Saturday, August 27, 2016

Second Amendment overzealousness

A piece about concealed-carry laws and the University of Texas included this succinct statement of how gun-rights supporters view the Second Amendment.
... self-defense and the right of individuals to bear arms must not be restricted.
And indeed, the text of the Second Amendment is plain:
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.
"... shall not be infringed" is about as clear a statement as can be.

And yet ...

The Bill of Rights is a broad guide to principles. And if there's one truth about rights, it's this: they aren't unconstrained. They can't be. Not as long as there are other people around you who also have rights.

We intuitively know that. We put limits on free speech even though the very first amendment to the Constitution says Congress mustn't. We don't allow felons or the mentally unstable to own weapons. We know that "shall not be infringed" is not the absolute that pundits sometimes claim it is.

So the determination of the Texas Legislature to ignore the concerns of the administrators of the University of Texas when it comes to the circumstances under which guns should be allowed on campus is disquieting. What, after all, is the purpose of allowing weapons on campus to a greater extent than was already permissible?

There's only one reason: to cater to the fears of gun owners. Not only their fear that the Second Amendment is under attack by gun-control advocates, but their fear of ... the world. Consider the sentiments of Huyler Marsh, a student who carries a .45 caliber pistol:

“I wear it pretty much whenever I can,” Mr. Marsh said. “It’s not that I’m afraid of getting attacked all the time. It’s more like a fire extinguisher or a seatbelt. You always have it and hope you never have to use it. If I call 911, it might be 10 minutes before they get here. It might be more. It’s nice to know you have ultimate responsibility for your safety.”
Marsh may think he isn't afraid of being attacked, but the rest of his statement reveals that he is.

Most of us don't spend our time worrying about car crashes or accidental fires. We're grateful for seat belts and fire extinguishers, but we don't obsess about them. We certainly don't carry them around with us, "just in case". Partly that's for practical reasons. But mostly, it's because we don't live our lives assuming the worst is going to happen.

Marsh, though, does. He assumes that he just might need that gun at any moment.

That may strike you as admirably cautious. However, it strikes me as high-strung.

I'm not knocking high-strung people per se: I'm one myself. But it's not good to live your life in a state of perpetual readiness for attack. Physiologically, living in constant stress is detrimental to your health. Psychologically, it means that hanging over your interactions with others is the thought that they might attack you.

Marsh undoubtedly doesn't think so, and he might even argue that having his pistol makes him less nervous, knowing he's ready for whatever happens. That may be true. However, it doesn't explain why he feels so apprehensive about life outside the home that he has to strap the gun on whenever he leaves.

I'm not thrilled that his view of the world is so dark that he feels he has to carry in the first place. That's the real problem with the arguments for concealed-carry: its proponents are driven by a suspicious, highly fearful view of the rest of us.

As a practical matter, too, carrying a weapon tells us nothing of your intentions. The fact is that you know you're a good guy with a gun, but the rest of us have no way of knowing that. (Nor, for that matter, do you know that I am also a good guy with a gun, or would be if I carried.) If you reach toward your back pocket, is it to pull out your wallet — or a piece? If I know you're packing, should I wait until I'm sure, or should I act preemptively because, well, you look dangerous? Did you pull your piece because you spotted what you think is a suspicious-looking dude who's also packing? I have no way of knowing.

As a principle the Second Amendment is easy to fetishize. In reality, it's a principle that we struggle with, and we should. Guns have but one purpose: to kill. To treat bearing weapons as an absolutely inviolable right is not a viable attitude — not if we treasure the rest of our rights. That goes against what Second Amendment absolutists claim, of course; "we need our guns to secure our other rights!" But in practice, the danger of abridged rights doesn't come from the government — not today. Today, that danger comes from gun-toting zealots who refuse to accept that their favorite Constitutional amendment has limits. That a lot of these folks are also driven by fear, though they don't know it, just makes the situation worse.

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