A lot of gun owners would argue that the 2nd Amendment was put in the Constitution despite the fact that guns are dangerous, but that’s not quite accurate. The 2nd Amendment was put in the Constitution because guns are dangerous things.
If guns weren’t dangerous things, if all that happened when you pulled the trigger was that a flag popped out with the word “Bang” on it, no one would care whether you owned a gun or not – not even the hand-wringing, neurotic scolds in the anti-gun movement.
It is precisely because a gun can wound or kill – and gives its owner a way of defending him or herself against criminals or physically stronger bullies, or of opposing an oppressive government, or of defending a just one – that the right to keep and bear arms is in the Constitution.
Guns are dangerous things. But the qualities that make guns dangerous are the same ones that empower people and make them free. And make no mistake: If you have a way of protecting yourself from the wolf at the door, or from the knock on the door at midnight, you are a lot freer than if you don’t.
It’s the same with most of the other rights protected by the Constitution. The Bill of Rights is not just a laundry list of fundamental human rights and civil liberties; it is also a compilation of some of the most dangerous concepts and activities known to man.
Take the First Amendment protections of speech and the press, for example. Words cause actions. That’s why we speak them. If people weren’t moved by words, if nothing ever happened when we spoke or wrote, no one would bother to shut up speakers or shut down newspapers.
Words not only cause actions, they cause violent actions. Indeed, most violent acts, be they in the home, in a bar, or on the battlefield, are preceded by violent words. If violence is the issue, the case for regulating speech and publications is at least as compelling as the case for regulating guns.
The kindergarten assertion that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” is demonstrable rubbish. If you don’t think so, ride along with the cops sent to break up a domestic disturbance or a bar fight on a Saturday night.
Words are dangerous things. But like guns, the qualities that make words dangerous also empower people – both those people who speak them and those people who hear them – and make them free. So, like the right to keep and bear arms, the rights to speak your mind and publish your thoughts are protected by the Constitution – not despite the fact that words can hurt and maim and kill, but because of it.
The Constitution guarantees the free exercise of religion. Judging by the body count alone, religion is probably the single most dangerous construct of the human mind. The victims of the massacres, assassinations, executions, murders, and mutilations that have been perpetrated in the name of organized religion number in the tens of millions. (The Thirty Years War alone killed more than 10 million.) And the violence continues into the present – as evidenced by a large hole on the lower west side of Manhattan.
But prayer changes things (albeit how is open to debate). And while religion has killed tens of millions, it has also civilized and humanized hundreds of millions. But most of all, those that believe that religion gives meaning and purpose to human existence feel empowered and free in ways that only religion can bestow.
Religion is as dangerous as it is liberating, and the founders of the American Republic knew it. That’s why the Constitution protects the right to practice it and the right to reject it. Then there’s the right of assembly. If you want to know why it’s dangerous, review the recent video from Tehran. If you want to know why it’s empowering and liberating, review a video of Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
The point here is that fundamental rights are inherently dangerous and inherently subject to abuse because they are inherently liberating and empowering. And that is why there is a Bill of Rights in the Constitution. If rights weren’t dangerous, there would be no need to secure them in the fundamental law of the land.
There is nothing anomalous about the 2nd Amendment in this regard. The only thing that sets it apart is that it’s the noisy Amendment. It was inspired by a shot heard around the world.
Reprinted courtesy of Boulder Weekly