We should periodically review assumptions that direct our beliefs. The world may have changed so they are no longer accurate. We may need to make structural changes to direct new behavior.
Businesses that don’t update their assumptions fail. My 1980s minicomputer consulting clients no longer exist. They were ex-pioneers who imagined their competition was still each other. They were aware of networked microprocessor-based systems but not the implications of a competing technology with a cost advantage that was already tenfold. Their customers were little harmed because they could simply switch to new suppliers.
A nation’s customers, its citizens, can be greatly harmed, however, because it’s not easy to switch to a new one. Nations keep going where they’re headed like giant cruise ships whose passengers were happy enough for long enough so the captain assumes they always will be happy. He’s still happy. He doesn’t notice the passengers’ distress now they’re in Antarctic waters in summer clothes.
Just as businesses degenerate slowly then collapse when their structure is not kept up to date, so it is with nations and empires. The structure of GM, for example, where each brand (Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, etc) was targeted to a distinct market segment within which it battled competitors later ossified into baronies whose leaders fought each other. Our Congress in the USA has similarly degenerated into warring factions whose eyes are closed to new realities.
The problem is in part institutional. Our direction is governed by a Constitution established two and a half centuries ago with no requirement for periodic update. Let’s consider two Constitutional Amendments to illustrate this issue.
The 3rd Amendment decrees that: “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.” That is just about as useful today as prohibiting an elephant from being quartered in our house without our consent. Citizens once needed such protection. We no longer do. This Amendment is now so completely irrelevant that must people are unaware it even exists.
The USA 3rd Amendment echoed the English Bill of Rights 1689 that prohibited the monarch from “raising and keeping a standing army within this kingdom in time of peace without consent of Parliament, and quartering soldiers contrary to law” and was in response to 1760s and ’70s British Quartering Acts that required American colonies to pay the costs of British soldiers here and colonists to provide space for them to live.
The English Bill of Rights was passed when Protestant William and Mary were invited by parliament to replace Roman Catholic King James II and become joint sovereigns of England. It set limits on the powers of the crown and among other things reestablished the right of Protestants to own firearms. James II had tried to disarm Protestants and maintain a standing army. Civilians were at that time required to help suppress riots.
So the English Bill of Rights was also the basis for the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution as one of our Bill of Rights which decrees that: “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.” It was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights and, interestingly, is the only amendment to the Constitution that states a purpose.
There was at that time substantial public opposition to a standing army from both Anti-Federalists and Federalists. On May 8, 1792, Congress passed an Act decreeing that: “every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years […] shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia…[and] every citizen so enrolled and notified, shall, within six months thereafter, provide himself with a good musket or firelock, a sufficient bayonet and belt, two spare flints, and a knapsack, a pouch with a box therein to contain not less than twenty-four cartridges [and etc] and shall appear, so armed, accoutred and provided, when called out to exercise, or into service”.
The purpose of the 2nd Amendment, to provide for “the security of a free state“, has for many years been met in a different way. We now have a standing militia armed with weapons whose power could never have been imagined in the days of muskets and firelocks. Unlike the 3rd Amendment, however, its provisions are still relevant but are applied to a different purpose.
It would be better to retire both the 2nd and 3rd Amendments and draft new legislation suited to the purpose today.
People still want successors to muskets and firelocks for some of the same reasons left unstated in the 2nd Amendment, to hunt animals for food, defend themselves if police are unavailable, or just recreation. It would be far easier to establish broadly acceptable legislation specifying who could own what firearms if we were now drafting legislation specifically for that purpose.