The other side of the gun debate

As an anarchist, I value a right to bear arms because I think I just might need them, yes, against a class of violent criminals, a class dominated by the United States government.

Michael Bellesiles argues, however, that a reading of an individual rights is probably inaccurate, failing to reflect historic restrictions on gun ownership in “the 70 years after ratification [of the second amendment], laws were passed regulating the quality of firearms and munitions; their storage, sale, transport and maintenance; and where and when they can be fired. There were laws giving the state the right to appropriate firearms during internal crises and to disarm politically dangerous groups, to conduct gun censuses and to forbid the concealment of firearms. Most importantly, there were laws denying the right to own guns to those seen to pose a threat to the community: blacks, slave and free, and even women on a few occasions.” He also points to low gun ownership rates at the time of the revolution.

For supporters of the individual right to bear arms, the Second Amendment was written as a check upon the central government, a granting of the means by which the people could overthrow tyranny. This latter point seemed to fly in the face of everything that is known about the framers of the Constitution and of the Bill of Rights. For a new government to grant the people the right and support for future rebellion seems exceedingly odd. This insurrectionist view would transform the Constitution, as Justice Robert H. Jackson put it, into a “suicide pact.”

I can’t refute Bellesiles’ argument. I am not an historian. But anarchists, not recognizing government as legitimate authority, will in any case be unimpressed; we argue that rights which must be granted are not rights anyway. Given the Bush administration’s assault on constitutional liberties, and a Supreme Court that has now been stacked with conservatives in a court system that is inherently conservative through its focus on “law and order,” which actually means preserving the privileges of the wealthy, it would be nice to obtain recognition of this one right to self-defense.

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