OSD 158: A rifle behind every stalk of wheat
How gun laws do and don't matter.
Why is the Second Amendment important?
When people ask why gun rights are important, our shortest answer is usually “If someone’s trying to hurt you, you have the right to stop them.” That’s the right of self-defense, the right of self-defense implies a right to the tools of self-defense, and boom, there you have it, gun rights. But that’s an abstract concept. The Second Amendment is a particular legal instance of the concept. What does it accomplish?
The simplest answer is that it preemptively invalidates (well, in theory) laws that infringe on gun rights. And sure, yes, a handful laws have been struck down on Second Amendment grounds. But is that how you get robust gun rights? Hoping that courts will eventually strike down the laws that take those rights away?
That’s like trying to get an A+ average by getting straight Bs and then arguing with the teacher after each test. It’s a lot safer to just get the A+ in the first place. A state like, say, New Hampshire didn’t end up with robust gun rights by litigating their way out of restrictive gun laws. They got there by not wanting to pass the laws in the first place. Their culture is fertile ground for gun rights, and salted earth for restrictions. (More on that concept in “OSD 142: Love means never having to say certiorari”.)
So law can affect culture, sure. But it’s much more the case that culture dictates law. There’s an illustration of that in the idea that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to revolt. A big people’s veto button, built right into the Constitution.
But has it been your observation that insurgents have difficulty accessing small arms? Or that they do so lawfully? War is by definition a violent disagreement about what the laws even are. There is no procurement officer in any insurgency in the world complaining that the ruling government’s lack of a Second Amendment is making it hard for him to buy guns (let alone explosives and heavy weapons). When things pop off, rifles pop up. Sometimes, as we’ve seen in Ukraine, that’s with the explicit support of the local government. Sometimes it’s not. But it’s a function of the people’s willingness to fight (again as we’ve seen in Ukraine this week), not of their laws.
All in all, this might sound a bit fatalistic. Squint and it might sound like the Second Amendment doesn’t matter because:
Laws are mostly determined by culture. A culture that supports gun rights won’t need a Second Amendment, and a culture that doesn’t won’t enforce a Second Amendment.
Insurgency is by definition unlawful, so insurgents don’t pay attention to what their opponent’s gun laws happen to be.
Culture is upstream of law — and cultures need seed crystals to grow on. Shared ideas to rally around and build up. So while the Second Amendment serves a purpose as law, it serves a much more powerful purpose as culture.
It’s a Schelling point that everybody knows. It’s so successful that even people who don’t like it still land on the same Schelling point. “Americans like guns.” Over time, statements like that take on a self-reinforcing quality.
We don’t know anything about East Slavic geopolitics, but would just observe that we’ve seen in Ukraine what is true everywhere: the story you tell yourself about who you are matters.
This week’s links
“I’m adult woman, I am healthy, it is my responsibility.”
Interesting edge case.
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