Tuesday, June 21, 2016

No Progress on Guns

Like most things in politics, the U.S. Constitution was a product of compromise. There are, of course, good compromises and bad ones. And there are bad compromises which are nonetheless necessary. Such were the two principal compromises required to create our constitution - slavery and federalism. Slavery, America's "original sin" was finally eradicated 76 years after the constitution came into effect, but its malevolent consequences are still with us and still permeate our politics today. However necessary it may have been to compromise with slavery for the Union to be created at all, it remains the greatest moral stain on our constitution and on the legacy of the founders.

The second necessary compromise was federalism. For the founders, creating a unitary nation-state was simply an impossibility. Except for truly forward-looking thinkers like Alexander Hamilton, most Americans at that time (and for quite some time thereafter) thought in parochially local terms and owed their primary allegiance to their State, not to the United States. Moreover, the founders simply could not conceive of a republic on as large a scale as the United States. History and political theory offered examples of republican government but only on a small scale - e.g., the city states of antiquity, Renaissance Italy, and Calvinist Geneva. A country the size of the original 13 states corresponded in their categories to an "empire." The only way they could even theoretically conceive of republican government on such a scale was as a federation of republican states. So the U.S. was saddled with federalism - both for the better and for the worse.

Hence the second amendment, which was intended to protect the rights of the individual states to maintain their own militias. More recently, however, the significance of the second amendment has been distorted (with the connivance of the Supreme Court) into an individual right to own a gun - and not just a gun suitable for legitimate activities like target shooting or hunting but weapons of war meant for murder on a massive scale, such as we have once again seen last week in Orlando.

Invariably after such tragedies, sensible people clamor for reforms to restrict access to such weapons. And invariably the Republicans in Congress prevent any real reform - as happened again this week, just four days after the massacre in Orlando.

So here we are, almost 225 years since the second amendment became part of the constitution (December 15, 1791), unable to extricate ourselves from the harmful consequences another one of oour original constitutional compromises. 

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