Kevin W. writes and I respond:
A fellow philosophy friend has been making the argument that we have a conflict of intuitions concerning the Second Amendment. He argues that if it is the case that the Second Amendment allows citizens to arm themselves in order to defend against a tyrannical government, then citizens ought to be permitted to own tanks, fighter jets, and maybe even a nuclear device. Yet, many of us would be highly uncomfortable with citizens having anything like that level of military hardware. So we have a conflict of intuitions.
BV: This is an old slippery slope argument often adduced by anti-gunners. Slippery slope arguments are notoriously invalid. There is no logical necessity that, if you allow citizens to own semi-automatic rifles, then you must also allow them to own machine guns, grenade launchers, chemical and biological weapons, tactical nukes . . . . At some point a line is drawn. We draw lines all the time. Time was when the voting age was 21. Those were the times when, in the words of Barry McGuire, "You're old enough to kill, but not for votin'." The voting age is now 18. If anyone at the time had argued that reducing the age to 18 would logically necessitate its being reduced to 17, then 16, and then 15, and so on unto the enfranchisement of infants and the prenatal, that would have been dismissed as a silly argument.
If the above anti-gun slippery slope argument were valid, then the following pro-gun argument would be valid: "If the government has the right to ban civilian possession of fully automatic rifles, then it has the right to ban semi-automatic rifles, semi-autos generally, revolvers, single-shot derringers . . . . But it has no right to ban semi-autos, and so on. Ergo, etc.
I have been speaking of the 'logical' slippery slope. But there is also the 'causal' or 'probablilistic' slippery slope. Supposing all semi-auto weapons (pistols, rifles, and shotguns) to be banned, would this 'lead to' or 'pave the way for' the banning of revolvers and handguns generally? 'Lead to' is a vague phrase. It might be taken to mean 'raise the probability of' or 'make it more likely that.' Slippery slope arguments of this sort in some cases have merit. If all semi-autos are banned, then the liberals will be emboldened and will try to take the next step.
There is no genuine conflict of intuitions here either. Who has the 'intuition' that citizens should be allowed full access to all available military hardware? No one who is serious maintains this. So this non-issue is a red herring.
We want the Second Amendment only so far as to justify our ownership of handguns and rifles and the like, but we don't want the Second Amendment to justify citizen ownership of these pieces of hardware. Yet, not owning those pieces of hardware would mean certain defeat by any government (one cannot fight off a drone attack with an AR-15). So this fellow philosophy friend would contend that the Second Amendment is out of date and perhaps need to be done away with.
Your friend's argumentation leaves a lot to be desired. Reasonably interpreted, the Second Amendment does not justify citizen ownership of any and all military equipment. The founders were not thinking of cannons and battleships when they spoke of the right to keep and bear arms. If you lived in Lexington or Concord, how would you 'keep' a battleship? 'Bearing' it would be even more difficult.
If you tell me that the founders weren't thinking of AR-15s either, I will simply agree with you, but point out that such a rifle is but an improvement over the muskets of those days. Surely the founders did not intend that the extension of the term 'arms' should be restricted to the weapons of their own day
It is also plainly false that to keep the government in check one needs the same sorts of weapons the government has at its diposal. The 9/11 hijackers dealt us a terrible blow using box cutters. I can't ward off a drone attack with an AR-15, but governments can be toppled by trained assasins using .22 caliber pistols. Imagine a huge caravan of gun-totin' rednecks descending on Washington, D.C. in their pick-up trucks. Something like a Million Redneck March. Would Obama use nukes against them? I don't think so. I reckon he likes his White House digs. A totalitarian government versus the people is not like one government versus another. Allied bombing raids against Axis targets did not degrade Allied real estate or infrastructure, but enemy real estate and infrastructure. As Walter E. Williams points out:
There have been people who've ridiculed the protections afforded by the Second Amendment, asking what chance would citizens have against the military might of the U.S. government. Military might isn't always the deciding factor. Our 1776 War of Independence was against the mightiest nation on the face of the earth -- Great Britain. In Syria, the rebels are making life uncomfortable for the much-better-equipped Syrian regime. Today's Americans are vastly better-armed than our founders, Warsaw Ghetto Jews and Syrian rebels.
There are about 300 million privately held firearms owned by Americans. That's nothing to sneeze at. And notice that the people who support gun control are the very people who want to control and dictate our lives.
It's not about hunting. It's about self-defense. Against whom? First of all, against the criminal element, the same criminal element that liberals coddle. It apparently doesn't occur to liberals that if there were less crime, fewer people would feel a need to arm themsleves. Second, against any political entity, foreign or domestic, substate or state, at any level, that 'goes rogue.' A terrorist organization would be an example of a substate political entity.