One of the weakest arguments made by gun control activists is “This isn’t 1791 anymore you know. The Founding Fathers never could have envisioned modern firearms, therefore the Second Amendment doesn’t matter today.” It’s an absurd argument that’s already been addressed by the Supreme Court, which noted in the Heller decision that the Second Amendment doesn’t just protect muskets and black powder rifles, but extends “prima facie to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”
Even though it’s a silly argument, there are folks still making it, including Professor William Babcock, who teaches ethics at Southern Illinois University. Oddly enough, while the professor contends that the Second Amendment is about protecting the right to own a blunderbuss, he doesn’t seem to think the First Amendment protects only those written materials produced on a hand-cranked press.
Ours is not a nation where citizens belong to a “well regulated Militia,” as the Second Amendment states. Instead, we now have the National Guard, state police, sheriffs’ departments and local police for our protection. By massively arming our citizenry, the effectiveness of our security forces is compromised. The “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is not only based on a time that has long-since past, but that out-dated “right” now threatens the safety of security forces and the public alike.
Apparently Professor Babcock is unaware of both the unorganized militia and the concept of prefatory clauses. The unorganized militia consists of the body of the people capable of bearing arms, and most certainly still exists. However, the right of the people to keep and bear arms does not depend upon the presence of a well-organized militia. The well-organized and un-organized militias depend on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, which shall not be infringed. Take the militia away, and the right still exists.
And “arms” of today are something our Founding Fathers never envisioned at a time when it took some three minutes to load a musket. They never in their wildest nightmares contemplated a time of bullet-laden magazines and rapid-fire assault-type rifles used to slaughter many people in a few minutes’ time.
The Founding Fathers were certainly well aware of repeating rifles. In fact, in 1777 Benjamin Franklin recommended that George Washington purchase 100 long guns made by a man named Joseph Belton, who believed he had revolutionize the flintlock rifle.
“I have discovered,” Belton wrote to Congress on April 11, 1777, “an improvement, in the use of Small Armes, wherein a common small arm, may be maid to discharge eight balls one after another, in eight, five or three seconds of time.”
And Washington agreed to it. In May 1777, he authorized Belton to make 100 of his rapid-fire muskets — but the plan fell apart before it even began, when Belton asked for what was deemed “unreasonable compensation” for his work.
Yes, the Founding Fathers certainly could have envisioned advances in firearms technology, but even if the Belton Flintlock or the Girandoni Rifle (another early repeating firearm contemporaneous with the Founding-era) never existed, the Second Amendment would be just as valid today as it was in 1791. It didn’t become antiquated when Samuel Colt mass produced repeating revolvers, or when the Winchester repeating rifle came on the market, or when semi-automatic handguns became more popular than revolvers, or when AR-15’s went on sale in 1964.
Does Professor Babcock believe that the First Amendment is null and void because the Founders could never have imagined a time when people didn’t write out their thoughts on parchment using a quill, or published information without using a printing press that required physical distribution of copies of newspapers, letters, and pamphlets? Did the First Amendment become an anachronism when first radio, then television, and finally the Internet became our primary means of mass communication? The technological advances involving our First Amendment rights are far greater than the technological progress made in terms of our Second Amendment rights, but nobody* argues that the First Amendment is old and out of date.
To Professor Babcock, however, the Second Amendment is past its non-existent expiration date.
The double-barreled shotgun my grandfather fitted with his hand-made curly maple stock in the 19th century, the Remington pump-action rifle, the automatic handgun, the revolver, and the pellet hand-gun — these are all mine, as well as recollections of the marksmenship awards I once received.
Now, though, we need to take whatever measures we can to have my own guns and those of all Americans removed from circulation. Will all guns ever be removed? Of course not. But every gun taken out of circulation means there is a better chance a gun-related suicide might be prevented, and we not see stories in the media of yet another child gunned down as she tried to avoid a shooter.
Let’s try this with smartphones and laptops. We need to take whatever measurs we can to have our Internet-enabled devices removed from circulation. Will all smartphones ever be removed? Of course not. But every Internet-connected device taken out of circulation is a better chance that child pornography will be prevented, and we not see stories in the media of yet another child exploited by adults online.
There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Professor Babcock would give up his Internet connectivity in order to save a child from being sexually abused. In fact, he’d probably say it’s crazy to try to prevent these types of crimes against children by banning hundreds of millions of people from going online, and he’d be right.
Unfortunately, the nutty professor doesn’t see the similar insanity with trying to ban our way to safety by banning gun ownership. The good news for Babcock is that if he doesn’t want his guns anymore, therere’s absolutely nothing stopping him from turning them over to police. The bad news for Babock is that there’s something stopping him from mandating that everybody else do the same, and we’re not getting rid of that constitutional protection (or our guns) anytime soon.
*Well, almost nobody. There are those screechy scolds who want to criminalize speech they disagree with, even if means tossing the First Amendment onto the scrap heap of history.
Cam Edwards has covered the 2nd Amendment for more than 15 years as a broadcast and online journalist, as well as the co-author of "Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get a Job, Start a Family, and Other Manly Advice" with Jim Geraghty. He lives outside of Farmville, Virginia with his family. https://bearingarms.com/author/camedwards/