The Washington Post made a unique argument in favor of banning AR-15 in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, arguing that “the men who wrote the Second Amendment would never recognize an AR-15.”
The men who wrote the 2nd amendment would never recognize an AR-15 https://t.co/F7cAqHkqLN
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 13, 2016
The headline on the actual piece has since been changed, presumably because it’s so easy to mock and riff on. Yes, the Founders would not recognize AR-15s. They also wouldn’t recognize the Internet, Twitter, computers, or any other of the tools The Washington Post relies on to publish anti-gun blog posts. There’s never been given any serious question that the Second Amendment and the First Amendment (and most statutory laws) were written in broad terms to protect rights even as technology marches on.
The author of the piece, Christopher Ingraham, admits as much.
In itself, that isn’t an argument for banning everything other than muskets. Technology evolves. It makes no more sense to say an AR-15 isn’t protected by the Second Amendment than it does to say that computers or ballpoint pens aren’t protected by the First.
But evolving technology does call for evolving regulation. And, in practice, the implementation of the Second Amendment has never been strictly “absolute.” Most gun owners accept that civilians typically can’t own fully automatic rifles or tanks or nuclear weapons. Our understanding of the “arms” of the Second Amendment has evolved over the years, subject to shifts in political and legal norms.
That last sentence strikes me as pretty dangerous, by the way. The whole purpose of protecting certain rights is so they don‘t get taken away in the face of “shifts in political and legal norms.” If shifting political norms determines what the Second Amendment protects, the Second Amendment really does nothing at all; as soon as a large enough majority turns against guns, that’s that.
But getting back on track, it seems to me that if you really want to voice your concerns about the killing power of modern guns, appealing to the beliefs of the Founders is exactly the wrong way of going about it. The Founders were armed revolutionaries. The notion that they would have a problem with the citizenry having access to powerful weapons is pretty laughable.
The Second Amendment wasn’t drafted for hunters, sportsman, or even personal protection. This isn’t a particularly politically correct sentiment nowadays, but the Founders envisioned that people of the states would and should rise up and violently overthrow the U.S. government when it became unjust. Thomas Jefferson wanted us to do it every twenty years. If anything, the case for gun control is that we as a society should move past what the Founders thought about gun ownership, not stay stuck in the 1790’s.
That’s the real irony here, by the way. When it comes to gay marriage, abortion, the Commerce Clause, the death penalty, contraception, the separation of church and state, and an entire host of issues, progressive activists have told us for a half a century that the Founders’ original intent are basically irrelevant. No progressive has ever stated (correctly) that “the men who wrote the Fourth Amendment would never recognize our current abortion regime” or “the men who wrote the First Amendment never believed it would ban legislative prayer.”
Instead, they argue for a Living Constitution, arguing that a legal document should be subject to changing interpretations based on a changing nation, even if that ignoring the clear original intention behind the Constitution. As it happens, the current political situation is that a majority of Americans oppose a ban on the AR-15. But I guess the question of how to turn liberals into hyperoriginalists finally has an answer: throw guns into the mix.
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This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.