Iliachi says:

        You wrote
        ” they saw themselves as keepers of the proper, original government of the United States,”
        How could that be when they dissolved the United States itself?
        Please note they called themselves the Confederate States of America. Empathetically, they did not regard themselves as the heirs of US. To them, USA was a creature of several states, joining or leaving at will.

      • Bedarz Iliachi says:

        “South believed that they had no requirement to accept the result of Lincoln’s election”
        I wouldn’t put it this way. Their point was they were free to exit.

      • That is exactly the point, since it was the impetus of them leaving.

      • Bedarz Iliachi says:

        To the seceding states, the election of Lincoln was intolerable. But this does not mean that they viewed the election or its result as illegitimate.
        Also, you may be ignoring considerations of state sovereignty. The seceding states believed that their states were sovereign, and not the USA. Lincoln held otherwise.
        So, there was no continuity between USA and the seceding states and your analogy does not work. The Confederacy was NOT defending the constitution of USA. It was defending itself.

  2. GJ says:

    When I ponder this matter apart from a Western perspective, there is this sense of wrongness. It’s hard to express, but it’s like a 12 year old boy reasoning that prudentially he should be allowed to own a cleaver in case his father goes into a murderous rage. The boy would certainly need a cleaver in such a situation, but the fact that he’s having such a contemplation means that there’s something seriously wrong already.

    This certainly doesn’t constitute a counterargument. I just wanted to mention this sense of wrongness that is more than the usual self-contradictions inherent in liberal Western perspectives.

    Apart from the above, I would say that prudential concerns pull your argument apart. Prudentially, you’ll need weapons of a certain power to match the government (semi-automatics are not enough) but also prudentially, you’re not going to let weapons of such sufficient power be owned by the ordinary citizen.

    It’s like a mathematical equation demanding that x be above 10 but below -10 at the same time; there is no solution that fits both conditions.

    • I’m actually responding to the argument rather than making it. My particular argument is that the only time bearing arms against the sovereign makes sense is of the sovereign is illegitimate and you have the backing of the legitimate sovereign.

  3. GJ says:

    There’s something I’ve been wondering. When people defend their ability to possess semi-automatics with such an argument involving self-defense against an illegitimate US government, do they actually believe that semi-automatics alone are sufficient?

    • GJ says:

      do they actually believe that semi-automatics alone are sufficient?

      Or is it perhaps some sort of LARPing passed from one generation to another?

      • I recommend you read about the battle of Athens. Interesting stuff.

      • GJ says:

        Gun-toting fighters only won because they had to win within 12 hours, and they did.

        No protracted war against a prepared enemy? Golly.

      • Sure, and in the interests of making sure I am representing my opponents(?) to the best of their ability this is the sort of situation they are talking about.

      • GJ says:

        “The new GI government of Athens quickly encountered challenges including the re-emergence of old party loyalties. On January 4, 1947, four of the five leaders of the GI Non-Partisan League declared in an open letter: “We abolished one machine only to replace it with another and more powerful one in the making.” The GI government of Athens, Tennessee collapsed. Tennessee’s GI political movement quickly faded and politics in the state returned to normal.”

        The pattern of successful rebellion leading to a situation which is at least worse off is such a regular one. I suspect it’s Divine punishment.

      • Sort of like how the US war in Afghanistan was quick and decisive and we went back home within a year to never bother the country again?

    • So what’s your alternative?

      • GJ says:

        My alternative to complete delusion would be to abandon it.

      • So your plan for a tyrannical government is…? Just wish really really hard?

      • GJ says:

        Wishing really hard, living in cloud-cuckoo-land is the province of believers in ‘my semi-automatics can take on the USG’.

        I have no worldly ‘plan’ like the one you seek; what I do is pray to the God whose hand we’re all in.

      • So you pray to God for your food and health too? Or do you employ a worldly ‘plan’ of a job and a doctor?

      • You certainly remind me of the old joke…

        A religious man is on top of a roof during a great flood. A man comes by in a boat and says “get in, get in!” The religous man replies, ” no I have faith in God, he will grant me a miracle.”

        Later the water is up to his waist and another boat comes by and the guy tells him to get in again. He responds that he has faith in god and god will give him a miracle.

        With the water at about chest high, another boat comes to rescue him, but he turns down the offer again cause “God will grant him a miracle.”

        With the water at chin high, a helicopter throws down a ladder and they tell him to get in, mumbling with the water in his mouth, he again turns down the request for help for the faith of God.

        He arrives at the gates of heaven with broken faith and says to Peter, I thought God would grand me a miracle and I have been let down.” St. Peter chuckles and responds, “I don’t know what you’re complaining about, we sent you three boats and a helicopter.”

      • GJ says:

        I suppose that if the Almighty sent you a helicopter and an ICBM, your attitude might make more sense.

        Otherwise you’re completely deluded.

      • And how many missiles have your prayers brought down?

        How so? Every piece of machinery in the military requies muliple man hours of maintenance for every 1 hour of operation. One doesn’t have to shoot down the helicopter, just shoot down (or recruit) the repair crew.

        But of course guns are completely useless against a military. That’s why the modern USA military has stopped using guns after all. /sarc

      • GJ says:

        But of course guns are completely useless against a military. That’s why the modern USA military has stopped using guns after all. /sarc

        As I’ve pointed out above, semi-automatics alone are not going to be enough. It’s amazing that even the militarily-trained buy into this delusion.

        It should be also be pointed out that ‘guns are completely useless against a military’ is a huge, flaming strawman.

        Also, this is not a situation where ‘so what’s your alternative?’ works. It’s a common kneejerk reaction but is just an excuse to avoid the force of the criticism.

      • Funny that you complain about a starwman when you started out tossing them around. If you don’t like them, don’t invoke them.

        And it’s not an excuse but the core point that even a slim chance is better than no chance at all. You seem to be operating under the assumption that if it isn’t guaranteed then best not try. If so, may as well kill yourself now because life has no guarantee except death.

  4. GJ says:

    malcolm: this is good (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiskey_Rebellion)

    Some years after the rebellion sparked by the ‘muh tea taxes’ incident, the government of Washington decides to levy a domestic whiskey tax to cover the war costs. Rebellion ensues, and ex-rebel Washington leads a federal army to put down the new rebels.

    “The insurrection collapsed as the federal army marched west into western Pennsylvania in October 1794. Immediately before the arrests “… as many as 2,000 of [the rebels] – had fled into the mountains, beyond the reach of the militia…

    It was a great disappointment to Hamilton, who had hoped to bring rebel leaders such as David Bradford to trial in Philadelphia – and possibly see them hanged for treason. Instead, when the militia at last turned back, out of all the suspects they had seized a mere twenty were selected to serve as examples, They were at worst bit players in the uprising, but they were better than nothing.”

    The captured participants and the Federal militia arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Day. Some artillery was fired and church bells were heard as “… a huge throng lined Broad Street to cheer the troops and mock the rebels … [Presley] Neville said he ‘could not help feeling sorry for them. The captured rebels were paraded down Broad Street being ‘humiliated, bedragged, [and] half-starved …’ ”

    The irony is overwhelming.

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