In response to my post a few days ago about the general misunderstanding of Second Amendment, I was steered to this CNN story, that simply presents the text exchange between two sisters, one of whom was trapped in the high school.
Please take a moment to read it. If it doesn’t move you to tears and anger, well. . .
My friend Jack Altschuler also steered me to a dissenting opinion on a Second Amendment case written by Justice John Paul Stevens in 2008.
The salient paragraph reads:
“The Second Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”
You can read the entire opinion here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/07-290.ZD.html
It’s a slog, but I recommend reading it. In case you don’t, here are the headlines:
- The Second Amendment was intended specifically to give you the right, and almost the duty, to keep a musket in your house in case you were called upon to join your state’s official militia, which is how they envisioned the new nation defending itself, and the states defending themselves.
- The Framers considered and rejected proposals to make that right broader, but chose to limit it to possession of weapons for military use.
- It was intended only to limit the Federal government, and was not intended to prevent the states from passing whatever laws they saw fit regarding the possession and use of weapons for non-military purposes (which a few states did, mostly by sanctioning the possession of weapons for hunting and self-defense).
Again, the notion that the Second Amendment is in any way about you having the right to own any firearms you want in order to protect your fierce American independence is a myth.
What we’re really dealing with is not an unlimited right, but bad grammar. Bad on you, James Madison. (Yes, he wrote the damned thing. Think “D-; see me in my office.”)
Now, a little common sense about this.
I once heard the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom I’m citing here because he was as conservative a judge as we’ll ever see, say that we should reserve our effort to interpret the Constitution to cover things the Founders didn’t know about, and on which they could therefore not express direct views.
Here’s a partial list of things they didn’t know about:
- A standing army that has existed for 200 years
- The institutionalization of state militias in the form of the National Guard
- The operation of those militias in complete cooperation with, rather than in opposition to, the aforementioned standing army.
- Bullets (they only knew musket balls)
- Cartridges (projectile and gunpowder in a single casing)
- Breech-loading weapons
- Weapons that could be fired at a rate faster than once every 20-30 seconds
- AR-15s and other semi-automatic weapons
- 30-round magazines
- Nuclear weapons
A strict interpretation of the back half of the Second Amendment (the front half is where all the confusion exists) would permit individuals to own all of those things because they’re all “arms.”
It doesn’t take a genius to conclude that this isn’t what the Founders had in mind. They certainly didn’t have in mind dozens of dead children on the floors of our schools.
Repeal of the Second Amendment is a pipe dream. I know that. But I would rather see us spend our time on that than on arguments over exactly what it does and doesn’t allow. That would free us up to apply common-sense restrictions to gun ownership that would couple entitlement with responsibility.
I would also like to see an insurrection against our real oppressor, which is the NRA.
This is not some noble organization that defends a precious American right. As described above and in my last post, that “right” is a myth.
The NRA spends around $70 million per election cycle to ensure that we will continue to have dead children on the floors of our schools, on the floors of concert venues, in churches, and elsewhere. Plain and simple, that’s what it does.
Very little of that money takes the form of actual campaign contributions. It’s mostly spent directly on ads supporting or, mostly, opposing candidates based on their spinelessness. That form of spending is largely unaccountable. Try Googling “how does the NRA spend its money” and see how little of the $70 million you can account for.
If you know how to make the hashtag #NRAmeansdeadchildren go viral, please let me know. I’m serious about that.
There is a bright spot in all of this. I’m delighted to see that brave students who survived the Parkland shooting are banding together to organize a nationwide student protest to start making NRA-backed members of the House and Senate face the music.
They picked March 24 in order to eliminate any “now’s not the time” objection. They are wonderfully, stunningly informed and articulate. And they have a moral compass of which our elected leaders are sadly devoid.
They are also credible in a way that no one like me will ever be. I fervently hope that this will start a long-overdue grassroots movement, and bring about a change in the national consciousness.
Perhaps they will be able to accomplish what I wish I could and almost certainly can’t.