I’ve learned the hard way that there are two subjects sure to rile Americans, sometimes in an irrational way (just look at some of the comments on the subjects on this blog). One subject is Medicare and the other gun ownership. In both cases well-funded lobbying groups purporting to represent millions of Americans lobby their positions heavily to politicians and use their clout to defeat politicians who disagree with them.
Seniors believe they earned their benefits and gun owners believe they have a constitutional right to their guns. Let’s examine the latter.
The 2nd amendment (12-15-1791) to the Constitution says:
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.
Here is what a former Supreme Court chief justice had to say about the above.
The following is from a recent column on Bloomberg.com
… Warren Burger was a conservative Republican, appointed U.S. chief justice by President Richard Nixon in 1969. In a speech in 1992, six years after his retirement from the court, Burger declared that “the Second Amendment doesn’t guarantee the right to have firearms at all.” In his view, the purpose of the Second Amendment was only “to ensure that the ‘state armies’ — ‘the militia’ — would be maintained for the defense of the state.”
A year before, Burger went even further. On “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” Burger said the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud — I repeat the word ‘fraud’ — on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
First, recall that in 1791 people were state focused and apprehensive about a strong central government. In addition there was no standing national army to speak of; most of the fighting in the Revolution was by state militia. Indeed even up to the War of 1812, the bulk of the army was state militias.
Let’s look at some key words. Some people say a “regulated” militia does not mean arms are regulated, but that the militia was to be well maintained and organized. Fair enough, it may well mean that, which in my view lends credence to the idea that the focus of the amendment is arms in conjunction with the necessity of a militia. In fact, some states at the time required certain citizens to bear arms and be available for the local militia. The militia evolved into state national guard units under the control of the governors until such units were called to active duty in federal service. Having been in a national guard unit called to active duty in 1968-1969 I know how that works. Having been on a street corner in Newark, NJ in 1966(?) with a rifle I also know how it works for the states. I had a right and obligation in both cases to bear arms.
Now let’s look at the word “state.” In the context of a militia, state would mean individual states of the U.S., but it could also mean the broader definition of a larger government entity such as the entire country. But either way the purpose of the amendment was clearly to help insure the security of the “state.”
Since the Constitution is a federal document, it appears that the Amendment is intended to prohibit the federal government from preventing the individual states from maintaining an armed militia which makes sense given the states obsession at the time with their individual rights. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson did not see the need for much of a national military at all.
Finally, there is the word “arms,” which in the broadest context means weapons including less and far more than a gun. For those who like to read a portion of the Amendment literally (“the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”), can there be any legal limit on what weapons can be possessed? Taken to the extreme (or maybe not) the government could not infringe on my right to an RPG, fifty caliber machine gun or tank for that matter. Where does the Constitution define the type of arms it refers to? In fact, given there is no definition of arms, there is support for the argument that the amendment does only relate to participation in militias because militias would have cannon and other arms available at the time.
The well-worn argument of the NRA and others regarding the second amendment only works if you ignore the first thirteen words, which more often than not is what happens.
Let’s face it, the weapons industry and all that is related to it is big business so it is in someones best interest to assure there is a wide demand for guns, somebody spent a great deal of money on the 300 million guns in the U.S. Just as the pharmaceutical industry maneuvers to delay a generic drug as long as it can, the gun lobby will seek to minimize any effort to limit access to guns or further restrict the type of guns that can be owned. Hey, it’s just business!
Finally, there is the [fringe] position that citizens need guns to protect themselves from the federal government, that some day there will be a need for a second revolution. I have only one word on that … drones (and everything else in the federal arsenal).
Where does this leave us? I have heard no call to ban all guns, no call to take away any legal guns, no ban on hunting or target or skeet shooting nor should there be.
But there does need to be some additional limits on easy access, more limits on the types of guns and a more open and accessible national record on the sale, transfer and purchase of guns. The purpose being to limit as much as possible the access to guns by individuals who are likely to use them to kill people. The evidence if quite clear that easy access to guns is a contributing factor in mass killings. The experience of other countries such as England shows that reduced access does mean reduced killing with guns.
Have we deteriorated as a society to the point where the following is an acceptable solution to anything?
I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.
Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work — and by that I mean armed security – from NRA presidents speech
Proven to work you say? So, if a crazed intruder armed with an automatic or semi-automatic invades a school, is he not likely to shoot the outgunned security officer first? Proven to work? Ask the widows of security guards at banks, and armoured car companies if it is proven to work or apparently even a deterrent.
You may have a different point of view, but it seems to me that you must base your argument on something other than the Constitution of the United States.
To my friends who disagree with me, I hope you can accept a different point of view and still be friends. I don’t want to walk the streets knowing people are carrying guns, I don’t want to live in a society that rationalizes more guns stop the use of other guns. Thirty-four people are shot to death every day in America. I don’t want to accept that the United States of America is alone in being the most obsessed gun society on earth or admit that we are so fundamentally screwed up that it needs to be so.