The Primacy of the First Amendment

I came across this on The Atlantic this evening. On the 19th anniversary of Columbine, which was followed by Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, and myriad other shootings, I found myself thinking about the First Amendment to the Constitution.  I thought about why it is first.  The place and power of informed civil discourse is a foundational principle of this nation.  Essays--clearly communicated reasoning supported by evidence--and argument--taking a position on a matter of importance and considering it from multiple angles before arriving at a conclusion that should always be tentative--are a part of our civic DNA.

Of course.  When we can talk to each other, reflect, review, research, and reshape our thinking to return to the talking table to develop our thinking and our understanding, we are building relationships, which means building community, which means building a country.  Which is why we are the US and not some weird, dark nation where people are poisoned on their doorsteps for holding dissenting views.

Recently, I found myself doing laps in a conversation with a student who was stuck on his right to bear arms: "Why shouldn't I have an AR15 if I am willing to go to war for this country?"  This was his question, over and over again.  It is where he started the conversation with me.  I asked him why he was so specific about which arm he felt he had a right to bear.  He had no answer.  I asked him why this amendment was so important to him alongside the other 26.  He was surprised there were so many. I asked him why he was learning his reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills rather than marksmanship when he came to school.  "What?"  I clarified: "Why is the first amendment first?"  He asked me what problems were ever solved through the First Amendment.  I suggested he think about Parkland and the protest.  We could move backward through time from there. 

This child aspires to military service one day, and I respect him deeply for that.  But I wonder who taught him that guns deserve primacy of place over communication.   

There is a reason the commander in chief is a civilian--the president.  This is to protect us from becoming a police state, which is to say to protect us from a despotic leader who might use his control over the military to manipulate the people. Here is the language of the second amendment: "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." I'm just a simple country school teacher, but the grammar of this amendment says to me that "the people" indicates the people. Really.  The people is a bunch of individuals.  Not the individuals themselves--each one running off to the gun show to check out the latest in lethal firepower--but the whole bunch of us together.  The people are the citizens, and the citizens are represented by their elected officials, and the highest elected official is the president.  (And our president surely behaves as if he were high....)  And that is why the president is the commander in chief.  I think the Second Amendment is not about the right of the individuals to own guns if they feel like it but about the right of the people to regulate the military that the state might be both secure and free.

Remember that our Revolution was the result of a lot of self-serving men seeking to protect their financial interests, which they saw to be at odds with the financial interests of the king.  That sounds like Trump.  But also remember that these men had some sense of moral purpose, even if we think they were lost at sea in the world of morality.  That sense of moral purpose is totally absent from the mindset of our current president, perverted skirt-chasing dissembler that he is--and let's not forget that he is a perverted skirt-chasing dissembler who would, and will, take us all down with him in a heartbeat if he had a heart.
Back to the Second Amendment. It's not about your right to buy a Glock. It's about our right to ensure that the President doesn't abuse his authority over the military because it requires him to hold himself accountable to us.  Our Republican-controlled House and Senate have forgotten this important detail.  I hope we will remind them all at the midterms.


  1. At least you tried to ask questions that might stimulate some actual thought.

  2. I love your argument here on the "the people." Here in Oklahoma there is about to be passed something called "Constitutional Carrry" which says that the Constitution says nothing about permits or anything for open carry. Total madness. My idiot State Senator is a major force behind it and he and I have exchanged emails about what a "well regulated militia" and turns out that Oklahoma has a law that says everybody of voting age is automatically a member of the State Militia. Anyway, I am not as good as you in carrying on a thoughtful conversation.
    Take care, I hope all is going well.


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