We Are Going to Lose the Second Amendment

In just the last month, there have been three school shootings. More if we extend the timeline back to February to include the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. No one can point to any real regulation short of confiscation that might have stopped the killings, and, besides, we already have comprehensive gun regulations.

And yet, the “gun control” drumbeat is growing louder. We continue to be inundated with news reports featuring sobbing, scared children; stone-faced politicians who intone, “Enough is enough”; social media blitzes designed to capitalize on the still-fresh trauma; and on and on.

All this leads to a very simple, obvious conclusion—one that no doubt will shock and make very uncomfortable most people on the Right: We are going to lose the gun debate, just like we’ve lost so many others.

Why? Because the Left knows precisely how to win these contests.

School Shooting Sea Change?
It begins by focusing on edge cases. School shootings, while they appear to be more ubiquitous than ever, are actually 
down since the 1990s. But you’d never know that scrolling through social media or listening to the news. Then, it amplifies the voices of sympathetic victims—and what’s more sympathetic than a girl who just wants to be safe at school and doesn’t want to have to feel like she might be shot while in class?

Finally, and only after it has laid the rhetorical and emotional groundwork for its preferred change (“progress”), it pushes for formal changes in the laws, for favorable court rulings, and for various agency actions to achieve the desired policy outcome.

All of this takes place in a climate in which the Left is motivated to effect change, while the Right is caught unawares, flat-footed.

The Left wins the issue before it ever has to, or does, enact a single real policy—because it wins over the people first, emotionally and dispositionally.

Not surprisingly, we’ve seen this happen before with another well-known culture war issue: abortion. Then, as now, the Left executed the strategy I’ve just described. It began by focusing on edge cases: women who had been raped or been the victims of incest, or those who had complicated pregnancies. It also highlighted those women who had died because of their inability to access legal abortion. Then, it amplified those women’s voices, particularly the voice of the late Norma McCorvey, of “Jane Roe” fame. Then, our enlightened, robed judicial guardians on the Supreme Court discovered (created, rather) a “right” to abortion hiding within the text of the 14th Amendment.

Relentless Push for Gun Control
And now, the Right is about to be caught flat-footed on guns, just as it was with abortion. The Right fails to understand that the Left’s tactics and strategy are really just social engineering. And because this is the case, and if things remain static, the Second Amendment will be gone in our lifetimes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If the Right is savvy, it can fend off the Left’s anti-gun onslaught and preserve not only the text of the Second Amendment but its spirit: a culture both of liberty and responsibility for one’s own safety.

To do that, however, the Right needs to correct course and fight on the same level as the Left. The Left understands that it needs to win hearts and minds before it achieves the sort of lasting change it wants. On abortion, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in 2012 that the court moved “too far too fast,” thereby sparking a backlash—a backlash that became the modern-day pro-life juggernaut.

On gun control, the going may be slower, but the Left is relentless. Each shooting is yet another opportunity to flood the airwaves, the internet, TV, the papers, you name it, with heartbreaking stories, rhetorically powerful pleas, and granular detail about the “scourge” of violence in our schools, parks, streets, and homes.

And what does the Right do? Say true but tone-deaf things like, “This was one madman with a gun,” or, “Human nature can’t be changed,” or, “No regulation would have stopped this”—all while crouching behind the “clear” text 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,” as though that will be our ark to weather the coming flood.

Why the Right is so confident that the explicitness of the Second Amendment will prevent it from being undermined and eventually cast aside is a mystery. The court in Roe v. Wade read out of the 14th Amendment a “right to choose” abortion—a result which could only be attained through Herculean contortions of logic and textual torture. The court massacred the English language and made a mockery of clear legal, moral, and philosophical reasoning in its 1973 majority opinion, yes. But the Court’s “living constitutionalists” got the outcome they wanted.

Hanging on “Well-Regulated”
The fact that the Second Amendment is actually present in the Constitution itself and explicitly protects the right to “keep and bear arms” is, in truth, of little consequence. The plain reality is that oceans of ink already have been spilled to lay the groundwork for the Second Amendment’s judicial repeal, to make the case that the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause can indeed bear the weight of an alternative interpretation: that guns can only be legally possessed by citizens who are part of a “well regulated Militia.” Should a bare majority of the Supreme Court agree with that alternative interpretation, the Second Amendment would be transformed from an individual right to a collective right—and then a collective right that would be effective only in a very narrow context.

That is an easy argument for a clever lawyer to make and for five Ivy League-educated justices to accept and then impose on the rest of the country.

The Right cannot hide behind rational appeals to self-defense, or invoke the real-though-remote specter of tyrannical government (as in 1930s Germany or Soviet Russia), or merely point to the language of the Second Amendment and assume those actions will carry the day.

No. The Right must engage the Left politically and educate the people about their duties and responsibilities as citizens of the United States. It must amplify the stories of women who successfully defend themselves against assailants, or about the “good guy with a gun” who steps in and saves lives. It must make the case that it is proper to the character of a free citizenry that it be armed. It must remember that politics and political life is a game of rhetoric and persuasion (which the Left understands all too well while it lacks power but conveniently forgets once it’s safely in command of Leviathan). Rather than browbeat our fellow citizens with logos, the Right needs to learn the value of pathos: appealing to good emotions like compassion, security, and community—emotions which the Left manipulates and perverts but which ought not to be scorned just because they are emotions.

If the Right fails to do this, it will wake up one day in the not-so-distant future as it has so many times before, frustrated, to discover a country it does not recognize and think, What happened? On that (probably) hot and humid June day in Washington, D.C., the Supreme Court will announce to the nation that, in fact, the foundations and rationale of District of Columbia v. Heller (2008)—and indeed, the Second Amendment itself—have been so eroded as to be obsolete; then, with a hokey linguistic flourish, it will sweep aside the empty husks of every pro-gun state and federal law, every pro-gun state and federal court case, and, in effect, the Second Amendment itself, and usher in our new reality: “gun control America.”

That America will be a shell of its former self, a place where the once-free citizens of the world’s oldest republic will have been reduced to mere subjects, serf-like in their daily goings-on, and will pine for the days when liberty, rather than stultifying “bureaucratese” and moral hectoring, suffused the very air we breathed.

If we don’t want that to happen, the Right needs to wake up and start contesting for the hearts and minds of its fellow citizens. Otherwise, we can kiss our guns, and much else that they secure, goodbye.

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Photo credit: Rick Friedman/Corbis via Getty Images

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About Deion A. Kathawa

Deion A. Kathawa is an attorney who hails from America’s heartland. He holds a J.D. from the University of Notre Dame and a B.A. from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. He is a 2021 alumnus of the Claremont Institute’s John Marshall Fellowship. Subscribe to his “Sed Kontra” newsletter.