Mitty's Second Amendment
by Jeff Snyder
upon a time, there was a people who inhabited a majestic land under
an all-powerful government. Now this government had the resources to
control practically every aspect of human existence; hundreds of
thousands of "public servants" could access the most personal
details of every citizen's life because everyone was issued a number
at birth with which the government would track him throughout his
life. No one could even work in gainful employment without this
True, the government left
certain domains of individual action largely free, particularly
matters concerning speech and sex. These activities posed no real
threat to the state. When not used to entertain and divert, the
power of speech was used principally to clamor for more or better
goods from the state, or for "reforms" to make the state work
"better," thereby entrenching the people's dependency. And insofar
as sex was concerned, well, the people's behavior in this area also
really had no effect on the scope of state power. In fact, the
rulers noted that people's preoccupation with matters of sexual
morality – whether premarital, teenage pregnancy, adultery, divorce,
homosexuality or general "who's zooming who" – diverted the people's
attention from the fact that they were, for economic and all other
intents and purposes, slaves.
Slaves, though, who labored
under the illusion that they were free. The people were a simple
lot, politically speaking, and readily mistook the ability to give
free reign to their appetites as the essence of "personal freedom."
that fruitful land, the state took about 50 percent of everything
the people earned through numerous forms of taxation, up from about
25 percent only a generation earlier. However, this boastful people,
who believed themselves to be the freest on earth, retained the
right to keep and bear arms. Tens of millions of them possessed
firearms – just in case their government became tyrannical and
that land, an astronomical number of regulations, filling more than
96,000 pages in the government's "code of regulations," were
promulgated by persons who were not elected by the people. The
regulators often developed close relationships with the businesses
they regulated, and work in "agencies" that had the power both to
make law – and to enforce it.
agencies were not established by the government's constitution, and
their existence violated that instrument's principle of separation
of powers. Yet the people retained the right to keep and bear arms.
Just in case their government, some day, ceased to be a "government
of the people."
that land, the constitution contemplated that the people would be
governed by two separate levels of government – "national" and
"local." Matters that concerned the people most intimately – health,
education, welfare, crime, and the environment – were to be left
almost exclusively to the local level, so that those who made and
enforced the laws lived close to the people who were subject to the
laws, and felt their effects.
that different people who had different ideas about such things
would not be subject to a "one size fits all" standard that would
apply if the national government dealt with such matters.
Competition among different localities for people, who could move
freely from one place to another, would act as a reality check on
the passage of unnecessary or unwise laws.
in a time of great crisis called the Great Economic Downturn, the
people and their leaders clamored for "national solutions to
national problems," and the constitution was "interpreted" by the
Majestic Court to permit the national government to pass laws
regulating practically everything that had been reserved for the
the people had the pleasure of being governed by not one, but two
beneficent governments with two sets of laws regulating the same
things. Now the people could be prosecuted by not one, but two
governments for the same activities and conduct. Still this fiercely
independent people retained the right to keep and bear arms. Just in
case their government, some day, no longer secured the blessings of
liberty to themselves or their posterity.
that fair land, property owners could be held liable under the
nation's environmental legislation for the cleanup costs associated
with toxic chemicals, even if the owners had not caused the problem.
Another set of laws provided for asset forfeiture and permitted
government agencies to confiscate property without first
the people retained the right to keep and bear arms. Just in case
their government denied them due process by holding them liable for
things that were not their fault. (The Majestic Court had long ago
determined that "due process" did not prevent government from
imposing liability on people who were not at fault. "Due process,"
it turned out, meant little more than that a law had been passed in
accordance with established procedures. You know, it was actually
voted on, passed by a majority and signed by the president. If it
met those standards, it didn't much matter what the law actually
well, the people had little real cause to worry. After all, those
laws hardly ever affected anyone that they knew. Certainly not the
people who mattered most of all: the country's favorite celebrities
and sports teams, who so occupied the people's attention. And how
bad could it be if it had not yet been the subject of a Movie of the
Week, telling them what to think and how to feel about it?
that wide-open land, the police often established roadblocks to
check that the people's papers were in order. The police – armed
agents of the rulers – used these occasions to ask the occupants
whether they were carrying weapons or drugs. Sometimes the police
would ask to search the vehicles, and the occupants – not knowing
whether they could say no and wanting to prove that they were good
guys by cooperating – would permit it.
Majestic Court had pronounced these roadblocks and searches lawful
on the novel theory, unknown to the country's Founding Forebears,
that so long as the police were doing this to everyone equally, it
didn't violate anyone's rights in particular.
roadblocks sometimes caused annoying delays, but these lovers of the
open road took it in stride. After all, they retained their right to
keep and bear arms. Just in case their government, some day, engaged
in unreasonable searches and seizures. In that bustling land, the
choice of how to develop property was heavily regulated by local
governments that often demanded fees or concessions for the
privilege. That is, when the development was not prohibited outright
by national "moistland" regulations that had no foundation in
statutory or constitutional law.
home owners often required permission to simply build an addition to
their homes, or to erect a tool shed on their so-called private
property. And so it seemed that "private property" became, not a
system protecting individual liberty, but a system which, while
providing the illusion of ownership, actually just allocated and
assigned government-mandated burdens and responsibilities.
Still, this mightily productive
people believed themselves to live in the most capitalistic society
on earth, a society dedicated to the protection of private property.
And so they retained the right to keep and bear arms. Just in case
their government ever sought to deprive them of their property
without just compensation.
Besides, the people had little
cause for alarm. Far from worrying about government control of their
property, the more immediate problem was: what to buy next?
people were a simple lot, politically speaking, and readily mistook
the ability to acquire an endless assortment of consumer goods as
the essence of personal freedom.
enlightened rulers of this great land did not seek to deprive the
people of their right to bear arms. Unlike tyrants of the past, they
had learned that it was not necessary to disarm the masses. The
people proved time and time again that they were willing accomplices
to the ever-expanding authority of the government, enslaved by their
own desire for safety, security and welfare.
people could have their guns. What did the rulers care? They already
possessed the complete obedience that they required.
fact, in their more Machiavellian moments, the rulers could be heard
to admit that permitting the people the right to keep and bear arms
was a marvelous tool of social control, for it provided the people
with the illusion of freedom.
people, among the most highly regulated on earth, told themselves
that they were free because they retained the means of revolt. Just
in case things ever got really bad. No one, however, seemed to have
too clear an idea what "really bad" really meant. The people
accepted the fact that their government no longer even remotely
resembled the plan set forth in their original constitution. And the
people's values no longer remotely resembled those of their Founding
Forebears. The people, in their naïveté, really believed that the
means of revolt were to be found in a piece of inanimate metal!
Really it was laughable. And pathetic.
the rulers knew that the people could safely be trusted with arms.
The government educated their children, provided for their
retirement in old age, bequeathed assistance if they lost their
jobs, mandated that they receive health care, and even doled out
food and shelter if they were poor.
government was the very air the people breathed from childhood to
the grave. Few could imagine, let alone desire, any other kind of
the extent that the people paid any attention to their system of
government, the great mass spent their days simply clamoring for
more or better "programs," more "rational" regulations, in short,
more of the same. The only thing that really upset them was waste,
fraud, or abuse of the existing programs. Such shenanigans brought
forth vehement protests demanding that the government provide their
services more efficiently, dammit!
nation's stirring national anthem, adopted long ago by men who
fought for their liberty, ended by posing a question, in hopes of
keeping the spirit of liberty alive. Did the flag still fly, it
asked, over the land of the free? Unfortunately, few considered that
the answer to that question might really be no, for they had long
since lost an understanding of what freedom really is.
in this land "freedom" had become something dark, frightening, and
dangerous. The people lived in mortal terror that somewhere,
sometime, some individual might make a decision or embark upon a
course of action that was not first approved by some government
Security was far more
preferable. How could anyone be truly free if he were not first safe
we must say goodbye to this fair country whose government toiled
tirelessly to create the safety, fairness and luxury that all
demanded, and that everyone knew could be created by passing just
the right laws. Through it all, the people vigorously safeguarded
their tradition of firearms ownership.
they never knew – and never learned – that preserving a tradition
and a way of life is not the same as preserving liberty. And they
never knew – and never learned – that it's not about guns.
Jeff Snyder is
an attorney who works in Manhattan. He is the author
of Cowards – Essays on the Ethics of Gun Control, which examines
the American character as revealed by the gun control debate. This article
originally appeared in American Handgunner, Sep/Oct
Copyright © 1997 American