21 December 2009

Civic v. Individual right: a cost benefit analysis

As we well know, the Civic right interpretation states that the Second Amendment guarantee of a "right to keep and bear arms" is not divorcable from the "well-regulated militia". In other words, the Second Amendment guarantees the institution set up under Article I, Section 8, Clauses 15 and 16:
To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

The individual right interpretation holds that the right includes private purposes outside of the "Well-Regulated Militia": such as self-defence and hunting. The text of the Second Amendment offers no support for these purposes:
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.

It is silent on personal gun rights, yet it does mention the necessity of a well regulated militia for the security of a free state.

Inclusio unius est exclusio alterius. In other words, concepts not mentioned in legislation cannot be inferred. therefore, one cannot assume that self-defence and hunting are covered by this right. Neither should one rely on them being covered by this right.

But, my point is not to argue this based upon text, but to argue it based upon utility of the right.

The concept of the militia is to create a citizen's defence force. Or to quote Joseph Story:
The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people.

This is not some hypothetical "unorganised militia", but, again in the Words of Joseph Story:
And yet, though this truth would seem so clear, and the importance of a well regulated militia would seem so undeniable, it cannot be disguised, that among the American people there is a growing indifference to any system of militia discipline, and a strong disposition, from a sense of its burthens, to be rid of all regulations. How it is practicable to keep the people duly armed without some organization, it is difficult to see. There is certainly no small danger, that indifference may lead to disgust, and disgust to contempt; and thus gradually undermine all the protection intended by this clause of our national bill of rights.

The militia has an element of compulsion and duty to it. It is an organisation that requires civic mindedness. It is a system which demands discipline and submission to the group. It isn't doing whatever the fuck you please: fuck you, jack, I'm all right.

The individual right holds these concepts anathema. It demands the right without consideration of its costs to society. In fact, it is based upon a concept which runs contrary to the constitution: the insurrection theory. How can an institution which was created to "suppress Insurrections" foment them?

William Rawle succintly mentions something which is lost in this debate by those who demand the right without obligation to society:
This right ought not, however, in any government, to be abused to the disturbance of the public peace.

An assemblage of persons with arms, for an unlawful purpose, is an indictable offence, and even the carrying of arms abroad by a single individual, attended with circumstances giving just reason to fear that he purposes to make an unlawful use of them, would be sufficient cause to require him to give surety of the peace. If he refused he would be liable to imprisonment.

There was a common belief that arms were to be used for society's benefit to not its detriment. Or in the words of the "individual right friendly" Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to their Constituents
7. “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or theUnited States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military shall be kept under strict subordination to, and be governed by the civil powers.”"The Address and Reasons of Dissent of the Minority of the Convention of Pennsylvania to their Constituents (December 18, 1787), reprinted in Pennsylvania and the Federal Constitution, 1787-1788, p. 422

This text places danger of public injury or harm as a reason for disarming the people despite its "individual right" tone. This is because bearing arms is not to be used for harm, but for civic benefit.

In addition, the cost of the individual right as a barrier to firearms regulation makes it into a mockery. This interpretation of the right is not a benefit to society, but a detriment. These are the costs related to medical care, mental health, emergency transport, police, criminal justice and lost taxes that result from the misuse of firearms.

The right, according to Story was to free society of the enormous military expenditure and prevent the ancilary usupation of freedom that accompanies such a build up. Or to Quote Eisenhower's Farewell Address to the Nation:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

The purpose of the Second Amendment is civic in nature, not individual. It is to protect society, not to protect the individual. It is to protect us from the military-industrial complex usurping our liberties. It has obligations and duties encumbent upon this right which are owed to society.

It was not to burden society with crime and injury due to misuse of firearms by those who keep them outside of the militia duty. It is to ensure the security of a free state, not "to be abused to the disturbance of the public peace." "Real danger of public injury from individuals" is a reason to abridge this right for individuals.

The detriment to society of the "individual right" misinterpretation is far too costly a mistake to make.