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On Not Quite GETTING It…

There’s a guest post up on Blue Oregon called “The 2nd Amendment is for Progressives Too” by someone who self-describes as “a progressive libertarian, someone who used to be welcome in the Republican Party.” A promising headline, I suppose, but unfortunately the post itself displays a fundamental ignorance of the actual motivations underlying conservative critiques of gun control legislation.

After some obligatory paranoia (“He explained to me that if our freedoms are taken away, it will come from the right, not the left, and maybe progressives are the ones who should be a little paranoid.”), the author, Peter Hall, goes on to make some curious assertions about the point of the Second Amendment:

Our founding fathers understood this, and I believe the 2nd amendment was designed specifically to allow military style weapons in the hands of the public…  it is clear to me that our founders were not thinking of hunting rifles when they wrote the amendment.

The Democratic Party has a major opportunity to make the West blue (with the exception of Utah, that religion thing). Truly embrace responsible gun ownership, and we take a big weapon away from the right wingers (lame pun intended). [emphasis added]

A couple of things, here:

First off, just what sort of weaponry does he imagine the founders were thinking of when the Second Amendment was written, if not “hunting rifles”? It’s not as if there was a whole lot of distinction between “military-style” weapons and firearms that might be used for hunting in the late 18th Century. Hall’s distinction seems arbitrary, to say the least.

Second, I’m not sure that someone who conceives of Second Amendment rights as something to be adopted solely for the purpose of “[taking] a big weapon away from the right-wingers” and “making the West blue” really quite “gets” it.

The Second Amendment is not a “wedge” issue. The right to keep and bear arms is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.  It’s not about “blue” or “red”. Nevertheless, while Hall might be a bit misguided, I’m hesitant to be too hard on someone who wants to finally pull the Democrats closer to a position that respects the Second Amendment. That’s more than can be said about some of the people in his comments section, who have such perceptive things to say as:

“On a day where the newspaper talks about how we’re supposed to make a bunch of noise and wear bright orange clothes when we’re out hiking (thereby destroying the solitude and beauty) because hunters are accidentally killing people, a post celebrating guns.”

“One can responsibly use a gun about as easily as one can responsibly drive a tank down a sidewalk.”

“Europeans seem to manage to get by without personal arsenals. Perhaps the difference was explained by Michael Moore in “Sicko.” In France the government fears the people. In America the people fear the government. So what will they do with all their guns? There may come a day when some people wake up and realize they are under a fascist dictatorship and call for a charge on the barricades…”

“… when the NRA starts advocating for public education and living-wage jobs, and stops worrying that the gummit gonna take away their armor-piercing ammo, then we might be getting somewhere.”

It goes on in that vein. One can only help but feel that people with the sort of views as Mr. Hall have a long way to go before they can overcome the reflexive and frankly ignorant anti-gun reactions of their fellow “progressives”.

  1. Andy says:

    A good line I’ve seen drawn is that in a more free society, weapons which the collateral damage could not be controlled wouldn’t be pursued due to the negative moral and legal implications. Think about if the Colonists dropped a nuclear bomb on Boston as they were beseging it – the city was filled with patriots as well as red coats, but if they used such a terrible weapon it would have ended thier support. Only government engage in open warfare as well, so if there were more limited governments warfare would be more limited as well. I’d rather have 50 Federal govs than 1 big douche one. The point being is that weapons of mass destruction were created by governments, so blame them for the arms race and not the citizen militias. Why have a $60MM tank when you can have Javelin that only costs $80,000? What about a $500,000 armored humvee? Nothing that an old artillery shell and a cell phone can’t take care of. You know tanks can’t cross water or steep terrain? Did you know most helicopters can be downed by a $500 RPG and a 2nd grade education? The places where genocide has taken place are those where the population have surrendered their firearms or are too poor to buy them.

  2. Rockne Andrew Roll says:

    If it weren’t for the 1986 closure of the machine-gun registry, Americans could own all the weapons of a modern military… if they were willing to pay the taxes on items like MGs and grenade launchers. State bans are a different game, and are rather stupid. However, I am of the impression that the most importent part of the 2nd Amd. is the right to bear arms, and that right-to-carry legislation should be agressivly pursued in jurisdictions which enforce concealed carry bans.

  3. Ed says:

    The second amendment was put in place to prevent the government from becoming a tyranny. Since the standing army is part of the government, it stands to reason that the people should have all the weapons that the standing army does, including missiles, cannon and machine guns. So, for the record, I’d be glad to give up my weapons, IF you could Guarantee that EVERYONE else in the world would give up theirs as well, as well as all knowledge and resources to MAKE them.

  4. Olly says:

    carla & Vincent – not sure if this has much relevance to either side of the argument, but the mention of standing armies in the US put me in mind of Chris Bray‘s recent posts on the subject here and here.

  5. Timothy says:

    Actually, given the track record of domestic police, it seems that allowing the citizenry to outgun them would probably be a good idea.

  6. Stewart says:

    With regards to the issue of whether the Founders considered that the public should have all “terrible implements of war”, consider the “Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company” of Boston. A fully private group which owned cannons and other siege engines, which are surely the closest equivalent of modern military equipment. Also, remember that there were private warships in existence during the Revolutionary War, used as privateers.

    It seems clear that the Founders’ intent was that private citizens be able to own ALL weapons owned by a government, and I’m not sure how an argument about the presence or absence of a standing army at the drafting of the Bill of Rights has any impact on the debate.

  7. Basil says:

    Prior to 1935/ 1968 Americans could own and even mail order howitzers, .50 caliber machine guns, and other military ordnance. During the Revolution, “privateers”, armed privately owned ships, used their cannons in support of Washington’s organized military.

    Indeed, the idea was that American civilians ought to hold sufficient military firepower to provide a credible check and balance against an out-of-control government. These days, that ought to include things like surface-to-air missiles. As expensive as they are, abuse is not likely. It would not include nuclear and chemical or biological weapons, because no one, not even governments, ought to have those things.

  8. fsilber says:

    Common sense says that we do not allow private ownership of nukes. But then, we don’t allow police to use nukes in domestic law enforcement, either.

    The common sense place to draw the line compatible with the Founders’ vision is to allow the people to possess and use any type of weapon that the police are allowed to use in domestic law enforcement.

    After all, we view police as servants of the people, and not (as in German political science) as servants of the rulers. Self-government — government _of_ the people, _by_ the people, and (not only) for the people — means that we _all_ have law-enforcement responsibilities; it’s just that some people are paid to give their full-time attention to it.

  9. Straight Shooter says:

    In the twentieth century, somewhere between 160-200 million innocent people were murdered by “their” governments worldwide . . . and in virtually every case, those “governments” preceded the genocide with strict laws against civilians owning military style small arms. The people who were murdered were left totally defenseless as jack-booted tyrants slaughtered their families and children. So for those of you, “both R’s and D’s,” who “agree” that the American citizenry should be disarmed by “our” government . . . consider the possible end of your “convictions” before you act on them. Oh yes . . . please don’t say “it can’t happen here” . . . that is precisely what those people said in their countries before it did.

  10. Vincent says:

    Considering that when I posted this last night there were significantly less than 50 comments – 9, to be exact – I believe that I can be excused for not anticipating the content of the other 41 comments that have been posted in the meantime. To say I “cherry-picked” 4 of the 9 comments that were posted on Blue Oregon when I wrote this post is a bit absurd, don’t you think?

  11. carla says:


    In the 18th Century there was also no standing army. In fact, a standing army was specifically shunned by our leaders for a variety of reasons. The “well-regulated milita” was meant to be our military, as opposed to a professional one. So if we’re going to use the “intent” argument–we’re starting to step in some pretty thin gruel when it comes to the arming of the citizenry in a way commensurate with the military.

    To infer the argument (as in the blog post above) that the founders intent to ‘keep and bear arms’ allows for no differentiation between military and civilian legal holding of weaponry misses the mark without a discussion of the lack of a standing army, by their design. After further consideration and reading of Hall’s post, I believe he misses the mark there as well. If that wasn’t the intent of the post–then in my view its a confusing read.

    Hall’s point on the 2nd being something for use under “special circumstances” wasn’t addressed in the post above, and undermines the argument that Hall only believes the 2nd matters as a “wedge”. It also doesn’t square with my own progressive belief system. But the argument has some merit within the context of the piece. Hall believes that the founders wanted us to be able to protect ourselves under extraordinary circumstances–and this was the reasoning for the 2nd in the first place.

    Your comment here that Hall is “generally on the right track” doesn’t seem to match the tone or the verbage from the post, in general. As I said upthread in comments, there is likely much common ground on this issue across the spectrum of political beliefs. There are currently 50 comments on that post–and you’ve noticeably cherry-picked those on the furthest end of the spectrum. There’s also quite a number of comments outside those, but they hardly buffet your point, so I can see why you selectively left them out.

    Finally, whether or not you give two or four squirts of piss about the issue being used as a ‘wedge’, it is. Especially when there isn’t a wholly honest accounting of the discussion at Blue Oregon that you cited–including from Hall’s “fellow ‘progressives'”.

  12. Vincent says:


    I don’t believe that the public should necessarily have the same sorts of weapons as the military. I’m sure there are people out there with excellent arguments who will say I’m wrong. Fine. We disagree.

    In the 18th century, there really was no distinction between “military” and “personal” weapons. You had cannon and such, but I don’t think personal cannon ownership was very widespread. I personally have no idea whether or not the Founding Fathers would’ve supported the idea or not. The gap between military and civilian hardware has increased exponentially since then. It’s my personal belief that there should be reasonable and flexible limits on what sorts of firearms folks can buy. Again, there are probably people with great arguments who think I’m wrong.

    Peter Hall seems to think that the 2nd Amendment is for “special circumstances” like Katrina. He also seems to think that the Founding Fathers intended the citizenry to keep military hardware. I think he’s dead wrong.


    I don’t vote Republican, so I don’t give two squirts of piss about the 2nd Amendment as a “wedge” issue. I’d be glad to see more people give it the same respect they give the First. My point was that, while I think Hall is fundamentally wrong in some places, he’s generally on the right track. Unfortunately, his fellow “progressives” are so reflexively anti-gun that people like him have a long way to go toward convincing his ideological comrades that guns aren’t pure evil.

  13. carla says:

    Betz: I concur that our founders never conceived of such military devices. However, they did have intent when the BOR was incepted by Jefferson and implemented. So the question remains, did they intend for the citizenry to have the same weaponry as the military? And if this is the argument being made (as it appears to be in the post above–please correct me if I’m mistaken), then do you believe the founders would be amicable to the citizenry being armed with the types of military weaponry I cited above?

    And if not, then the post at Blue Oregon seems to stand very well on the merits quite well.

    Further, the Second Amendment HAS been used as a wedge issue, and sometimes quite effectively. Like abortion, it has been shoved at the electorate as an “either/or” issue–forcing people to stake out a side and then remain loyal to the R or D assignment that’s attached.

    The vast majority of people, R’s and D’s and everyone else, are for reasonable gun restrictions. I suspect that in fact we’re all much closer to agreement than to disagree. But based on this post–the author (is it you?) has fallen into the wedge-issue trap, while simultaneously complaining that the issue isn’t about the wedge.

    It’s circuitous logic at best, in my opinion.

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  16. Betz says:

    carla: personally, I don’t believe that the founding fathers had conceived of the idea of a tank, bomb, or nuke that could wipe out thousands of people. Furthermore, I think that an individual that has a missile or nuclear weapon, along with all of the extra equipment necessary in launching that weapon, is a bit more preoccupied with other concerns than that of a regular citizen.

    Reading those bile-filled, mealy-mouthed responses on that thread just made me die a little inside. I get so tired of people that constantly see things in blue and red, as if that is all that matters. Its politics turned into a football game that never ends, and where nobody wins.

  17. carla says:

    Based on what I’m reading here, I’m curious: do you believe that it is the intent of our founders that the rank and file citizenry has the right to bear military weaponry? Including tanks, missiles and nuclear weapons?

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