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Second amendment meant to protect against tyranny

Published: Sunday, December 4, 2005

Updated: Sunday, September 6, 2009 10:09

After reading Jason Ratliff's commentary on gun ownership, I have a question for him. Can I own a nuclear weapon? It seems like a silly question, I grant you. I mean the idea of a private citizen, especially one so wildly unstable as myself, owning a nuclear weapon is unnerving to say the least. But considering the stated purpose of the second amendment it would follow that I be allowed to own a nuclear weapon or weapons grade anthrax or a tomahawk missile. In reading Mr. Ratliff's thoughts on the second amendment and gun control, he talks about home invasion and the Warsaw ghetto uprising and liberals- dirty, dirty liberals; but while he skirts the issue of the second amendment, he never dives right in.

The second amendment is in place so that the American people can be armed against their own government becoming tyrannical. It is the amendment that allows people to assert the rights maintained in all the other amendments. It says that people can rise up and displace a government that would want to subvert the rights of its people. I am a big believer in the ability to do this. However, a lot has changed since 1789. The military of my government is much stronger than I think anyone ever could have conceived 200 years ago. Franklin, Hamilton and Madison were all bright guys but could they foresee planes with the ability to rain fire down on people or bombs that could destroy miles and miles of Earth at a time? Tanks. Could they think that someday the government would have tanks? And could they ponder automatic weapons, firing hundreds of rounds a minute, or how private citizens might use these weapons for things like gang fighting, school shootings or drug trafficking? The framers of the Constitution had great forethought, but I don't know that they could see what the term "arms" would come to mean in a scant two centuries.

So I have a right to bear arms, I have this right to defend my liberties against tyranny. But those whose potential tyranny I have to guard against have tanks and fighter jets and nuclear weapons so should I then have the right to own those same implements? Should my government, and by government I mean the representatives of my fellow citizens, those people appointed to guard the collective interest, trust me to own such things? Should they say that my right to own the most horrific of killing devices should be un-infringed? As a practice in pure theory I would say yes. If I can build a nuclear bomb or obtain one then certainly I have a right to have it. However, in practice, I don't know that I would want this to be the case. From there it is only a matter of degree, should we have the right to own street sweepers, AK-47s or AR-15s? Despite what Ben Franklin famously said about surrendering essential liberty for temporary safety, it falls to every generation to discern what liberties are essential and what safeties are necessary. My conclusion isn't certain. I am a gun owner. I believe in the spirit of the second amendment. But I don't know to what extent it should extend. I do know that we must argue about this issue, we must have thoughtful debate and we must give consideration to all perspectives. We must deal with this constitutional question respectfully, in all its nuances. Mr. Ratliff in his musings about the topic leaves much to be desired.

Matthew MacVane Class of 2004

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Sun Jul 1 2012 13:54
An old letter,but it speaks to an issue as relevant now as during the Revolution.Although McVane is right in saying the Founders couldn't have anticipated today's technology,one might say that the 1789 equivalent of (say for example)an AK-47's firepower is a platoon of soldiers firing a volley from their Brown Bess flintlocks.The maintenance of private military forces was more regulated then than automatic weapons ownership is now.The question about private individuals owning larger weapons platforms in this country today is probably as moot as wondering about private ownership of a fleet of Constitution-class warships in the above-referenced Brown Bess era.Now,as then and through all of history,it takes the resources of a large group to obtain and support the kinds of high-end weapons that governments deploy.All that having been said,government at all levels is very fearful of citizens owning firearms and seeks to curtail possession/carry of even the lowest-grade personal weapon wherever it can,by (as they used to say in the Sixties) any means necessary.

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