Nothing in Movement Conservatism Makes Sense Except in the Light of Creationism: The Second Amendment Edition

As always, with apologies to Theodosius Dobzhansky. One of the ways the NRA and gun zealots have legitimized their daft interpretation of the Second Amendment is through an ‘alternative scholarship’ that bears all the hallmarks of ‘creation science.’ Historian Gary Wills describes this creationist equivalent of the law in a long book review; it’s worth the read, but I’ll pull some highlights.

First, as with creationism, the sense of anger of the failure of their stunning insights to be recognized by the larger scholarly community (boldface mine):

Then why is there such an air of grievance, of positive victimhood, in the writings of the “Standard Model” school? They talk of the little honor they are given, of the “mendacious” attitude of the legal establishment, of a rigidity that refuses to recognize their triumph. Don Kates (with co-authors) sputters in mixed metaphors of an opposition that “exists in a vacuum of lock-step orthodoxy almost hermetically sealed from the existence of contrary data and scholarship.” Randy E. Barnett, introducing the Tennessee Law Review symposium predicts dire things if people do not “accord some respect to those citizens (and academics) whose views it [the Standard Model Scholarship] supports.” Glenn Harlan Reynolds, in the article stating the Standard Model thesis, argues that militia extremism may be fueled by the Model’s opponents, who are “treating the Constitution, too, as a preserve of the elite.”

Their own reciprocating nods and citations of approval are apparently not enough for these authors. Nor is popular support enough. They still talk like Rodney Dangerfield, getting no respect. They should ask themselves more penetratingly why this should be. Perhaps it is the quality of their arguments that makes them hard to take seriously.

We have quote mining and taking things out of context–just like creationism:

Time after time, in dreary expectable ways, the quotes bandied about by Standard Model scholars turn out to be truncated, removed from context, twisted, or applied to a debate different from that over the Second Amendment. Those who would argue with them soon tire of the chase from one misquotation to another, and dismiss the whole exercise—causing the angry reaction from Standard Modelers that they are not taken seriously. The problem is that taking them seriously is precisely what undermines their claims.

Here’s an example regarding the phrase “bear arms”:

Standard Modelers try to get around this difficulty by seeking out every odd, loose, or idiosyncratic use of “bear arms” they can come up with—as if the legal tradition in which the Second Amendment stands must yield to marginal exceptions, in defiance of the solid body of central reference. Or they bring in any phrase that comes near “bear arms” without being that phrase. Stephen Halbrook cites a law concerning deer hunting that refers to “bearing of a gun” in the hunt. Not only is the context different from the amendment’s, but “bearing of a gun” is not the canonical formulation with a plural noun. In Latin a hunter could be seen to carry a bow (arcum ferre) without that altering the military sense of arma ferre….

I must apologize for pursuing this one instance of the gun advocates’ mode of argument. It shows how difficult it is to track down their many misrepresentations. They take an isolated odd usage by an idiosyncratic man in a moment of little reflection, misrepresent it as the considered position of a group, and pit it against the vast body of normal usage, as that is qualified by legal usage and military context. Yet this is the argument that many gun advocates consider their “clincher.” Robert Whitehill did them a favor they repay by hiding his name and confusing the responsibility for his frantic “proposals.”

And there is the attempt to overwhelm as well as claim legitimacy with sheer verbiage that distracts from the point at hand:

Yet both the general public, which has a disposition to believe that the Second Amendment protects gun ownership, and the NRA lobby are bolstered in that view by the sheer mass of the articles now being ground out and published in journals. It is difficult to sort out all the extraneous, irrelevant, and partial material daily thrown into the debate. Even to make a beginning is difficult. One must separate what the Second Amendment says from a whole list of other matters not immediately at issue.

All of which leads to legal gibberish:

Against this body of evidence we have the linguistic tricks of the Standard Model which wrench terms from context and impose fanciful meanings on them. The Standard Model takes apart the joint phrasing of keep-and-bear arms to make “keep” mean only keep-in-the-home-for-private-use and “bear arms” mean carry-a-gun-in-the-hand. The ratification-debate attacks on the militia clause of the Constitution are illegitimately applied to the support of the later amendment. Madison is made to talk as if obliterating the government could be a way to obey the government. We are told that the Second Amendment is deliberately insurrectionary and proclaimed (in an absent-minded way) the right of armed rebellion as a method of regulating the military. We are told that arms, all the equipage of war, can be borne in a coat pocket. Heraldry is mixed with haberdashery, humbug with history, and scholarly looking footnotes with simple-minded literalism. By the methods used in the Standard Model, we could argue that a good eighteenth-century meaning for “quarter” shows that the Third Amendment was intended to prevent soldiers from having their limbs lopped off in private homes.

There’s a reason the comparison matters:

Once one realizes that it’s the same phenomenon, strategically speaking, compromise makes little sense–it provides them with nothing more than a beachhead. In terms of convincing people to ‘leave’ movement conservatism, it becomes obvious, as is the case with creationism, that this is part of an entire worldview, one that is extremely resistant to change. As Sarah Robinson pointed out years ago, logical arguments will not find much, if any, purchase. Typically, people will not change their minds without a personal shock or crisis, often a betrayal by an authority figure or benefactor.

One only hopes the murder of twenty six people, including twenty young children qualifies as a “personal shock.”

By the way, if you didn’t check out the link, here’s the kicker: Wills wrote this in 1995. This insanity has been around for a very long time.

Same as it ever was.

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4 Responses to Nothing in Movement Conservatism Makes Sense Except in the Light of Creationism: The Second Amendment Edition

  1. Zachary Smith says:

    I saved the Gary Wills link story as a matter of course, but only skimmed it. Fact is, the gun nuts and their scholarly enablers are immune to facts and reason.

    Quote time:

    “You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them.

    “And they fell through the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are going to regenerate and they have not,” he went on. “And it’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

    They cling to religion because this allows them simple answers to complex problems, and it’s totally no-think. They cling to their guns because having those guns allows them to pretend they still have a measure of control. Nobody needs a Bushmaster rifle to hunt deer. Nor is it especially useful weapon for home defense. What this type of weapon IS good for is killing human-sized animals in vast numbers, and that’s precisely what Adam Lanza’s mother had in mind.

    “Friends and family have portrayed Mrs Lanza as a paranoid ‘survivalist’ who believed the world was on the brink of violent collapse.”

    She had 5 human-killing weapons (along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition) ready for when the SHTF/DHTRO and she had to use them against the ravaging Hordes of cannibals (see the Niven/Pournelle book Lucifer’s Hammer) in a time WROL. Yes, there is an entire glossary of words for their fears. And quite a large and growing library of TEOTWAWKI books.

    Official Propaganda during the Vietnam War wasn’t too different from that of today, so I recall being shocked when I found the evil Communist North Vietnamese actually trusted their enslaved civilians with firearms. Dito for Hitler’s Germany. It’s an article of faith among the crazies that Hitler disarmed Germany. Nope.

    [link removed because I don’t link to Nazi sites. Ever]

    The first time I read Flame Thrower by Andrew Wilson, I was perplexed by the scene late in the war when a weeping German farmer presented his shotgun to the British tank commander. How could that farmer have owned that shotgun if Hitler had taken their guns, I asked at the time. As the link says, Hitler was the most popular German political figure of all time, and he had no fear of an armed populace.

    But the American gun nuts believe their fantasies, and imagine they can fight off the evil gobmint if they must – another American Revolution. So they’re comfortable ignoring the inroads on their freedoms which DO matter.

  2. Surfpop says:

    Why on earth did you post a link to the National Vanguard website? I followed it, not knowing who they were, read about half the article with a growing disquiet and stopped half-way through in horror. I’d like to believe they are correct that the Hitler-banning-guns trope is untrue, if only to stop more such assertions, but can someone who is not a neo-Nazi write it up. Please!

    • Zachary Smith says:

      Surfpop, I was making a google search looking for a specific thing to back up a claim I was making about the fantasies of US gun nuts. I did NOT happen to notice that I’d located a Nazi site. If I had seen that, I might have done what I did just a few moments ago and typed in my search string of “hitler” “germany” “firearms” “possession” -vanguard

      What came up in revised search had at the very top of the results list this link:

      After a quick glance at what was said there and at the Nazi site, the major difference I saw was the claim by the Nazis that Hitler didn’t ban ownership of firearms by the Jews – obviously a lie. Most of the rest of the factual claims matched up quite well.

      However, down in the Wiki references is a link to a pdf by Stephen Halbrook. in most ways it’s even worse than the Nazi stuff, for this guy is one of the Gun Nut Scholars. He may be the character who claimed that if the German Jews hadn’t been disarmed, they could have prevented the Holocaust by means of their trusty .36 caliber Mauser Thumblicker rifles. He certainly does a lot of hinting…

      “Later that year, in Kristallnacht (the Night of the Broken Glass), in one fell swoop, the Nazi regime disarmed Germany’s Jews. Without any ability to defend themselves, the Jewish population could easily be sent to concentration camps for the Final Solution. After World War II began, Nazi authorities continued to register and mistrust civilian firearm owners, and German resistence to the Nazi regime was unsuccessful.7”

      Now THAT is a crappy link, and in it the right wing gun nut author has written 156 pages of pure BS. But it isn’t an accidental Nazi site, so no doubt it’ll pass the PC scrutiny here and not be deleted.

      This is part of the craziness of the US lunatics – that with their rapid-fire handguns and rifles and their oversized magazines, they can confront the evil gobmint, just as the German Jews could have saved themselves if they hadn’t so foolishly given up their weapons. What Mr. Halbrook willfully doesn’t understand is the concept of Overwhelming Force. The German Jews were a minute part of the population, and a German Army which defeated France and most of the rest of Western Europe would have had to use maybe 1/4% of its force to confront any armed resistance. Ditto for the US in 2012. Mr. Halbrook and the other ‘nut scholars are totally crazy and none of them are willing to face the idiocy of their 2nd Amendment Religious Dogma.

      I want it understood that I’m really, REALLY pissed off right now. I’m sick of virtuous posturing and pearl-clutching. I ditched a number of sites this year when the pompous posters told me I had to overlook Obama’s corruption and crimes and vote for him anyhow. Hullabaloo, Lawyers, Guns & Money, and Tbogg at Firedoglake are no longer bookmarked on my browsers. More recently the Danger Room Blog has been telling some direct and verifiable lies, and they’re also on my No-Go list too.

      One final note to Surfpop – regarding all the uncertain “assertions” on that Nazi site, maybe someday you can learn to use teh google and check them out yourself.

      Good luck with that, and also, goodbye.

  3. This has got to be the dumbest post you have ever made. Whether Gary Wills was right or wrong in 1995 is completely beside the point. The Supreme Court addressed the issue about a year ago and its decision was pretty fucking clear – the 2nd Amendment protects the individual’s right to own and use firearms.

    Creationists keep making the same arguments despite the court rulings against them. So YOU are the one acting just like a creationist on this issue.

    Stop giving Karl Rove a big sloppy blow job for Christmas – all you are doing is helping him elect more batshit crazy Republicans by moronically, futilely, really fucking stupidly going on and on about gun control.

    Get some perspective, will you? Global warming is an issue that is a million times more important, and all you are doing, in any practical sense, is to help torpedo any chances we have to control Congress to do something constructive about it.

    Fifty years from now, your grandchildren are going ask you what the fuck you did to help protect civilization and you are going to have to tell them “Unfortunately, I helped get more Republicans elected by publicly obsessing over a complete loser of a political issue. Sorry, but I wanted to show how outraged I was that less than 100 people a year were killed by maniacs with guns. I didn’t think about the billions who are going to die from global warming. My bad” And your grandchildren are going to hate you.

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