Stand with Las Vegas: The True Meaning of the Second Amendment

 

 

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“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day.”            Barack Obama

“It was only a matter of time. With the escalating gun violence in this country, with people going into eating establishments and retail shopping establishments openly carrying assault weapons, with armed anti-government white supremacy groups going to “defend” people like Cliven Bundy, it was only a matter of time before some lunatic decided it was time to declare war on the government and call it a revolution. And that is precisely what happened in Las Vegas this past Sunday.”

“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.” 

 

The wording of the Second Amendment as adopted differs meaningfully from James Madison’s original proposal: “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.” Madison’s original wording clarifies the true intent of what is now known as the Second Amendment. http://www.volokh.com/posts/1181941233.shtml

The boldfaced quotation is what we today know as the Second Amendment. It was among the 19 amendments suggested by James Madison and it was included in the 12 subsequently approved by the Senate and sent to the states for consideration by President Washington in October 1789.  Of these 12, ten were ratified and became the “Bill of Rights” we revere today. An eleventh of the 12 was ratified as the 27th Amendment in 1992, more than 200 years after its initial submission.

The syntax of the Second Amendment has provided fertile soil for contentious discussion over its exact meaning. Due to this obtuse construction, it has been among the most controversial aspects of the constitution. Furthermore, the subject matter inflames passions among gun owners and gun enthusiasts as well as among people who think private ownership of firearms is fraught with problems and dangers.

In light of three more atrocious examples of homicidal gun-powered violence this month – in Seattle, Las Vegas, and Troutdale, Oregon – let us consider the language of the Second Amendment in order to clarify its intent and import. A purpose is implied in the language, which is often overlooked by those arguing for and against “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”  The perplexing word order of the Second Amendment makes this purpose difficult to discern, but the Second Amendment is a sentence and therefore conveys a complete thought. This thought is formed from three parts. First, there is the “well-regulated militia.” Second, there is “the security of a free State”. Finally, there is the “right of the people to keep and bear arms”. Although they are not set forth in a manifest way, these three parts are hierarchical. The right of the people serves the need for a well-regulated militia that is necessary “to the security of a free State.”  The real purpose of the Second Amendment is buried in the middle of its wording. Keeping and bearing arms is a means to equip a militia: “a body of citizens enrolled for military service, and called out periodically for drill but serving full time only in emergencies.” The sense that the militia was a “citizen army” in contrast to a professional standing army emerged at the end of the 1600s and was commonly understood by the close of the 1700s. The popularity of the idea of a citizen army reflected the success of the Minutemen during the Revolutionary War as a salutary alternative to a standing army.  Even before the Revolutionary fighting began, Americans had come to loathe the British use of their standing army to enforce Acts of Parliament in the colonies. The militia system required all free, adult males to own arms and ammunition and muster periodically for periodically for drill.  The ties between the militia members and the localities lessened the probability that they would oppress their neighbors.

Therefore, the Second Amendment was intended to solve three problems facing the Framers. First, it addressed the need for military capability without raising and maintaining a professional, standing army. Second, it lessened the concerns about a centralized government that could turn against and oppress the citizenry, Due to the combination of the first and second achievements, it ensured that America in its infancy would be able to maintain order domestically and sustain independence internationally.

A correct reading reveals the actual objective of the Second Amendment both in Madison’s original formulation and in the ratified version. Madison refers to a “free country”. The ratified Second Amendment refers to a “free state.” This might cause some to think that the ratified version shifted the concern from the American nation to the individual states, but this would be a misreading of the language as it was understood in the last decade of the 18th century.  The term “free State” was used often in in the 18th century on through the era of the Constitution’s Framing.  Blackstone’s Commentaries, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. Hume’s essays and other writings of the Scottish Enlightenment powerfully influenced the Framers. These writings and works by many of the other European authors give us a clear sense of what the phrase “free state” meant at the time. In 18th century political discourse, “free state” was a well-understood political term of art, meaning “free country,” which today we would call a “free nation.”

The Second Amendment was not primarily seeking to ensure widespread private ownership of weaponry or simply the organization and operation of militias. Despite the confusing order of the words, militias clearly are not advanced as an end in themselves. Additionally, the right to keep and bear arms is not unequivocally asserted as an end in its own right. It seems to be a means of ensuring proper equipment for the well-regulated militias, rather than private arsenals for individuals. Both the militias and the private ownership of arms seem to be means to the end of achieving “the security of a free State,” and the State secured is the Nation state, that is America as an entirety.

In 1789, the United States was a fledgling nation in a world abounding with hostile powers. Based on their colonial experience, many Americans had an abhorrence of “standing armies.” Nonetheless, they knew Great Britain, Spain, and eventually, France looked upon their nation as a potential conquest. Furthermore, they shared the continent with various Indian [aka Native American] nations that were greater or lesser threats depending on the time and circumstances. Furthermore, much of the country was sparsely settled and police power was feeble. Civil unrest and outright rebellions were a possibility.   Consequently, there was a need to raise and equip a military force that did not in itself pose a threat to the Republic the Framers just ordained and established via the Constitution.

The Father of the Constitution devised and his contemporaries later ratified the well-regulated militia approach in which the people took responsibility for their arms and ammunition so militias could be equipped in order to ensure “the security of a free State.” This solution did not enshrine a private right; it entrenched a civic obligation. Note that the Second Amendment speaks of the “right of the people” not the right of people or of persons. This wording echoes the Preamble’s “We the people of the United States.”  This is a collective reference, not an individualistic one; it is a civic reference, not a personal one.

Some use the well-known suspicion to standing armies in the Framing era to argue that the Second Amendment was concerned with the individual States, not the United States. They then assert it was intended to provide a basis for armed resistance to the Republic ordained and established by the Constitution.  Until one thinks about it, this seems plausible.

James Madison was a nationalist and he was the most effective proponent of the Constitution. He was also the author of the Second Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. It is highly dubious that he planted the seeds of insurgency in Constitution he had worked so successfully to create. Madison was a profound political thinker and his perception of the need and prescription of the means for “the security of a free State” reflects this profundity.  He gauged the temper of his times and wrote a guarantee of the means to deal with the extant threats in a manner acceptable to his contemporaries. Given this achievement and having an historically accurate apprehension of and appreciation for Madison it is certain the Second Amendment was in no way intended to ensure some paranoid white supremacist with the historical knowledge of a neonate had the firepower to kill people just because he has some lunatic fantasy about a tyrannical the Federal government and the necessity of revolution.

If, as is contended here, the Second Amendment is aimed at ensuring the security of the Republic launched in 1789, one can be confident that he would not feel the mission has been accomplished when a gun violence epidemic kills 86 people, eight of whom are children or teenagers, every day in our country, and the U.S. gun homicide rate is about 20 times higher than the average of other high-income nations. Neither Madison nor his contemporaries intended to allow private individuals to build personal arsenals with no official oversight or safeguards. This is confirmed by the Amendment’s use of the term, well-regulated, as a modifier of militia. Madison clearly was not advocating rogue bands of armed individuals as the guarantors of “the security of a free State.”  He championed the rigorous organization and responsible operation well-regulated militias.

Madison believed the right and the responsibility for “the security of a free State” rested with “the people.” Consequently, he wanted “the people” to have an unfettered and uncompromised right “to keep and bear arms” so that they could fulfill this crucial responsibility. He was not extolling guns as the playthings of hunters, target shooters, or other enthusiasts.  He did not believe in some frenzied warring states dystopia where political power came from the barrels of guns wielded by private armies. He thought and asserted that the people, that is, the citizenry had the right and the duty to arm themselves and serve well-regulated militia corps for the defense of the free country – the Constitutional Republic.

Since Madison was concerned with the practicalities of assuring “the security of a free State,” when he proposed the Second Amendment, the State he intended to secure was the recently ordained and established Constitutional Republic. Undoubtedly, Madison likewise wanted to advance the express purposes of the Republic he did so much to originate. He wanted to enhance unity, establish justice, ensure tranquility, provide for a common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to the Republic and its citizens. Well-regulated militia units could do all of these things, but heavily armed lone wolves or rampaging private armies on their compatriots would do none of them.

If “the people” have a right to keep and bear arms, individual people must do the keeping and the bearing. This is inarguable.  The pressing question is “Keeping and bearing for what purpose and under what conditions?” The Second Amendment stipulates to achieve “the security of a free State” by service in “a well-regulated militia.” Today, the well-regulated militia takes the form National Guard that traces its history back 375 years to the earliest English colonies in North America. In its current incarnation, the National Guard is a dual state-federal organization For example, following the September 11, 2001, attacks, more than 50,000 Guard members were called up by both their States and the Federal government to provide security at home and combat terrorism abroad. As the foregoing makes evident, the well-regulated militia mentioned in the Second Amendment is a long-established military organization under the provisional control of the state governments and under the ultimate authority of the federal government.  People who are members of the National Guard bear arms, but do not keep them, as part of their service.

Private individuals and so-called militias who own one or many guns do not, in that these roles, performing service in any well-regulated corps. One has to ask, “Why should any private person or group own firearms designed essentially for rapidly killing human beings from close range?”  The contribution of such private groups or lone wolves who own numerous weapons to “the security of a free State” is as dubious as the contribution made by National Guard members is obvious.

The regulation of private gun ownership is meager as these three recent episodes once again demonstrate. None of the weapons used were illegally acquired. Now, more than a dozen guns are legally sold every minute of every day. As ABC News reports, “There are almost 300 million privately-owned firearms in this country – that’s almost enough to arm every man, woman and child.” While the national murder rate is at a 47 year low, the gun murder rate in the United States is 19.5% or almost 20 times that of the next 22 richest nations combined.

As reported on Bloomberg.com, Record U.S. Gun Production as Obama ‘Demonized’ on Issue:

“Almost as many guns — 26.1 million — were produced during Democrat Barack Obama’s first term as president as during the entire eight-year presidency of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, the ATF data show. Brian Malte, senior policy director of the Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said gun-rights groups “demonized” Obama during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, leading many gun owners to buy more firearms.

Barack Obama is the stimulus package for the firearms industry,” said Dave Workman, senior editor of Gun Mag, a print and online publication of the 2nd Amendment Foundation, a gun-ownership rights group. “The greatest irony of the Obama administration is that the one industry that he may not have really liked to see healthy has become the healthiest industry in the United States.”

We see the percentage of households owning guns declining,” he said, “and that indicates that those who already own guns are buying more of them.”

The current mindset among too many Americans is shown by the following cartoon:

tribaltheocrat.com

No matter how they try to evade and deny it, reactionaries such as the Tea Party groups and Alex Jones spread an anti-government ideology the Millers bought. We must lay blame for the increasing domestic terrorism on these pseudo-patriots and expose the funding by Koch Brothers. This will not in and of itself won’t solve the problem, but It will facilitate the house cleaning of fascists and those willingly collaborating with them. Taking arms against the government or advocating that this be done by others is either treason or incitement to it and we must no longer ignore the traitors within our midst.

The United States has much more civilian gun ownership in comparison with all other industrialized countries. For every 100 Americans there are approximately 88.8 firearms. In the past 14 years, 2006 had the greatest number of homicides by firearm.   10,225 people were killed with a gun in 2006. Annual firearm suicides within the United States are high as well. In 2005, 17,002 suicides were committed using a firearm.

The United States far surpasses other countries in terms of gun prevalence and gun related violence and death. Statistics seem to indicate that fewer gun-related homicides are a direct result of stricter gun control laws. While all supporters of the Constitutional Republic strive to secure the blessings of liberty, sound statistics strongly suggest that the security of citizens in this free State is greatly impaired by lax gun regulation laws.

Whatever the definitive assessment of the situation is, it is ludicrous to purport that it is well-regulated or that it enhances the security of our free State. It is more candid to admit that it is virtually unregulated and our citizenry is imperiled. Be that as it may, on a worldwide basis, the majority of massacres have been committed with legally obtained firearms. Thus, there are no quick fixes or simple solutions. If we follow the true North Star of the Second Amendment’s genuine purpose – the security of a free State – we may finally act to make better arrangements than we have implemented thus far.

The furious debate which has raged and continues to rage concerning the Second Amendment seems to be missing the vital point of the purpose for which the amendment was crafted, proposed, and ratified. This pertains to Supreme Court decisions on this issue as well. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret the Constitution and its Amendments. Power, like right, however does not make right. As in the Scott v Sanford, Plessy v Ferguson decisions and Citizens United decisions, the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions are wrong.

It is apparent that “the security of” the free State known as the American Republic is neither advanced nor enhanced by the prevailing circumstances and conditions regarding private acquisition and use of firearms and ammunition in contemporary America. The Framers were educated, thoughtful people, but they did foresee what the later arriving Industrial Revolution, would do to the technology of creating lethal weaponry, nor what persistent, persuasive marketing would do to gun ownership. Nor could they have predicted the rise of populations and societal changes engendered by massive urbanization would do to America’s circumstances. The Second Amendment has not grown with civilization; it is locked in the 18th century while we struggle to apply it to the 21st.

Based on a proper understanding of the Second Amendment’s true purpose, we can make progress. People can own firearms and carry them. They cannot, however, claim a right to the unregulated use of firearms at the detriment of “the security of a free State”.

As things now stand, our current practice has produced wholly unintended and profoundly unsatisfactory outcomes as shown in the illustration below from politicalgates.blogspot.com

The Constitution properly understood and effectively implemented will ensure a representative, responsible, responsible government; it will ensure a Republic. As the illustration shows, however, too many people have lost their liberty along with their life, not to tyranny, but to rampant violence in a country that is anything but secure. This is not irreversible, and the course of authentic patriotism is to take effective action that once again prioritizes “the security of a free State.”

 

 

 

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