It seems like a misguided understanding of the Second Amendment has stood in the way of real debate on the issue of gun regulation. Hopefully this an analysis of the language and history of the Second Amendment will help start to clarify that argument.
Just say meh to guns
First of all, so I don’t lose the pro-gun reader, I own a gun. Actually, I own a gun, knives, swords. I used to own a bow and a crossbow. I still kind of wish I had a handheld repeating crossbow, but that’s only because I’ve been a D&D geek for too long.
I’m a little scared of the ideas of the extremes in either direction. I’m creeped out by the idea of a government setting in place an action to remove guns completely from civilian ownership, but I’m also creeped out by people who talk about needing guns to protect them from the government, or zombies. I’m creeped out by people who seem to pray that someone will break into their house so they can shoot them.
Perhaps this is an issue where ambivalence is key. Gun grabbing seems like a boogeyman, yet, I think a world without guns would be a better world. Yet, as a historian, I know that there was plenty of violence before guns. Yet, as a viewer of Timecop, I know that the violence never reached the levels of destruction in the past that rogue time-travelling bandits with laser-targeting machine guns could produce.
While I’m not ideologically against guns, I’m not falling for the distraction that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Weapons violently change the course of history. We know that the evolution of weaponry has turned the tides of civilizations. I believe it was Attila the Hun who owes wide-reaching military to the fact that his armies had the superior power of …the bow and arrow.
Weapons violently change the potential for casualties. Guns, like cars, need to be subject to sober and reasonable control. We balk at the idea of driving without any licensing and drivers who are stoned, drunk, out of their mind on painkillers, mentally unfit, or too old to be able to see clearly or make quick decisions. Yet some people balk at the idea of any regulation for something specifically designed to cause damage.
It’s not that violence would ended merely by a gun ban, but reasonable people are not looking for a gun ban and are not expecting to end violence. Problems with motor vehicle violence and irresponsibility mainly have to do with culture and education. A greater presence of DUI checkpoints, accountability for bars, and presence of an effective public relations campaign have the effect of influencing the culture and do drastically improve alcohol related statistics. Friends are more likely to discourage friends from driving drunk, bars are less likely to serve drunk customers and more likely to send for a cab, and people take the various dangers more seriously because the message is present.
With guns, what we have is a nonsensical set of premises that teeter from one extreme to another. We have exploitation of every opportunity for political points on either side, and we have a glorification of or demonization of guns that will do nothing but confuse the uninformed and empower the all-too-creepy.
Sober gun regulation encourages sober cultural treatment of what should be a weighty and mature concern.
Even though most Americans, including most gun owners, are in favor of tougher gun regulation, the push for better gun laws, for closing the loopholes that allow for no-questions-asked gun purchases, for mental health and felony screening, is usually met with the argument that the Second Amendment somehow guarantees unfettered access to guns.
Even though most Americans want more and better gun regulation, and a more nuanced and pragmatic discussion about gun culture, there is still a very loud very intractable minority that screams “Second Amendment! na na na!” plugs their ears, and commits to completely shutting down all discussion.
The bad news for them is that the Second Amendment is not there for them. Their Second Amendment argument is bullshit.
There is nothing in the second amendment that guarantees unrestricted access to firearms by individuals. Let me show how we know this.
A basic historical and grammatical analysis of the second Amendment
This is the full text of the Second Amendment
It’s short and sweet–done so, ironically, to avoid confusion. However, it should be argued that the confusion is only an emotional one.
The Second Amendment is a compound sentence with an independent clause preceded by two modifying dependent clauses.
The Supreme Court interprets “A well-regulated militia.” as implying the imposition of proper discipline and training.” IMPOSED proper discipline and training. People that argue the second amendment protect gun ownership usually ignore this fundamental point.
Paraphrased, the second amendment modifies the keeping of arms with regulation through compelled discipline and training.
The second clause, “being necessary to the security of a free state,” modifies the first and main parts. Why do we need a well-regulated militia? To protect the security and freedom of the state.
It is this simple. Well regulated gun ownership The security of the free states is the only function for which well-regulated gun is guaranteed.
To paraphrase, the first two, modifying clauses establish that a well-regulated and trained militia with is necessary for the security and freedom of the states.
The final part, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed,” is equally clear, but maybe not at first glance. It establishes the right of “the people.” This is tied to something called the “body politic.” It’s a phrase you might have heard from some bloviated gas-bag posting in a highfalutin’ journal… ahem… and have a decent sense of what it means, yet never really checked. I used to think it meant body of politics.
It actually means. “the people of a nation, state, or society considered collectively as an organized group of citizens,” and “a group of persons politically organized.” A body politic is also “a metaphor in which a nation considered to be a corporate entity.” (Under the old use of the word corporate.)
When the Bill of Rights or the Constitution is addressing an individual’s rights, it does so explicitly.
- In the the Fifth Amendment it speaks of the individual: “No PERSON (individual) shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime… nor shall any PERSON be subject for the same offence twice…”
- In the Sixth Amendment, it speaks again of an individual: “The ACCUSED shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial.”
- The Fourth Amendment drives this argument home by parsing between the collective and the individual: “The right of the people to be secure in their PERSONS, houses, papers and effects…” They first speak of the governed body, but quickly make clear people are to be secure in their persons against unreasonable search and seizure.
When the Bill of Rights or the Constitution is addressing the body politic, the people, the plurality, they do so explicitly.
- “We the people of these united states.”
- The first amendment, “…the right of the PEOPLE to peaceably ASSEMBLE.” This is why loitering can be illegal and protest cannot be made illegal.” (Don’t hear too many people throwing a fit over THAT one.)
- “In the second amendment, “the right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
The Second Amendment never avows that individuals must be allowed to buy and collect guns in any capacity they choose, free of regulation. It guarantees nothing outside of a trained body serving a governing body for the body politic.
At the time of the drafting of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, gun ownership wasn’t something considered controversial. Most guns were owned by rich, or at least land-owning white men, the gentry, traders, and pioneers. While Indians did own guns, they were usually an inferior quality of trade gun. Also, an indian on a horse could loose thirty arrows in the time it took a man to reload and fire a gun.
They had no cause for concern of heavily armed crowds of the poor, or blacks, or women. The power and money and almost all the land was in the hands of rich, white men feared the power of a centralized tyrannical body. Remember that they had recently fought to free themselves from the British crown. As the states navigated their way through the ultimate structure of the federal government, the one thing that slowed the process down was near universal distrust of a federal body that could potentially have overwhelming financial and military control over the states.
There is nothing in the constitution or any of the amendments that tries to curtail gun ownership, but there is nothing that guarantees individual gun ownership. Even if you ignore my statements of facts or following assertions, you can read the words themselves; there is definitely nothing that promises uncontrolled, unregulated or untrained gun ownership. It instead attaches those each as stipulations to keeping guns. In almost all previous drafts of the second amendment, the modifying stipulations are present in some way.
Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776
“XIII. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.”A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth or State of Pennsylvania, 1776
“XIII. That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state; and as standing armies in the time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; And that the military should be kept under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.”
A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1780
“Art. XVII. The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence. And as, in time of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be maintained without the consent of the legislature; and the military power shall always be held in an exact subordination to the civil authority and be governed by it.”
Proposed by James Madison June 8, 1789 to the House of Representatives:
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Common misunderstanding of the Second Amendment prevails in most segments of the population mainly because of the perpetuation of incomplete or purposefully inaccurate interpretations of the Second Amendment. People seem to love quoting the second half of the amendment, or cutting and selectively pasting the words of founding fathers speaking about the issue at the time.
An example of this quote splicing. Notice how in context the message changes:
Partial: “The great object is, that every man be armed…Every one who is able may have a gun.”
Whole: “May we not discipline and arm them [the states], as well as Congress, if the power be concurrent? so that our militia shall have two sets of arms, double sets of regimentals, &c.; and thus, at a very great cost, we shall be doubly armed. The great object is, that every man be armed.But can the people afford to pay for double sets of arms, &c.? Every one who is able may have a gun. But we have learned, by experience, that, necessary as it is to have arms, and though our Assembly has, by a succession of laws for may years, endeavored to have the militia completely armed, it is still far from being the case.”
— Patrick Henry speaking at the 1788 Virginia debate to ratify the Constitution. The partial quote was used by Stephen Halbrook in The Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
The above quoted material is from “Interpreting the Second Amendment,” at Lawsonline.
There are many good sources to learn about the historical context and the expressed sensibilities, like the above and at Cornell University online. Make sure any sources you use to better understand the Second Amendment, or ANY of the Bill of Rights, or …ANYTHING, be primary sources or objective resources like these, and NOT libertarian and conservative websites that are guilty of the worst kind of shenanigans. There is no real agenda to ban guns. Politicians that express a wish that there were no guns are not exactly confessing to some Illuminati/Mason/George Clooney plot to rid Americans of Guns so Obama can become supreme ruler of New Kenya.
Admittedly, progressive sources shouldn’t be trusted implicitly either, since they too share an ideology and will tend to be slanted by bias, but that is why you have articles like this that way what actually exists and offer argument here on the page, that reveal tactics and demure from heavy bias.
Gun advocacy groups might say that they’re for some sort of control or regulation, but they betray this when they refuse to even discuss any method that would determine if a potential buyer is indeed batshit crazy.
There are plenty of worthwhile ideas for regulation that would in no way hamper private gun-ownership, but for that to happen, we must first overcome the paranoid and pathological arguments that are allowed to enter into reasonable mainstream debate, but that’s a discussion for the next article. For now, give your hysterical friends a friendly kick in the face and tell them that hyperbole alone won’t advance this or any other politically entrenched debate. Gun regulation must grow out of a mature society and must be a reflection of the desire for a mature and cautious society.
Hey! The limey jackass is making a perfectly cogent point that could bear discussion amongst the non-drooly.
Also, while, satellites and streaming internet are certainly a technological advance, they aren’t exactly dangerous.
UNLESS you are a multi-national corporation and that technology is in the hands of people like us!
Efforts to regulate media and the internet continue and to such a degree, it makes the specter of gun bans seem like an old woman wagging her finger and clicking her tongue.
Maybe we should focus more of our attention and ranting on THAT contemporary political issue! The corporations are the new tyrants, and no amount of modern arms can protect us from them. Only critical thinking skills and the cooperative action of the body politic.
The new militia member is the independent informed reader.