After Uvalde: What the Second Amendment could learn from the First
The First Amendment protects, among other things, speech. No government can tell us what to say, whether to pray, or what to write. We can protest, we can march. Even the remanded can demand their leaders take a stand.
But the First Amendment isn’t bound by absolutism. It’s neither ordained by a deity nor protected based on piety. It was conceived by brilliant, imaginative, and fallible people. For more than two centuries it’s been interpreted and re-interpreted by brilliant, imaginative, and fallible people.
Advocating for “imminent lawless action” — such as inciting impending violence — is not protected. Neither is pretending copyrighted material is one’s own. The list goes on. Because limitless speech would foster lawlessness.
The wisdom of humanity is understanding the flaws of humanity: illicit motives, impulses, and desired outcomes. Our imperfections require imperfectly constructed rights: the right to speak, except . . .
“Except” is a distinctly human concept: thoughtful, prudent, all-encompassing. We aspire to the whole, except when the whole is less than its parts.
The First Amendment values ideas held by people; the Second Amendment values guns held by people.
Whereas the First is bound by conditions, the Second is bound by afflictions: Yearly dead and wounded exceeding 100,000. The First defines our nation as a town square; the Second, a battlefield.
The First is reflective: competing notions of positive and negative freedoms that better a society. The Second is directive: unyieldingly authoritarian in its governance.
The First sides with victims, protecting against strains of verbal belligerence. The Second sides with belligerents, trumping the rights of victims.
Conservatively applied, the Second has its place. It’s home security. It’s a guardrail against government-led oppression.
But a limitless Second Amendment — just like the First — fosters lawlessness: guns so powerful they can overmatch police officers, so efficient they can fire thousands of rounds in minutes, so accessible they can be purchased by virtually any adult in most states.
The Second Amendment, as it’s currently interpreted, does not ignore the flaws of humanity; it empowers those flaws. It weaponizes them.
The right to bear arms bears few exceptions. The whole of the Second Amendment is definitely less than its parts. It lacks nuance. It lacks dignity. It lacks humanity.
The First is multi-layered. The Second is neither multi-layered, nor even binary. It’s a singular answer to one of our most complex, existential questions: “How many deaths are acceptable before policies must change?”
The answer, apparently, is “many” — more than 1.5 million in the past 50 years.
I’m pro-gun. I’m also anti-senselessness.
The Second Amendment is imperfect – so let’s get to work.
B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.
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