Thanks to Paul O’Neil
Recently I had the pleasure of being selected for jury duty. I know this is not a sentence you often read but I write this letter to acknowledge Ulster County Commissioner of Jurors Paul O’Neil. It is refreshing to witness a public servant who so thoroughly performs his job while seemingly enjoying the responsibility. As a lifelong area resident I’ve always believed I had enough of a working knowledge of Kingston’s history and could engage the many visitors I converse with each year. After listening to Commissioner O’Neil’s brief but passionate introduction about the significance of the very ground, current court house, and portraits surrounding me I realized I need a serious refresher. Commissioner O’Neil took a room of more than 250 mildly grumbling county residents and in short work had put us at ease and convinced us of the value of our civic duty and its connection to Kingston’s rich judiciary and democracy-forming history. Commissioner O’Neil eloquently tied our service to individuals like John Jay and Sojourner Truth who likely sat in these same wooden benches centuries before. If one ever doubts how special Kingston is I implore you to seek out a talk given by Paul O’Neil or other Friends of Historic Kingston programming, or just hope you get called to jury duty.
Why it’s there in the first place
Here’s a reminder why the Second Amendment was written and is still necessary.
In the late 1700s, the Western world was busy ridding itself of the notion that holding material power lets you abrogate the inherent rights of others — their life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.
This was of course a central motivator for the American Revolution: to clarify that wealth or ancestry do not confer power over others. Only a few hundred years earlier, powerholders had the right to dispossess or enslave underlings, to have first intercourse with newlywed brides, to prevent citizens from defending themselves against illegitimate force. In England, there were regular cycles of the public being required to bear arms during wartime, followed by required disarmament to keep them from revolting. We’re not done yet discarding this kind of trashy antidemocratic thinking.
We have struggled the last few hundred years to replace it with civil society, where peer citizens assign legal power to their selected representatives, in exchange for living in a free, peaceful public environment where they can spend their energies on individual and collective development, rather than defense against predation by their fellows. We suffer setbacks along the way as at present, when people forget that in order to receive the benefits of that society they must subscribe to the social contract that underpins it.
But this highlights a fact of human life: the elimination of all violence is utopian and unrealistic — there will always be those who cannot be trained or convinced to respect the rights of their fellows; there will always exist the need to defend one’s rights against them. The Second Amendment was written first to protect against illegitimate power sanctioned by social structures, but more broadly secures our right to defend ourselves against illegitimate force directed against us.
Public discourse on gun rights and gun control is currently kept deadlocked to the point of nonexistence by the political class (which includes both office holders and pressure groups). Breaking that deadlock will be good. Ignoring basic truths discovered and championed at great cost, is not how to do that.