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#1 Editor’s Choice Award: Does Advanced Technology Make the 2nd Amendment Redundant?
Franco Cortese   Dec 30, 2013   Ethical Technology  

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.

This year the IEET is giving out editor's choice awards to two articles for their outstanding writing and conceptual analysis contributing to transhumanism and technoprogressivism.

The #1 article by hits was Dick Pelletier's “Parallel Worlds exist and will soon be testable, expert says

The following piece was first published here on Aug 13, 2013 and is the #1 pick for the IEET editor's choice award.

With his article “Does Advanced Technology Make the 2nd Amendment Redundant?” Franco Cortese poetically and concisely framed one of the most troubling issues for technoprogressives: how can we democratize access to increasingly powerful technologies without making the world an increasingly dangerous place? His article is exemplary in being both comprehensive and yet concise, and unusually poetic for our site. It also generated a very long comment thread (117), which means it was one of the top articles to strike a chord with our audience.

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.

Franco Cortese is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET, and won our #1 Editor’s Choice Award in 2013. His other positions include Research Scientist at ELPIs Foundation for Indefinite Lifespans, Assistant Editor at Ria University Press, Fellow at Brighter Brains Institute, Ambassador at The Seasteading Institute, and an Advisor for Lifeboat Foundation, occupying positions on their Life Extension Scientific Advisory Board and Futurists Advisory Board.


There is definitely a one-sided balance of power here, but only if you think that the entire military would side with the government instead of breaking into factions including desertion were things to ever come to a head.

I think it would be a lot messier than that, the people in the government agencies themselves are not all blind loyalists to the command, but rather, some do take their oath to the Constitution more seriously than the commands of their leaders (see: Snowden, etc).  A large portion of the military is from the southern states as well, there is still a lot of southern-state-pride left.

The biggest problem is convincing the general populace to find out truths rather than lapping up the spoon-fed propaganda from their “news” (celebrity worship and political wedge issue) sources. (See the latest 60 Minutes NSA piece if you have any doubt about propaganda in the USA).

a) Some jurisdictions it is legal for people to own any weaponry they can afford other than WMD. New Hampshire, for instance. So the claim that government has access to weaponry that citizens do not is not a technological issue, its a statutory issue, as most jurisdictions restrict peoples ability to own such weaponry. There are, however, plenty of private owners of tanks, artillery, fighter planes, even bombers. With the advent of 3d printing, private construction of any weaponry desired will become increasingly feasible. Furthermore, the ownership of cyberweaponry between state and private citizen is perfectly on par.

b) the claim that this disparity became true as early as WWI is likewise false, at least in the US, where most US military equipment was sold as surplus to private entities. The entire barnstorming and air mail movements of the 1920’s were all made possible by inexpensive surplus WWI biplanes sold as surplus for as little as $50 each. Lots of other weaponry was likewise sold as surplus in that time as well. Surplus sales also occured after WWII to a lesser degree, as happened after the Korean war as well. By the end of the Vietnam war the anti-gun movement had taken hold in the US, and the Congress had adopted a translation of the Nazi era German National Weapons Act for its Gun Control Act of 1968 that placed significant limits on surplus trade in military-grade arms.

c) I have friends that own fighter planes ranging from F-5, to A-4, Mig-21/23/25/29. In 1995 Mikoyan was selling surplus Mig-29 fighters to western private customers for as little as $100,000 each. I also know several armored vehicle owners. These vehicles currently sell privately for between $10,000-250,000 depending on model/age/condition. Perfectly affordable for anybody who can afford an automobile.

d) Brazil still has, I believe, an aircraft carrier for sale, and I know several private owners of former-soviet submarines. Britain has one or two of its jump-jet carrying aircraft carriers for sale. Anybody who can afford a nice yacht can buy one of these puppies.

Try to do better historical research in the future.

Mike, I know people who need healthcare, food, better education, water, and housing, not a F-5 or a Mig-21. Please try thinking more in terms of humanitarianism instead of the typical “if you have the money then you can do it” attitude.

Kris, if private citizens had more Mig-29s, they’d be able to keep tyrannical government in check, and consequently have less of their wealth confiscated by that government, enabling them to engage in more humanitarian good voluntarily. An armed society is a polite society, it is also a generous society. Note that US private citizens are more generous in their own voluntary charitable giving than any other industrialized nation. When the state prevents you from having the freedom to choose whether to be virtuous or not, it destroys the virtuous society and amplifies greed as more people scramble for their own cut of the action by force rather than by voluntary interactions.

it can be documented Mr. Lorrey has advocated and probably still does advocate conscription. The Draft. We shouldn’t have to take his crypto-tyrannical libertarianism any more than Henry Bowers dissing gays.

Yet is he actually saying anything incorrect, and if so what? What he advocates, and indeed the implications he draws from what he writes, will depend on his values, but that’s basically up to him. Should we start to systematically exclude people from commenting here because they don’t share our values? What kind of impression would that give?

Henry was getting tiresome, always repeating the same things, and he was also too delusional to be saying much of interest that we could really learn from (except perhaps regarding the nature of religious delusion). Not so Mike Lorrey: I think he actually makes some fair points in response to Franco’s articles (though without substantially undermining my agreement with Franco’s conclusions).

a) I have not and do not advocate conscription, ever. I HAVE attempted to educate the unware and ignorant as to WHY conscription exists. In particular, if you are going to claim that the 2nd amendment is limited by the militia clause, you need to acknowledge US statute that defines the militia as all able bodied adults, and that conscription in emergency is merely a means of calling up the militia. If you are going to make such arguments, then you ought to also go back to the Militia Acts of 1792, which mandated all able bodied males attend militia drill after church every sunday, that they keep and maintain a firearm of standardized (i.e. well regulated) caliber and mechanism for use in said drill, with the sole exception being those who are “morally scrupulous against bearing arms”, who must register as concientious objectors with the state AND pay an annual tax of $300 in 1792 dollars (adjusted for inflation, thats about $30,000 US today) to compensate your fellow citizens for the cost of your defense.
Explaining this legal situation is not “advocating conscription”, it is explaining the law and illustrating the absurdity of those who cling to the militia clause while decrying conscription.
b) I certainly do NOT advocate, and have never advocated, that people be forcibly conscripted regularly to serve in a national army for purposes of foreign conquest. So this anonymous poster “Intomorrow”, whoever that is, is slandering me and I would appreciate it if the admins exercised a bit of that “buddhist right speech” in correcting this persons baseless attack.
Peter, thank you for pointing out that nothing I’ve said was actually incorrect. It has become fashionable in transhumanist circles of late to attack the messenger with logical fallacy while hiding behind sock puppets with baseless accusations. I hope that IEET works to improve the level of discourse in commentary.

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