Can the Second Amendment survive?

A comment in response to my July 4 question “What’s great about the United States?”:

The right to keep and bear arms, of course! Do I need to elaborate? I should think that the readers of this blog wouldn’t need the lesson to understand why it’s so important to millions of Americans. Tens of millions of your fellow citizens exercise that right every single day, year in and year out, and aren’t ashamed to be armed citizens despite the mendacity and lack of respect shown to them.

Our current media and cultural environment may label me a pariah, but I’m not afraid of people calling me names based on a twisted, biased, and ignorant interpretation of what the 2nd Amendment really means to the average person. To me, it means that our country values the individual so much that ordinary people are trusted to own and keep weapons that belong to them. It’s a fundamental statement of the worth of the individual and it just can’t be overstated. I think everyone will miss it greatly if it ever stops being so.

We started out with laws, including the Second Amendment, designed for a population of 4 million yeoman farmers who accepted both risk and personal responsibility. Now there are 330 million residents of the U.S. and risk-aversion grows every year. Flying a little Cessna was considered an acceptable risk back in the 1950s, but most people today insist on a higher level of safety and idiot-proofing. Similarly, any risk of being shot by an unhinged person is enough to drive a lot of people to demand (at least on Facebook) protection from an all-powerful government (as in Leviathan).

Readers: What’s the chance of the Second Amendment surviving in our society on its current trajectory?


38 thoughts on “Can the Second Amendment survive?

  1. 100% chance that it survives as is. Now matter how passionate the argument against it is – the procedural bar is too high for a constitutional amendment on any topic. I just don’t see a 2/3 vote in Congress and similar ratification by the states… all

    • Yes, the Second Amendment will survive. Whether the right to bear arms will survive is of course another matter. What the letter of the law or constitution says isn’t much of a factor, since the “right” is routinely infringed in various ways, with differences among jurisdictions.

      If you have a right that can be infringed, do you really have it at all? See for example this enlightened constitution whose rights you would have been most unwise to try to invoke.

    • That’s a great example of what’s missing from TimB’s and my comments. Neither of those comments express an opinion on the merits or otherwise of “gun rights” and neither do they include righteous expressions of emotion. “10-15″‘s comment supplies the deficiency and is probably more representative of how the issue will be determined.

  2. I did not realize so many 14 year old boys frequented your blog. Maybe you should require a note from their parents, guardians, or juvie officers.

    • If the timestamps on the posts are accurate – my comment is the only one that precedes yours. So if it’s directed at me, I’m neither “so many” nor 14.

      Nor am I defending the status quo. I’m responding directly to Phil’s question and pointing out procedurally difficult (impossible in my opinion) it would be to amend the Constitution

  3. 14 year old boys? Look, now you’ve also got an advanced human reader with superior intelligence and impeccable morality — must be overeducated too. Sorry, I have to go back to clean and polish my guns.

  4. Guns have always been around, and federal restrictions on guns are only fifty years old, but mass shootings are a recent thing.

    An article points out that 26 of the 27 worst mass shooters grew up without a dad.

    Similar arguments have been made about the roots of urban violence,

    Is it time to update Real World Divorce? Are the changes in our divorce laws and the normalization of illegitimacy getting people killed?

    Bonus: because this is the internet — Hitler’s dad died when Hitler was 13, and they had a bad relationship, according to Wikipedia

    • was certainly the product of our modern no-fault family law system. says

      Jens Breivik was an economist at the Norwegian embassy in London and had already been married and had three children when he met Anders’s mother, Wenche Behring, a nurse living in the city with her daughter Elisabeth from a previous relationship. Within a year of the boy’s birth, in February 1979, the couple had split. Jens Breivik remained in London and Behring moved back to Oslo with Anders and his elder half-sister.

      Anders’s mother married a Norwegian army major and settled in a rented apartment in Oslo. His father married a fellow embassy worker, Tove Overmo, and moved to Paris, when Jens Breivik was transferred there.


      (How could they have had enough money to fund all of these divorce lawsuits? Most of these divorces were presumably under European Civil Law and therefore legal fees would have been minimal compared to the U.S. standard. See )

    • The “26-of-27” thing has been debunked. It’s been a perfect example of timely, relevant, inflammatory fake news, both in terms of its egregiousness of falsehood, and fleetness of spreading. It’s truly weaponized misinformation. I’d love to see a study on how it got started and how it spread.

  5. “A proposed amendment to the Constitution must first be passed by Congress with two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate.
    Then, three-fourths of the states must ratify the amendment. That’s done either through getting the state legislatures to approve of it or by ratifying conventions. Three-fourths is a high bar–if as few as 13 states refuse to approve the change, the amendment stalls.”
    There are are almost certainly more than 13 states which would would not vote to repeal the 2nd Amendment.

    • Indeed. And one doesn’t have to take sides to point out how difficult that would be (see also: eliminate the electoral college)

    • Are you sure that other countries have the same kinds of personality issues?

      Most other countries have stronger social ties. People don’t move 3000 miles away from friends and family in most other countries, for example (the typical country is geographically small). The U.S. is an outlier in terms of parking people in isolated suburban houses. (See for my thoughts on why Latin Americans have a richer social life due to their town layouts.)

      As pointed out above, the U.S. is an outlier in terms of rearing children without two parents. See for some statistics comparing the U.S. to Western Europe (the cash incentives for being a “single parent” here in the U.S. are vastly larger than in Europe).

      We’re also an outlier in terms of the percentage of immigrants in our society and the mismatch between the values of our immigrants and the values of our native-born population. (We bring in a lot of conservative Muslims, for example, and then celebrate all kinds of behavior that is forbidden (sometimes punishable by death) under Islamic law.)

      The successful asylum-seekers (and welfare state beneficiaries) who perpetrated did not have guns or get access to any materials that wouldn’t have been available in Europe, for example.

    • No one says they are perfectly identical. But they all have mental illness, video games, drag queens, wind turbines, whatever the ALT-hypothesis du jour may be. But there is nothing about the differences to explain the multiple orders of magnitude difference in effects. Nothing but the access to military grade weapons.

    • says “Skeptics of gun control sometimes point to a 2016 study. From 2000 and 2014, it found, the United States death rate by mass shooting was 1.5 per one million people. The rate was 1.7 in Switzerland and 3.4 in Finland, suggesting American mass shootings were not actually so common.”

      The article continues by saying, “well, even if the rate of mass shootings, adjusted for population, isn’t so different, there are also a lot of non-mass shootings.”

      As noted above, I don’t think that folks cowering in fear after consuming media stories on these subjects are going to be reassured by statistics (and even if the risk of being killed in a mass shooting is the same here as in Switzerland, maybe that risk is perceived as intolerable). So my original question remains live. How will a majority-fearful population change the laws? Based on the above comments, reinterpreting the Second Amendment to be meaningless seems like a realistic outcome.

    • >reinterpreting the Second Amendment to be meaningless seems like a realistic outcome.

      In general, yes, that would be one chapter of a very long book.

      Right now, though, one of the noteworthy cases is New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. City of New York, New York. It’s instructive because it shows just how complicated things can get, fast.

      Although it’s technically possible to own a gun inside the New York City limits, until recently (see below) you had to keep it unloaded and stored in a locked container AND you could not travel outside of the city with it, even to your own second residence or an out-of-state shooting range. Basically you could keep it in a locked box and never take it anywhere except one of the 7 shooting ranges in the City.

      “Outside of certain professions where gun ownership is considered a necessity, gun owners in New York City may only possess a gun within their home under a “premises license”, where it must be kept unloaded and in a locked container. Further, gun owners may not transport these guns, except directly to and from one of the city’s seven shooting ranges. This includes prohibiting the transport of guns to outside the city limits, even to a external shooting range or to a second residence owned by the gun owner.”

      NYSRPA sued.,_New_York

      Gun control groups do not want the Court with Brett Kavanaugh to decide on the case, because they don’t want it to establish a standard of review (among other things) for these kinds of laws. So as of June, NYC altered the law in a preemptive attempt to render the case moot. It remains to be seen what will happen with it.

      “A separate concern relates to whether the Supreme Court will review the law under the concept of intermediate scrutiny, or under strict scrutiny. Strict scrutiny would require the city to show not only that they have a compelling interest to protect the transport of guns on the city streets, but also that the law is narrowly tailored to meet that interest and not overly restrict constitutional rights. Experts believe should a strict scrutiny challenge be used by the Supreme Court, they will likely find the city’s law in violation.[8]”

  6. This has nothing to do with Second Amendment or Trump’s use of “hatred” language.

    There are over 90 gun death a DAY in the USA [1], [2]. This far exceeds the total yearly mass shooting we hear about that lasts on the news for days and weeks but hardly anything is reported about daily death. And no, those daily death from guns are NOT all gang related, many are innocent by-standards.

    We have had mass shooting during other president’s tenure too (just Google it) so blaming this on Trump’s language is not going to help.


  7. Situations like El Paso and Dayton capture the national attention (for a while) but already in Chicago about 300 people this year have been shot dead with guns. One can guess that all or most of the shootings were done with illegal weapons so it is dubious that changing the Constitution, which is almost impossible, would have much effect.

    • Most of the big ones weren’t done with illegal weapons. We have different sets of numbers promulgated by different groups about what qualifies as a “mass shooting” but in every one of the big ones, the guns were purchased legally, they were legal to own, and the people who bought them obtained them through legitimate channels. I’m sure the Mandalay Bay didn’t want Steven Paddock to bring his arsenal into the hotel, but nobody tried to stop him, and nobody even asked what was in all those heavy airline-style rolling.

      Gang violence is a very different story and the guns and the people who have them are illicit from one end to the other. They’re stolen guns with the serial numbers removed, they’re straw purchases, they’re fenced, and the people who have them aren’t allowed to have them, and certainly aren’t allowed to use them as they do, but that doesn’t stop them, either.

  8. I have a long answer, in two parts. If you want to read it, I’ll post in in three segments:

    Part One

    I think the people who want to ban guns are going to try everything they can. I think the 2nd Amendment will survive, at least in the short term (see my exasperated caveat below) – because of the difficulty amending the Constitution. But every time there are shootings of this magnitude or any magnitude, the legislative ratchet mechanism clicks a few more places forward. Reinstating the federal assault weapon ban looks likely, if not in this Congress, then the next one. Will it extend to all semi-automatic firearms? Will there be a buy-back? That’s a very difficult question to answer right now. What do you do about the tens (or hundreds) of millions of them that already exist in private hands?

    It seems clear to me that state legislatures are going to continue to tighten firearm laws wherever they feel they can, and challenging those laws is a difficult and expensive legal battle. Probable things? We’ll go for the low-hanging fruit first. I think there are going to be universal background check laws on every gun sale, because of the political pressure to “do something.” They won’t stop anyone with an otherwise clean record who has time to plan.

    The Las Vegas shooting at the Mandalay Bay is a case study, and it led to the bump-stock ban, which I supported. Steven Paddock was able to aim some weapons that were unstable and difficult to aim and in the general direction of a crowd hundreds of yards away using bipods and a prime location. He was as close to a model citizen as anyone could be in Nevada. Among other things, as I recall he rented a condominum to serve as a staging depot for all the hardware he lugged – sometimes with the assistance of the hotel staff – into his room(s). He spent a great deal of time planning that massacre and he understood very well that his access to the hotel and his status as regular customer and a “medium to high roller” facilitated everything he did. He was a person with a high IQ, a lot of time, money, and a plan. He chose the Mandalay Bay after considering other venues, and although we still don’t have a motive (aside from killing a lot of people at random), nobody ever asked him to unzip one of his bags and show the contents. He kept the hotel staff at a distance, despite ordering room service, he installed lookout cameras! He could have done a tremendous amount of damage even without the bump stocks.

  9. Part Two:

    Now, let’s add another wrinkle: one of the things I’m very worried about is that we’re not just talking about long guns, or even semiautomatic weapons. Machine guns are already heavily restricted, difficult or impossible to own or to transfer. I won’t go into all the details, but you can read more about them here: Well, it of course it’s possible to convert common and abundant pistols to full-auto fire.

    “Federal authorities suspect that thousands of machine gun conversion devices have been illegally imported into the United States from China, in some cases ending up in the hands of convicted felons, CNN has learned.”

    Read the rest of the article: “The 2,900 in the CNN report are only the kits that the ATF is aware of (or is willing to talk about). And they’re only from the one web site. It seems a safe bet that a lot more have made it in from this and other sites.”

    I also see vastly increased efforts to put U.S. gun manufacturers out of business with liability lawsuits, but what about Chinese manufacturers? Consider: the AK-47 is the most widely produced weapon of its kind on the planet, both in semiauto and fully automatic form. Chinese manufacturers have proven their ability to build, ship and sell thousands of kits via the internet to convert commonplace Glock semiautomatic pistols into machine guns. They got them past customs and into the hands of convicted felons, so what else is coming in? And can you find a link to them on 8Chan or somewhere else on the “Dark Web?”

  10. Part Three:

    Many of these shootings could have been prevented or stopped, at least in theory. The Parkland shooting could have been stopped. There are millions of words written about it. The Mandalay Bay shooting could have been stopped. Dylann Roof should have been stopped – he should never have passed the background check, the FBI screwed that up! Newtown should never have happened, and I think it could have been prevented, but it wasn’t. Adam Lanza was *obviously* a person who should *never* have had access to firearms, but he did. They weren’t even properly secured, and he killed his mother first, with one of the guns she helped him learn how to use, IIRC. They they were stored in a flimsy cabinet.

    How many of these events can we prevent and how many guns can we interdict? How many people can we red flag? It will never be enough for people who think one mass shooting is too many. If you want to completely stop people using these guns in crime, you have ban them all, collect them all, and prevent any others from making it illicitly into the hands of people who want them.

    And I’m not even getting started with the debate about guns with electronic fire control systems. I think we’re going to see a resurgence of those. They can be hacked, and they will be.

    We know we can’t shut down the Internet. We know guns are fundamentally simple machines. We know our borders are porous. We know that illicit merchants can get weapons and parts of weapons past customs and in into the hands of convicted felons. We know we have a moral obligation to prevent as many of these events as we can.

    We know a lot of things, but what we don’t seem to have any ability to do is prevent mass shootings while preserving our 2nd Amendment rights. Unless we can find a way to stop more of them, the bloodshed and the pain will continue to drive legislative efforts wherever they go.

  11. Sorry, I decided to break it roughly in thirds. I could have done twenty. And here’s Part Four:

    I live in a restrictive state, and you do too, but if you wanted to, you could buy an AR-15 or an AK-47. I’m not quite sure about obtaining a Class A license in Lincoln, but you could certainly establish a residence somewhere that you could, and I trust that you have a relatively clean record that wouldn’t prohibit you from owning one. Can I look you in the eye and tell you there will never be another mass shooting? Absolutely not. If the laws changed to absolutely prohibit your ownership of one of them, could I tell you then? Again, no.

  12. The second amendment has obviously been around for a long time and will continue to be. What has changed over time is how we have interpreted it… and that can change again in the future. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger on how we view the amendment now: “This has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

    Reading both Scalia’s opinion and Kennedy’s dissent in the Heller case, one is pretty tortured logic and one is not.

    Bottom line is that as a society we have at this moment chosen to value the right of someone to own a gun higher than the life of those who die from gun violence. It’s that simple.

  13. Definitely going away, whether it’s right or wrong. Also, teaching evolution, driving, general aviation, & exercise are going to be banned because of the declining ability of the human body to handle such things. There will be a growing number of deviants, manely from generation X, who keep trying to exercise & attain speeds higher than horse riding.

  14. The Second Amendment means in principle what it always meant but its interpretation in practice has been warped in recent times by political pressure from a peculiar collection of pressure groups.

  15. With more guns than people in the country (393 million guns, 326 million people), there’s no way to get the 2nd Amendment revoked. So, we have to focus on secondary goals. Education, responsible ownership, control of ammunition. I own one gun, inherited from my grandfather. Stored away. No ammunition. It’s more family history for me, than a tool. You need 2/3 of Congress to change the Constitution, not going to happen this century.

  16. Beto O’Rourke is now calling for Australian-style gun control in his podcast with Jon Favreau.

    That’s all semiautomatic weapons and “turn them in or else.” Interested people should remember the name Rebecca Peters and her connections to the Open Society Institute.

    “It absolutely has to be part of the conversation. And at the end of the day, if it’s going to save lives, it it’s going to prevent the kinds of tragedies that we saw in El Paso, Gilroy, and Dayton, or this weekend in Chicago or allover this country on a daily basis, then let’s move forward and do it.”

  17. “turn them in or else.” is not Australian gun-control. It’s “turn them in or prove you’re a responsible gun owner”. That means safe storage, having taken gun safety courses, agree to inspections for compliance.

    • Not quite. In fact, not at all. You don’t have a “geniune reason” if you own a firearm to protect yourself or your property. You can read all about the “genuine reasons” here:

      An applicant does not have a genuine reason for possessing or using a firearm if the applicant intends to possess or use the firearm for any of the following reasons:
      (a) personal protection or the protection of any other person,
      (b) the protection of property (other than in circumstances constituting a genuine reason as set out in the Table to this section).

    • Alex, I’m well aware, as an Australian.

      A genuine reason to own a firearm would be, for example, being a member of a sport-shooting club.

      You’re correct that self-protection is not a reason to own a gun, and even in the good ole U.S.A possession of a firearm in the home is statistically *less* safe.

      Somehow we get by with sensible gun ownership and are still pretty safe!

  18. There are so many conservatives posting comments like, “It’s about people hearts, not weapons.” Yeah, sure. OK. But conservatives will be the first to admit that it’s not likely that the US is going to have a giant prayer meeting, and suddenly start acting like it did in the 50’s. So, until we sort out the demand side of the equation, how about we work on the supply side?

    • There are so many liberals posting comments like, “It’s about people’s hearts, not weapons.” Yeah, sure, OK. But liberals will be the first to admit that it’s not likely that the US is going to have a giant prayer meeting, and suddenly start acting like it did in the 50’s. So, until we sort out the demand side of the equation, how about we work on the supply side.

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