Rights of the Living

by thoughtsatlarge

Thomas PaineIn 1789, Thomas Paine wrote Rights of Man as a rebuttal to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. One of Burke’s arguments, and one he spends over 100 pages writing about, is how the English Parliament of 1688 granted certain rights “for themselves, and for all their posterity, for ever.” Paine takes exception with this and in the first few pages of Rights of Man refutes Burke’s assumptions brilliantly.

I would like to use these same arguments as a foundation for repealing the second amendment, which to my mind, is the only way we will genuinely affect the daily bloodbath that is guns in America.

In the preface to the English edition, Paine speaks of those who make their living by war. I will use this as a metaphor for the NRA, as they are but a mouthpiece for gun manufacturers whose products flood battlefields and street corners, both. About this, Paine writes:

That there are men in all countries who get their living by war, and by keeping up the quarrels of Nations, is as shocking as it is true; but when those who are concerned in the government of a country, make it their study to sow discord, and cultivate prejudices between Nations, it becomes the more unpardonable.

Consider for a moment if we substitute Races for Nations in the previous passage. Now, how often have we heard those in government go on and on about how critical it is for “law-abiding citizens” to defend themselves against “thugs.” First of all, everyone is a law-abiding citizen until they are not, until they commit a crime. Second, “thugs” has become the code for our African American youth requiring neither an enigma machine nor anything more than a wink and a nod for conservatives to understand.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA misses no opportunity to speak before his epistemically closed audiences of Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh listeners when he frames paranoid image upon fearmongering image as reasons why “law-abiding citizens” need to arm themselves against “thugs.” He never misses an opportunity. As Paine wrote when slapping Burke for the same verbal diarrhea,

When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy of passion, it is the man, and not the subject, that becomes exhausted.

Indeed, later in the book, Paine smacks Burke again for misplacing his compassion. Likewise, as LaPierre is ordained to defend the firearm and not the victim of the firearm every time he blurts that nauseating phrase, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” or the equally noxious “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” I’ll quote two Paine lines:

He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird.

And,

Prudent men readily recollect that mischief is more easily begun than ended.

LaPierre, ever the sower of tyrannical fantasies is subject to Paine’s logical argument when discussing what rights the founding fathers are owed. He makes a distinction of ruling by delegation, which he feels is appropriate, and ruling by assumption, which he does not. He writes:

The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.

Furthermore, he writes of the rights of the living superseding the edicts of the dead:

Every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, and not the dead, that are to be accommodated.

He expounds upon this a bit further into the text when he writes:

Those who have quitted the world, and those who are not yet arrived at it, are as remote from each other, as the utmost stretch of mortal imagination can conceive: What possible obligation, then, can exist between them; what rule or principle can be laid down, that of two nonentities, the one out of existence, and the other not in, and who never can meet in this world, the one should control the other to the end of time?

So, if there is no obligation of current generations to accept the laws of previous generations, except through their continued adherence to them, they are then subject to repeal. Paine writes of this tyranny:

It requires but a very small glance of thought to perceive, that although laws made in one generation often continue in force through succeeding generations, yet that they continue to derive their force from the consent of the living. A law not repealed continues in force, not because it cannot be repealed, but because it is not repealed; and the non-repealing passes for consent.

That the second amendment was written during the time of the musket and could never address a hand-held machine gun or any of the other wondrous killing machines we have invented to slaughter our neighbor is all the more reason why we need to repeal it and, if appropriate, write a new version consistent with the times in which we live. As Paine wrote it:

The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living, or the dead?

Paine even quotes M. de Lafayette who, in appealing to the living said:

Call to mind the sentiments which Nature has engraved in the heart of every citizen, and which take a new force when they are solemnly recognized by all: – For a nation to love liberty, it is sufficient that she knows it; and to be free, it is sufficient that she wills it.

Laws are for the living, not the dead, says Paine. Might I add that they should be for the living to prevent the dead, as well? Paine was a bit of a smartass in his writing
and if I may repurpose one of his greatest upbraidings, I consider the NRA and its fearmongering, paranoid, disingenuous leadership to be “darkness attempting to illuminate light.”

I consider this as the framework and justification for repealing the second amendment, using the words of one of the most logical witnesses to two revolutions. Common sense may not be all that common anymore, but logic is universally appreciated.

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