Of Seconders and Tenthers

Since Newtown, I’ve been struggling to express the difference between someone who has a strongly favorable opinion of guns, but who is rational about it, and the truly extreme cases – such as Wayne LaPierre, Alex Jones, and James Yeager – who have elevated the right to bear arms into a fetish. My desire to distinguish between the two kinds of person are threefold. First, I don’t wish to offend those who find legitimate use for guns in their lives. Second, I want to peel off moderate gun users from the gun abusers, and conflating them is counterproductive. Third, there really is a genuine difference between someone who wants to use a gun responsibly, subject to reasonable limitations, and someone who will accept no limitations at all. 

Until now, I have not been very successful at making this distinction, but I may have come up with a solution. Just as there are extremists known as “Tenthers” who elevate the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution out of all context and rationality, there are also extremists who do the same with the 2nd Amendment. Why not call such people “Seconders”? It could replace the imprecise term “gun nut” by specifying the nature of the derangement as one of Constitutional extremism, and distinguishing those who are enthusiastic for their hobby from those who genuinely are crazed by it. (After all, terms such as “sports nut” are used casually to describe ardent fans of a hobby without impugning them as people. “Gun nut” is one of the few cases where it is used as a pejorative, and it often ends up being used to describe people who deserve better. Let’s retire this phrase.)

Something Tenthers and Seconders have in common is a lack of appreciation for the entirety of the Constitution, instead adopting a Choose-Your-Own-Amendment approach whereby one section becomes the supreme provision by which liberty will survive or fall. Tenthers ignore the many other provisions of the Constitution that restrict federal power and arbitrate between the states and the federal government, while Seconders ignore or mangle the many safeguards for individual liberty. For example, see this post at Tea Party Nation in which the writer mistakes the 7th Amendment for a protector of the 2nd Amendment, rather than a protection of individual liberty in its own right. As White House press secretary Jay Carney noted in response to Alex Jones’ tirade, “The Constitution not only guarantees an individual right to bear arms, but also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press – fundamental principles that are essential to our democracy.”

So let’s hear it for the Seconders as well as the Tenthers, and single them out for the mockery they rightly deserve. We could even throw in other amendments too. I’m sure Firsters will be easy enough to find. Personally, I want to find myself some Thirders. But I will always consider myself a Twenty-Firster.

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About Daniel Clinkman

I recently completed my PhD in History at the University of Edinburgh. My academic interest is in the transition from feudalism to liberalism in early modern Britain and its empire. My non-academic interests include public policy, political thought, international politics, social institutions, and travel. I grew up near Boston before attending the American University in Washington, DC. I now live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow me @dclinkman on Twitter.
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