The Pathos of Politics (103) Citizen Rights

Citizen Rights

Granting citizens basic freedoms, such as the liberty of practicing religion, or not being persecuted by ethnicity, does not feature in many constitutions. The US tacked on its Bill of Rights in 1791, just after its ratification by the 13 founding states in 1790.

While still a British colony, Canada had a citizen bill of rights in 1689. Its most recent (1982) constitution has no such provision. Instead, citizen rights are only quasi-constitutional, from a parliamentary act in 1960.

Australia’s constitution offers no protection for people. Granting basic civil rights and human dignities has been a task left to an often-indifferent judiciary. The result has been a history of flagrant abuse of prisoners, the indigenous population, and immigrants, including children.

(Australians as crudely uncivilized is a common generalization. The country was populated by the British from 1788 as a prison colony, and Australians too often live up to that legacy. Besides newsworthy cruelty toward people and other animals, Australians exhibit a wanton disregard for Nature.)

An Armed Citizenry

The 2nd and 3rd amendments to the US constitution were noncontroversial when they were passed. Both these amendments, taken together, were intended to prevent a military state, and to constrain the state from oppressing citizens. These federal constitutional amendments corresponded with several state constitutions.

The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature. ~ Massachusetts state constitution

Such constitutional clauses evolved from the bad experiences the British had with standing armies: a problem dating back to the early 17th century, when religious and political conflict tore at Britain’s social fabric. Britain exported the very same problem to its American colonies with its standing army, and the 1765 Quartering Act (following the French and Indian War), which compelled American colonists to house British soldiers.

(Housing soldiers in private spaces was common in Britain at the time. After all their troubles with standing armies, the Brits learnt nothing.)

Violence was sewn into the American experience. Colonists were, after all, seizing land from native inhabitants, and from other colonial powers. On top of all of this was the sustained sense of being unmoored from civilization: a frontier where brutality may be a matter of survival. That spirit lives on in too much of America.

The intent of the 2nd & 3rd amendments – to not have a standing army – has long been ignored. The 1st federal standing army was created by law in 1784, less than a year after the Revolutionary War army disbanded; a step from which the state never looked back.

While the 3rd Amendment has done nothing but gather dust, the 2nd Amendment – citizens’ right to bear arms – has been the subject of intense controversy from the 20th century on.

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed. ~ US Constitution, 2nd Amendment

Is the right to arms predicated upon their necessity for a militia? If not, why mention it? To date, the US courts have treated the preface merely as a non-restrictive statement of purpose. This goes against canonical interpretation of the constitution.

Its provisions are neither to be restricted into insignificance…. ~ SCOTUS Chief Justice John Marshall

Ending the senseless slaughter of citizens by citizens bearing firearms requires eviscerating the 2nd Amendment, by putting it into the perspective the framers intended. The effort to do so has been unsuccessful so far. Clearly, to advance to this civility would be un-American.

(36,252 people were gunned down in America in 2015.)

(Legalistically, outlawing guns can be done by recognizing that the preamble provided in the 2nd amendment is an essential context which no longer applies, as a federal standing army exists. In doing so, the courts would have to tacitly admit the unconstitutional presence of the federal military, go against the longstanding tradition of citizens bearing arms, and instigate the problematic process of weapons confiscation.)