"Meta-Message" on Gun Control

by John H. Trentes jtrentes@cybergate.net

My name is John H. Trentes. I am a 35-year-old attorney in private practice. To be right up front about my biases and affiliations, I am a life member of the National Rifle Association, and am currently a candidate for election to the Board of Directors of that organization. (I do not however, speak on behalf of the N.R.A. or any other person or organization. All opinions I express are mine and mine alone.) Jonathan Wallace and I have agreed to conduct a debate on gun ownership, gun control and the Second Amendment. We have mutually agreed to keep this a gentlemanly debate. While it may occasionally become a bit emotional, I expect that the level of acrimony will be similar to the sort that arises between Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert when one has decided thumbs up and the other, thumbs down.

I believe that the majority of the subscribers to this list are probably pro-firearms rights. If I find myself preaching to the choir, so be it. I am sure that both Jon and I will receive messages from individuals who disagree with our arguments. I'll be happy to read and consider thoughtfully stated opposing viewpoints, but not personal attacks and abuse. I'll deal with those by pressing my delete key. Please, by the way, be courteous to Mr.Wallace even if you happen to dislike what he says.

Stated simply, I will argue that the right to keep and bear arms is absolute and exists independently of any government edict; that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution amounts merely to official government acknowledgement of an already existent inalienable right and is not a grant of privilege or license. Starting with this premise, it follows that a government, through whatever vehicle, be it executive, legislative or judicial cannot legitimately exercise jurisdiction, restrict or interpret that right, except to acknowledge that it exists. Some may find this an extreme and unsettling position, but I believe it is absolutely essential to the long term survival of the state of liberty presumably enjoyed by citizens in this country.

Slavish dependance on judicial interpretation of our fundamental liberties is a dangerous habit. The Supreme Court of the United States has made some notoriously bad decisions on this subject over the years, sometimes with horrible consequences. For instance, I don't think any responsible advocate would attempt to use the reasoning in _Dred Scott v. Sandford_ to analyze or evaluate the civil rights of minorities! Unless I forget my history, a lot of men died fighting a bloody war inspired in part by that decision.

In the case of the Second Amendment, Jonathan promises he will demonstrate that the Supreme Court and the federal appeals courts have interpreted it "unambiguously" to guarantee only a right of the States as against the federal government. I will show how such interpretations have arisen from judicial misconstruction and convenient, selective use of context. I will also examine this premise from the perspective that it would be terribly odd to find a reservation of governmental power in the midst of a document which is otherwise the anthesis of the wish-list of a tyrant. I will demonstrate that the overwhelming bulk of legal scholarship on this topic concludes that the Second Amendment is an acknowledgment of an individual right, not a State right and that the collectivist interpretation belongs only to a small, but tenuous minority.

I will probably find some common ground with Jonathan on his premise that gun owners do not have a right to force their lifestyle upon those who choose not to own guns. I believe we will disagree however, on the practical application of this premise. Where Jon promises to advance his arguments on the "right" to create gun-free communities, I will show how that premise is nothing more than a convoluted characterization of a grant of governmental power. I will approach this question as a matter of self-determination within each individual household and for that matter, as a function of human nature. I will argue that the instinct for self-preservation means that weapons as tools of self-defense will always exist in all human societies regardless of the provisions of any social contract to the contrary. (And rightfully so.)

I will explore the fact that the ownership and proper use of firearms is a moral and positive activity. I will also voice a long overdue protest to the allegation that there is an irrational killer bottled up genie-like in each of us, just waiting for the mere presence of a firearm to pop the cork and compel us to loose our dark and terrible wrath upon others. In my neighborhood, good friends, that's known as an insult.

John H. Trentes