Walter Shapiro on the repeal of the Second Amendment

My friend The Liberal Avenger pointed to an article on Salon calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. While I certainly disagree that the Second Amendment should be repealed, I applaud the honesty of the author in recognizing that the Second does guarantee our right to keep and bear arms, rather than attempting to weasel our way around it.

The author of the Salon article, Walter Shapiro, wrote (in part):

Looking at the Bill of Rights with more than two centuries’ hindsight, it is simply irrational that firearms have a protected position on par with freedom of speech and religion. Were Americans — liberal or conservative — writing a Constitution completely from scratch today, they probably would agree that something akin to “freedom to drive” was more far important than the “right to bear arms.” The rights of state militias (which many liberal legal theorists argue is the essence of the Second Amendment) are as much a throwback to an 18th century mind-set as restrictions on quartering soldiers in private homes during peacetime (the little-remembered Third Amendment). . . .

Times change, generations pass and attitudes evolve. As fears of crime recede in many places, nervous homeowners may no longer be obsessed with having a .45 by the bedside to blow away phantom intruders. There is also an implicit racial component here with the bygone Archie Bunker generation having a specific image of exactly whom they feared climbing in a window at night. Even the fearsome NRA may well sharply decline as a political force, much as once-fierce-jawed interest groups like the American Legion and the labor movement have grown increasingly toothless over the past quarter-century.

Oh, I’m certain that if we were writing the Constitution today, it would be very different. Mr Shapiro argues that we would probably not include the right to keep and bear arms, and he’s probably right I can think of a few other things we’d omit: freedom of religion would certainly be curtailed, freedom of speech restricted via a politically correct vision, looking at the Democrats’ attitude toward judicial nominees, I’d guess that the “no religious test” part would be, if not discarded, at least amended, and we’d probably wind up with something like the moribund European Union constitution: a document hundreds of pages long, specifying details to the nth degree, banning everything from smoking in public to the use of transfat in food preparation to regulation of nude beaches. (Of course, if we could get the Sixteenth Amendment repealed, our country would be much better off!)

Looking at what the Framers produced, compared to what modern constitution writers in Europe wrought, I’d judge the men of the 18th century to have been wiser than those of the twenty-first.

Against this backdrop, liberals should look at the firearms issue from a long-term perspective, instead of going into a fetal crouch over how gun control will play in the next election. A repeal movement would at best take 15 to 20 years to reach critical mass, so this is not the moment to play litmus-test politics and require White House contenders to take self-defeating positions guaranteed to be excoriated in attack ads in West Virginia. But this would be an appropriate time for overly earnest gun-controllers to rethink their tone and their rhetoric to better understand why their opponents are so politically adept at tarring them as elitists. After all, hunters and marksmen no more need the Second Amendment to practice their sports than archers and race-car drivers require similar constitutional protection.

Rather than ducking a debate with the conservatives over the eternal primacy of the Second Amendment, gun-control backers should embrace it. Since right-wing Republicans are zealously championing constitutional amendments on everything from abortion to a balanced budget, it would take intellectual jujitsu for them to explain why the First Amendment is worthy of improvement (by severing flag burning from free speech), but the Second Amendment unquestionably must remain sacrosanct. For only in Tom Clancy-esque mythology are weekend hunters carrying assault weapons a bulwark against tyranny. Only in a nation forged by 18th century concerns about liberty and states’ rights do firearms have a hallowed place in the Constitution.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Any more than we as Americans have to continually face the real-life meaning of that gruesome, blood-soaked, gun-toting word “massacre” because of the outmoded language of the Second Amendment.

Again, I applaud Mr Shapiro for stating his case honestly (though I suspect that his concern for both hunters and NASCAR crivers is somewhat limited), and I’d like to see our liberal friends take his advice, and offer a repeal of the Second Amendment. They should, as he advises, stop trying to fudge their way around it, stop trying to sidestep part of the Constitution. If they don’t like the Second Amendment, our Constitution does provide an amendment mechanism.


  1. What Shapiro fails to realize is that the Constitution is not a menu of rights granted to citizens of the United States. The Constitution is the final shield the people have from a government that may change with the times, adopt faddish political stances, or attempt to oppress their own population.

    Shapiro, speaking in the moment and without the benefit of historical precedent, simply disarms all counter-arguments by ignoring why the Constitution was written in the first place: to protect the citizenry from those who would govern as he would – in the moment and without foresight.

  2. Pingback: The Liberal Avenger » Blog Archive » Repeal the Second Amendment

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