LITERALISM AND THE SECOND AMENDMENT
I support gun regulations that require universal background checks, close the gun show loophole, better track secondary sales of guns, track internet sales and prevent weapons of mass destruction (which is what you should call weapons designed to kill scores or even hundreds of people in a few minutes) from falling into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill while assuring our “free state” is protected by a “well-regulated militia."
The Second Amendment states: "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."
We have a well regulated militia to protect the security of our “free state,” it’s the National Guard. If we want to guarantee the availability of this militia to protect freedom in each state, then we should petition Congress to repeal those acts that federalize our National Guard and give Commander status to the President without authorization of the Governor. This prevents each state from effectively managing its own “well-regulated militia” and allows a President or Congress to commit our home troops to foreign wars without having to revert to a draft. We need our National Guard in each state to help with disasters and emergencies which are on the rise as a result of our failure, for instance, to mitigate the effects of climate change, whether it is more intense hurricanes and tornadoes, flooding or wildfires in our forests.
Or perhaps the framers of the Constitution, in specifying “well regulated militia” for “free state” (as opposed to “free states”) meant the Federal government has a right to keep an army against foreign invasion? You might also note even in the case of self-formed local militias, the Second Amendment says they should be “well regulated” so we don’t have bands of renegades swarming the hillsides in rehearsal for some coming conflict whether they be disaffected minorities who do not feel sufficiently represented (like myself as an underrepresented progressive living in a conservative congressional district my entire adult life), Black Panthers, White Supremacists, Weathermen or soldiers of some imagined Christian nation in which The Bible must be read literally.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of individuals to bear arms regardless of whether they serve in a militia. This decision also said certain gun control regulations would survive legal challenges, but the Court failed to provide us with any further direction. Within days, individuals were carrying guns openly on the street, in malls and onto campuses.
Those who tend to support an unlimited “absolute, literal interpretation” of the Second Amendment often assert without arms we would not be able to protect the rights of the First Amendment, yet the federal government limited First Amendment rights when they threaten public safety and these limits were upheld by the Supreme Court, limits such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theater or possession of child pornography.
Here’s a question we should ask ourselves: If the framers of the Constitution were able to foresee the scope of weaponry available to modern armies, would they have written the Second Amendment in such a way as to guarantee our right to own any weapon? Or would they have limited our right in certain cases for certain weapons? Would they have made a distinction between weapons for protection of home and property opposed to weapons of mass destruction (meaning again weapons designed to kill as many people as possible)? Would they have limited our right to possess nuclear arms? Would they say a semiautomatic rifle that can be used to hunt is permissible but no individual needs a drum magazine that holds a hundred bullets to bring down a buck? Would they restrict the use of a shoulder-fired launcher and Stinger missile to a well regulated militia? Why are these questions not given the same consideration as those questions which limited our First Amendment rights to shout “fire” in a crowded theater or resulted in our arresting someone for possessing child pornography—both defensible issues of public safety. In fact, many gun rights advocates would have no problem regulating or limiting the free speech rights of novelists, movie-makers and designers of videogames, though any serious study would have to explain why these same books, movies and videogames in Europe and many other parts of the world do not result in a “culture of violence.”
In the last week, our local paper (The Observer, La Grande) reported on Sheriff Rasmussen’s letter to President Obama saying he would not enforce gun laws he felt violated the Second Amendment. The article encouraged the public to become involved and gave the website for the Sheriff’s Department so people could express their opinion on this important matter. I went to the website and guess what? You cannot make a comment without being added to their list of names in support of the Sheriff’s position. Those with a dissenting view, in other words, those who feel this campaign by the Sheriff falls outside the scope of his duties, that a Sheriff is not empowered to interpret the Second Amendment, are being effectively blocked from expressing their views unless they agree with him. Such methods clearly misrepresent the views of the citizenry if it does not allow for both sides of the issue to express their views.
I am reminded of the 2010 elections where Republicans would have us believe that two-thirds of Americans believed Obamacare should be repealed. Surveys indeed showed two-thirds of Americans opposed the Healthcare Act, but Republicans did not share the follow up question which was: Does the Healthcare Act go too far or not far enough? Half of the two-thirds believed the Act did not go far enough. So a more accurate statement would have been that a third of Americans supported the act as written, another third did not feel it went far enough, and one third felt it went too far. Or two-thirds of Americans either supported the Act or believed it did not go far enough.
Legislation that acts responsibly in curtailing the growing gun violence in America will not be enough unless we find ways to address some larger social issues such as services and support for the mentally ill, resources to prevent teen suicide, deal with bullying in our schools and begin a dialogue about the impacts of disconnectedness that results in feelings of isolation and loss of community for this too may feed our “culture of violence.”