What part of "Shall not be infringed" does the government not understand?

Well I’d say that, considering the level of debate around the 2nd Amendment over many decades now, no one really understands in any absolute sense what isn’t supposed to be infringed — and that includes governments at all levels. The wording of that single sentence is not clear. On the one hand, Amendment II seems to indicate that the federal government can’t infringe upon the right of states to have militias made of ordinary citizens. On the other, it also seems to indicate that citizens should be allowed to individually keep and carry arms — ostensibly for service in such a militia. But it really isn’t very clear beyond that what other conditions “shall not be infringed.”

Now, mainly as a consequence of military firearms manufacturers needing a new market as their military product orders declined, the debate about the 2nd has shifted. Should AR-15s be purchased by individual citizens, so they can participate in state militias to resist federal government tyranny? Well…okay, sure. But that’s not why they’re being purchased — and the original intent of the 2nd (if we in fact can discern it) doesn’t work very well as justification to sell military weapons to individual civilians who aren’t participating in a state militia. Which is why the propaganda and marketing focus shifted to a more absolute right than what is actually stated: the right to “keep and bear arms” for personal protection — or for personal resistance to government as a more general principle.

The problem, of course, is that the “personal protection” argument — which can in fact be supported by the many of the discussions, practices and documents from the period in which the 2nd was written — can rationally only be applied to non-military weapons. Individual citizens don’t need to protect themselves from the incursions of other nation states, or brigades of rogue soldiers that happen to show up at their door. That’s what the state militias are for. And indeed the “individual resistance to tyrannical government” argument really doesn’t have any historical basis…it’s quite an imaginative invention that has no support in documents and reports contemporary to the writing of Amendment II.

So…we have a right to personally bear arms that are suitable for personal defense as one possible thing “not to be infringed;” and we have the right to personally keep arms in readiness for participation in a state militia as the other thing “not to be infringed.” And therein lies the problem: because at the time of the writing of Amendment II, those two separate conditions were served by the very same firearms: muskets and pistols. You see the problem? It made complete sense at the time the 2nd was written not to differentiate between different weapons for different purposes…because they were one-and-the-same at that time.

Within a century, however, the two groups of weapons increasingly diverged, in both their specialized application and their lethality…and continued to do so more and more over subsequent decades. Hence individual citizens didn’t own machine guns for personal protection, and the military didn’t rely on compact 25mm purse pistols to defeat enemy combatants in the field. At the same time, a common sense distinction between the two types of weapons endured right up through the 1960s — and various laws (1934 NFA, 1968 GCA) were written to clarify that distinction. Interestingly, these laws also identified a third category of weapons and modifications: those designed for or associated with criminal activity — such as sawed off shotguns, silencers, explosive devices, etc. And so we arrived at the rather extreme separation in categories of weapons and specialized functions that we see today, ones that common sense can still discern: explosive devices, missiles and poison gas are not the same thing — and simply do not serve the same purposes — as a handgun.

But then, when it became clear by the early 1970s that public sentiment and national politics were opposed to large scale wars, and sales of military weapons by firearms manufacturers began to plummet, those companies strategized a new tactic that they continue to employ today: Every American had a Constitutional right to own military weapons! (see articles below) By the the 1980s, that tactic was in full swing, and the “common sense distinction” that had existed for two centuries evaporated. So that’s how things got so confused…or rather, that’s how the firearms manufacturers were able to muddy the waters. These companies lobbied for the ability to sell military firearms to civilians in order to enlarge their market — ignoring what had become a very large difference is weapons specialization, and using the 2nd Amendment and an implicit threat of government oppression as a smokescreen for their deceptive manipulations. And of course influential groups like the NRA, which were initially supportive of moderate gun control measures, were then taken over by those who supported the loosening of restrictions that benefited gun manufacturers (see 'Revolt at Cincinnati' molded modern NRA).

And, as it turned out, a spirit of Constitutional righteousness combined with fear of oppression and the “helplessness” of not owning a gun was a great sales tool. Gun profits soared.

Then, after firearms manufacturers had “militarized” the civilian U.S. population, they obviously needed to militarize law enforcement to match that rising firepower — and another juicy market for their products was born.

All of this has been, essentially, the perversion of the Constitution — and the annihilation of common sense — just to make a buck.

My 2 cents.

How it started: Militarization of Civilian Market.pdf

Using fear to sell guns: Fear Is the NRA and Gun Industry’s Deadliest Weapon

Gun profits soar: Gun boom: Smith & Wesson profits double, sales soar 40%

How it all fits together: San Bernardino shooting: US gun sales soar as new front opens in push for gun control

How it keeps happening: How Military Guns Make the Civilian Market

The militarization of law enforcement: We now have a terrifying, militarized law enforcement system

Comment from Ben Andrews: "I would say that the distinction between military and non-military weapons is facile. Like so many distinctions with regard to firearms, this military/ personal one is drawn after the fact, at a point convenient to the classifier."

LOL. I think everything posted on social media is facile, Ben. :-) The level of complexity of most topics here on Quora goes far beyond what brief statements can capture. I still try to add supportive links for folks to follow up and explore with more depth, but I find very few fellow Quorans actually take the time to read them. Everyone seems to want neat, easy-to-chew packages of info. This is understandable, given the firehose of information coming at us from all directions in the current age. But for the purposes of real, substantive discussions…well, it’s a little frustrating, to be sure.

That said, specialization occurs in every industry, and has snowballed with the industrial and technological revolutions. There are tools and gadgets in each profession now that are totally unrecognizable to every other profession. The same thing has happened with specialized language. It’s one of the reasons, I think, that society itself is fragmenting: people literally can’t understand each other. The only force countervailing this is mass media, which tends to overly simplify and gloss over any level of detail or specificity, in order to achieve a lowest-common-denominator stream of easily-digested communication. The only real remedy is…again…for folks to take actual time and effort to more thoroughly research something.

In this case, firearms have not been immune to specialization across different fields. Although there have always been specialized applications (neither deck cannon nor dueling pistols would likely be used for hunting in the 1700s, for example), those specializations have snowballed like everything else. The ~$1,300 SSK Contender, MOA Maximum, or Freedom Arms 2008 are single-shot pistols or hunting game. No one would ever consider these practical for self-defense or military applications. And yet this highly specialized style of firearm has a growing market. Likewise the Rheinmetall MG3 really only has one purpose: mowing down humans at 1,300 rounds per minute — again, not really useful for plinking, target practice or game. There are firearms that have some history of multiple specialties, like certain hunting rifles used for sniper applications (Remington Model 700, for example), but even here you won’t see any hunting rifle listed in the top choices for snipers nowadays — instead, you’ll see highly customized firearms like the Steyr SSG 69…which, again, isn’t generally used for anything else.

So this is the state of affairs for most technology. Just buying a tool in a hardware store can be overwhelming to folks who don’t know what specific type of hammer, wrench or saw they need for their specific application. The same is true of paint for a specific surface or condition. Or clothing for a specific activity. And so on.

So this is really not an “after-the-fact” distinction. In reality, companies spend tremendous $$$ on R&D to develop new specialized lines of products that appeal to experts, hobbyists and professionals in a given field or activity. And, of course, this intended, planned and executed differentiation is why civilians can’t easily purchase an M16, and must make do with an AR15.

Hopefully this is a slightly less facile explanation of specialization.


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