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.
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.