Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Look at the Second Amendment

"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."

That's what it says.  That's the (to some) "sacred scripture" known as The Second Amendment.  "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."

There are some who focus on the fourth word -- militia -- and the statement that it's "necessary to the security of a free state" as a way of saying that we've got this whole "right to bear arms" thing completely wrong.  These folks argue that what our Founders were saying is that because it's necessary to have a militia, people need to be able to keep guns.  So that they can be called up to be part of the militia.  To protect the security of the free state.

In other words, these folks argue passionately, the second amendment does not simply guarantee individuals the right to keep and bear arms for any and every reason a person might think to do so.  It doesn't, they say, guarantee people the right to weaponry for their own individual purposes.  Instead, this is a guarantee of the right of the people to take up arms against tyranny or to protect the state from invaders.  It is, then, a community right -- the right of "the people" (plural) to create a militia.

Others say, "not so fast."  The second amendment clearly says "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."  (Some of the eagle-eyes will have noted that this version of that clause does not have a comma between "arms" and "shall" as the one in italics at the top does.  Apparently both version are canon -- the first is the way it was written in the Constitution that Congress adopted; the second is the way it was written in the Constitution that the states ratified.  But I digress . . .)

This second group of folks say that it makes no sense to tell people that they can keep guns only for the purpose of being prepared for the possible formation of a militia.  Gun ownership was too much a part of the fabric of colonial lives and, so, the only sensible reading of this is that the amendment guarantees the right of gun ownership -- in fact, assures that this right will in no way be infringed upon.  One of the reasons for this -- but, perhaps, the only one that needed to be spelled out -- was so that the people could come together to form militias if need be.

And so the argument has been going on for quite some time. 

I'd like to focus our attention on the second and third words of the amendment -- "A well regulated militia . . ."  While I'd agree with the folks in the second camp to the extent that it does seems as though a sensible reading of the second amendment would see it as a guarantee of an individual's right to own guns, I'd also point out that the Founders apparently thought that this right should be "well regulated."  That is to say that they apparently didn't want undisciplined gangs roaming the streets, or to see an "arms race" among the populace.  Somehow they could see a way that the potential militias could be "well regulated" without "infringing" on a people's right to bear arms.

Is it possible that if Washington or Jefferson were alive today they would suggest that no one has a "right" to automatic or even semi-automatic weapons?  To armor piercing ammunition?  Is it possible that they would see the insistence on background checks and waiting periods not as "infringements" on the gun owners' rights but as simple tools to keep it all "well regulated"?

I just can't help wondering . . .

In Gassho,


 Oh . . . and about the graphic?  Well, apparently the image of the guns was taken from the video game "Call of Duty:  Modern Warfare 2."  Most of the weapons pictured aren't fully automatic and many actually are illegal.  These cheeses can be purchased in many specialty shops.  So . . . while a wonderfully provocative image, don't be making too strong an argument based on it.  (Thanks to Benjamin Blair's Stupid FaceBook Arguments for setting me straight on this.) Print this post

1 comment:

Joel Monka said...

It seems clear to me that they were speaking of two different classes of militia: a government equipped and operated militia, and a separate citizen's militia. Article I, section 8, paragraphs 15 & 16 of the Constitution says, "To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;"

If they had only wanted a government run militia, there was no need for an amendment; the power was already granted in the main body of the Constitution.