The Washington Post’s Wonkblog has a story today which is intended to dovetail with the Democratic calls for more gun regulation in the wake of the Orlando shooting. The story is titled, “The men who wrote the 2nd amendment would never recognize an AR-15,” and you can probably guess from that headline where this is going:
Of course, semiautomatic firearms technology didn’t exist in any meaningful sense in the era of the founding fathers. They had something much different in mind when they drafted the Second Amendment. The typical firearms of the day were muskets and flintlock pistols. They could hold a single round at a time, and a skilled shooter could hope to get off three or possibly four rounds in a minute of firing. By all accounts they were not particularly accurate either.
The author goes on to say how much more quickly a shooter can fire an AR-15 than a musket. The story seems to be built around this three year old ad by a group called States United To Prevent Gun Violence:
After the video we finally get to the giant caveat which really ought to undercut the whole story:
In itself, that isn’t an argument for banning everything other than muskets. Technology evolves. It makes no more sense to say an AR-15 isn’t protected by the Second Amendment than it does to say that computers or ballpoint pens aren’t protected by the First.
This is the most sensible point of the piece. There are plenty of technological developments the founders never anticipated. That does not mean we should feel free to ban everything that wasn’t on their radar (speaking of which, maybe we should ban radar). To extend the author’s own metaphor, the Founders wouldn’t recognize the internet, but that does not mean government should start censoring speech online. Evolving technology does not supersede the broad principles of the Constitution. And yet, one guess what the author appears to be advocating:
But evolving technology does call for evolving regulation. And, in practice, the implementation of the Second Amendment has never been strictly “absolute.” Most gun owners accept that civilians typically can’t own fully automatic rifles or tanks or nuclear weapons. Our understanding of the “arms” of the Second Amendment has evolved over the years, subject to shifts in political and legal norms.
The entire argument being made in this piece—the Founders wouldn’t recognize an AR-15—is being pushed by groups that explicitly say they want such guns banned. Not regulated, but banned. In fact, the group that produced the video clip used in the piece says it wants “a ban on military-style assault weapons on our streets.” So let me suggest that the Post’s author is not being straight with readers when he says, in the same breath, that this is a silly argument. If it’s silly, stop promoting it. If, on the other hand, you think these guns should be banned, say so.
Unfortunately, there seem to be as many (or more) people in the United States ready to ban speech as ban guns. A YouGov poll taken last May showed 51% of Democrats (and 37% of Republicans) would be okay with banning “hate speech.” But the temptation to eliminate American’s freedoms—of speech, religion, assembly, the press, gun ownership, etc.—is a temptation we should continually resist.