Apr 18, 2013

Does Advanced Technology Make the 2nd Amendment Redundant?

Posted by in category: futurism

This article was originally published by Transhumanity

The 2nd amendment of the American Constitution gives U.S citizens the constitutional right to bear arms. Perhaps the most prominent justification given for the 2nd amendment is as a defense against tyrannical government, where citizens have a method of defending themselves against a corrupt government, and of taking their government back by force if needed by forming a citizen militia. While other reasons are sometimes called upon, such as regular old individual self-defense and the ability for the citizenry to act as a citizen army in the event their government goes to war despite being undertrooped, these justifications are much less prominent than the defense-against-tyrannical-government argument is.

This may have been fine when the Amendment was first conceived, but considering the changing context of culture and its artifacts, might it be time to amend it? When it was adopted in 1751, the defensive-power afforded to the citizenry by owning guns was roughly on par with the defensive-power available to government. In 1751 the most popular weapon was the musket, which was limited to 4 shots per minute, and had to be re-loaded manually. The state-of-the-art for “arms” in 1791 was roughly equal for both citizenry and military. This was before automatic weapons – never mind tanks, GPS, unmanned drones, and the like. In 1791, the only thing that distinguished the defensive or offensive capability of military from citizenry was quantity. Now it’s quality.

Technological growth has made the 2nd amendment redundant. If one agrees that its purpose was to give citizenry the ability to physically defend themselves against a tyrannical government, then we must admit that the inequality of defensive capability created by the advanced state of arms and weaponry available to military, and not available to the citizenry, has made the 2nd amendment redundant by virtue of the fact that the types of weapons available to citizens no longer compare in defensive and offensive capability to the kinds of weapons available to the military. Law lags behind technology; what else is new(s)?

This claim would have been largely true as early as WWI, which saw the adoption of tanks, air warfare, naval warfare, poison gas and automatic weapons – assets which weren’t available to the average citizen. Military technology has only progressed since then. Indeed, the wedding of military assets with industrialization and mass-manufacturing that occurred during WWI may have entrenched this trend so deeply that we had no hope of ameliorating such technological disparity thereafter. This marked the beginning of the military industrial complex, which today assures that the overwhelming majority of new technological advances are able to be leveraged by the military before they trickle down to the average citizen through industry.

None of this will be a problem if advances in technologies-of–post-scarcity (e.g nanotech, fab-labs) progress to the point where all cost becomes attributable to the information in the design of a given product. The average citizen currently doesn’t have access to the types of manufacturing and processing assets needed to create advanced weaponry; such assets are only available to the military, via the military-industrial complex. But if veritable means of post-scarcity came into the picture, then the only hope military would have of keeping proprietary access to certain technologies (that is, of making certain technologies illegal to use and own if you’re an average citizen) would be to keep the designs of such weapons confidential – a possibility in turn undermined by the trend of increasing transparency, which some think will culminate in full-on sousveillance – in which case confidentiality is out of the question.

So the broader trend of increasing-power-in-fewer-hands, seen vividly in the increasing scale of destruction throughout the history of war, may level things out by itself (whether singly or in tandem with increasing transparency). I’m sure that when the first Atomic Bomb was dropped, very few people thought that so much destruction could have been unleashed by one bomb. Now we take for granted the fact that such things are possible. If the trend continues and the constructive and destructive capabilities available to an individual through the use of technology keeps on climbing, this dichotomy (of inequality of offensive/defensive capability between citizen and military) may be flattened out on its own, and may turn out to be but a bump in the road.

Conclusion, confusion, contusion:

So, should we give the 2nd amendment a final shot to the head on the grounds that its most called-upon utility has been obviated by technological growth– or should we level the laying-field from the opposite direction, and give every man, woman and child access to the latest in cutting-edge weapons-of-mass-destruction?

Probably neither. The transformative potential of technology makes such 2-tone options seem pale and inadequate. Perhaps the real message is this: that technologies can disrupt and rupture what seem to be quiet raptures weighty with wait and at rest, that futures often refute and that the past is quick to become the post – that technologies transform, and that we must be on constant guard against our precast foundations and preconceptions, which can turn at any moment with a little technological momentum underfoot. While they may have made sense at one point, sensibility was made to be remade. Culture is a seismic landscape, and what we take for Law, whether physical or Man-Made, always remains terribly (and thankfully) uncertain in the face of technologies’ upward growth.

We must always remain open to facing the New, and to remaking our selves and our world in response thereto, even if on the face of it the victory of our change seems like our defeat. Technology changes the circumstances, and we cannot rely on tradition and unflinching Law to provide the answer. We must always be ready to lift the veil and have another look at the available options when new technologies come into play, and always remain willing to will our own better way. Certainty is a fool’s crown, and one that the bastard-prince Newness will be fast to dash to the ground.


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. This is a great, insightful article. I think the ultimate advanced weapon technology that would disrupt the Second Amendment is something along the lines of an “Iron Man Suit.” I wonder how far out we are from that…

  2. I cannot think of a scenario at any point in history when tyrannical forces would have inferior weaponry.

    The purpose of the 2nd amendment is not the guarantee equality of armament with potential oppressors, but ensure that same minimum level of distributed resistance could reasonably be mounted should the need arise.

    The distribution doesn’t even much matter because once the tyranny is revealed, weapons as a civilian commodity become illegal so you’re already distributed arms become the supply pool available to resistance.

    One mans stockpile is the arming of a local militia.

    We don’t need to change or remove the 2nd amendment, it’s doing just fine.

  3. Let me start out by offering a comment I make to almost all groups interested in technological developments: ‘All technology resides in a social setting’

    This is an important framing because often it is society that determines how a technology can be used,or will be used, not the manufacturers of the product. Society determines what functions are useful, redundant, unnecessary and helpful. Society works out what to hack/break or break off.

    The disparity of the second amendment exists not at the level of technology — the disparity exists at the level of entity. An ‘individual’ is afforded the right to bear arms. Not society. It is the individual who may be called upon to take action. In this case the framing to the EXPECTED action was in the form of a citizen militia who as a social collective, would rise up and take on the Government.

    And we know that is not how the technology gets used. If the 2nd amendment was being applied as written, every person holding a gun would also need to be a member of a group capable of becoming an organised militia. FEW are.

    A few years ago, an individual in New Zealand posted up a video of a home made guided missile using off the shelf components form hardware stores. The maker labs and printed weapons on the card show that weaponry is relatively easy to produce, let alone acquire.

    The qualitative aspects of technology may well exist in comparing an individual’s products to those of a military. That is just a technical specs issue. But the 2nd amendment cares not for technical specs or the disparity — it allows an individual their choice of being armed.

    The technological argument ignores the likelihood that it will not be an armed militia that rises up against the military against or the Government. It will be an individual (in their tens or hundreds or thousands) all taking little bites and likely dying in the process.

    There’s no doubt that the use of the 2nd amendment as justification for carrying a weapon is flawed and out dated. And as it exists as an enabling social technology (law) in a society where ‘right’ are not automatically matched with responsibilities, and as all technology resides in a social setting, it is society that determines the technological pathway

  4. Daryl Tempesta says:

    To what extent does the quality of death differ? By slingshot or gunshot its the same today and then. I like to think that a government that sets rules for it’s dismissal and broadcasts its intent is more honest than one that continually seeks to preserve only for itself at the expense of it’s members. But this is moot since in short order anyone can print a WMD, what color do you want your button to be? Humanity is on a course of perfect safety and total predictability — unlikely, tit for tat annihilation with printed WMDs — more likely or a waining de-evolution based upon the “2nds” — 2nd principal on thermodynamics and moving tides of 2nd amendment musical chairs. Space is the final front fear.

  5. V says:

    The right to bear arms is at it’s most basic simply the right to self defense, and as such, will always be a right that should be allowed to all members of society.

    The problem isn’t owning the weapons. The problem is that too many of those that do do not act responsibly in their use. For every few hundred safe weapon owners, there are those who treat deadly weapons as if they were mere harmless toys, as well as those who suffer from a paranoid mindset and feel far too willing to kill for the slightest of reasons.

    Despite the fear-mongering about “banning guns” the simple fact remains that any weapon owner must be responsible for how and when they use a weapon. Those who cannot act responsibly should be restricted from owning weapons which can inflict mass harm. The problem with that is identifying those who cannot act responsibly without penalizing those who do.

    To be honest, it’s a catch 22 situation. A problem to which a solution does not yet exist. The right to defend yourself is necessary, however flawed the implementation.

  6. QESdunn says:

    To avert more than 20 future global extinction events, technologies are needing development that provide in excess of the equivalent amount of total energy available on the Earth. As an individual attempting to develop these technologies, an individual will have the potential to extinguish all of humanity and then some.

    Which is why I first composed a method to eliminate all corruption and ethically monitor private research long before I began my research in controlling space/time.

    My intent is to Maximize Freedoms while simultaneously Maximizing Security. Currently freedoms are taken to increase security.

    Everyone should be allowed to own a nuclear weapon (extreme case of freedom) if they want to, so long as adequate precautions are put in place and maintained. But an ethical monitoring system must be in place globally to pre-emptively be sure the device will never be abused.

    If I am successful in the building of a tool to manipulate space/time, I would hope that I am monitored by whomever has an interest so that they can collectively point out any shortcoming in my safety considerations.

    One tool of manipulating space/time allows for the dissociation of the strong and weak nuclear forces holding atoms together (1999 FERMI project). This provides equivalent energy release as anti-matter; cheap energy. Sufficient energy to protect ourselves and the species we care for, from most global extinction events.

    But what if I make a mistake?! Or someone else! Or if we do nothing and one of the naturally occuring global extinction event’s destroys all humanity?

    We as an advanced technology building species, need a broad system to ethically monitor for abuse at every level; to include unethical corporations, politicians, and individuals.

    An Unethical Big Brother is to be feared. An Ethical Big Brother is needed to keep us from destroying ourselves.

    This system I’m sure can be tweeked to become even more ethical in sustainable nature; it needs to continually evolve to counter efforts to undermine its’ intents. But it is a good start for initial development.

    Imagine a 22 caliber gun that has at the tip of it’s barrel a warped space tool, such that a plane of reference normal to anyone’s head is configurable. Any one person could selectively kill any group of people desired to evolve a future of their choosing (one person).

    My personal interest is in manipulating space/time to create warp drives that will not distort coexisting alternate dimensional spaces. Others won’t be concerned about such effects.!/2013/03/summary-creating-spacetime.html

    I’m far far from creating a tool, but your concerns should start building a monitoring system to help people like myself from accidentally being destructive, and for terrorists, to pre-emptivly stop them.

    People are Opportunists by nature:

  7. Logan says:

    In Canada, people aren’t allowed to defend themselves, especially with a weapon, so in that respect America is relatively unique.
    IIRC there are some loopholes that a dwelling or property can be defended to the death.

    I believe that likely one of the best solutions is not on enabling conflict, but actually on enabling people to live the way the wish to do so — which is really the point or goal of the second amendment.

    One way this could be achieved, is with local-override of rules, this is similar to how a state may over-ride a federal law, even if not de jure “in principle” it is de facto “in fact” the case, as exemplified with medicinal marijuana and even legalization in some states.

    If for instance counties or even smaller subdivisions of the country were allowed to make their own local-overrides, assuming they don’t negatively affect their neighbours as by golden-rule, then people could live with whatever kind of government they wish.
    The federal government, would then simply continue doing the whole “defending the borders”, and various laws and such made at their level would be recomendations for interactions of locals, and the de jure laws of interacting between states or sub-unit governments.

    In an ideal world, a country would work much like a biological body, with various organs specialized for particular functions. People could move around from one organ to another based on what kind of things they would prefer to be doing — there is somewhat of that already, with big cities but is rather implicit.
    When the high level body understands that it is made of various organs, then it wishes to make sure they function properly and healthfully.
    Thus minimizing the motivation to terrorize themselves, similar to how terrorizing yourbody is something most people would prefer to avoid.

    Allowing these small communities to make their own rules, is somewhat similar to the communes or intentional communities that survived from the 60’s, since only those that made rules, and had organizers succeeded. One of the intentional community government styles that’s quite trendy recently is sociocracy.
    Far more advanced than the various 18th and 19th century political structures which is still dominant in the bloatware of most nations. Only with allowing the small community governments, and learning from them, is there hope of progress in political structure.

    When people have autonomy, mastery and purpose, likely with a land of their own, to grow organic food or manufacture what they please, they are much more likely to feel calm, secure and at peace with themselves and each other, sharing their abundance with their neighbours and world market.