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Two things have prompted us to return to the topic of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
The first was a recent PBS programme “Need to Know,” wherein three college professors, and self-identified experts, expounded upon the meaning of the Amendment, erroneously, in our opinion.
The second was the recent national convention of the National Rifle Association.
We were struck by the continued tendency for the NRA to become more and more an arm of the right-wing of the Republican Party, and like some other segments of the GOP, the NRA is becoming more and more radical, and less and less reasonable.
As a fervent, nay, ardent supporter of the Second Amendment these two occurrences disturbed us, and so prompt us to comment on both of them.
In order to make the most sense of our position, we think it wise to analyze the exact language of the Amendment, which, as you know, says: “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 PBS panel took the position that the word “Militia” was the key to the meaning, and that everything in the Amendment was related to arming the militia. These being intellectuals, supposedly, one would think that they would not be so easily misled, but all too often folks assign meaning to words and phrases so that they say what that person wants them to say, such may well be the case here.
Basic statutory interpretation would quickly recognize that the principle thrust of the Amendment is that which says: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The preceding language is merely introductory, providing the basis for the language following. This is not, however, to denigrate the importance of this language, only to point out that it is not the controlling portion.
One thing which people like the PBS panel either ignore, or misunderstand is the meaning of the word “regulated.”
The Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, Vol. VIII, defines the word thusly: a. “Governed by rule, properly controlled or directed, adjusted to some standard,” but directly on point is definition b. “Of troops: Properly disciplined.”
The examples of usage cited are generally contemporaneous with the time period (1759-1791) of the adoption of the Amendment — that is from 1690 to 1848.
Therefore, the Amendment could quite properly be understood to read instead of “well regulated militia” as “properly disciplined militia.”
When one considers that the Second Amendment is a constituent element of the so-called “Bill of Rights,” which is intended by and large, to limit the powers of government and protect the rights of individuals, the intention of this amendment is clearly not to expand on, extend, or otherwise enlarge the rights or powers of the Militia but to provide the instrumentality of controlling, or properly disciplining the Militia.
This intent is buttressed by the reference to the “security of a free state.”
In other words, to protect or guarantee that the states, and the people thereof, retain their freedom from military duress, such as several of the colonies had endured before Independence from both British soldiery, and Hessian and other mercenary troops. The Declaration specifies this as one of the intolerable outrages of George III’s rule.
With this understanding, it is obvious that the Amendment was not adopted with the intention of protecting the militia nor of guaranteeing that the militia men could keep and bear arms. As part of the government, they had this right already, and it was only to preserve a counter-balancing armed force that the people at large were guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms.
We wish that those of the pseudo-intellectual talking heads would just read what was written with an open mind, and some grasp of the meaning of the English language before taking off half-cocked (pun intended) about arming the militia rather than controlling or disciplining the militia.
Turning to the NRA convention — all too many of their invited speakers were right-wing radical ideologues, such as Sarah Palin. Surely the old curmudgeon is not the only liberal who strongly supports the Second Amendment, and the individual right of the citizens of this great republic to arm themselves to protect the Constitution which we hold so dear. A few speakers of such ilk would put a much more reasonable cast upon the face of this organization.
As it is, it is becoming more and more unreasonable.
For instance, although the leadership of the organization feels so proud of itself for defeating the background check law, there not only is no reason to oppose this law, but in fact every reason to support it. The NRA, and those of us who treasure the basic aim of the Second Amendment, as a liberal self-defence measure against arbitrary government should want to enact and enforce a reasonable mechanism to keep guns out of the hands of the elements who would abuse our gun rights.
And this group should remember certain facts of political life. Respectable polling organizations assert that over 90 percent of the American people want background checks.
Politicians, sooner or later, tend to give the voters what they want, especially if 90 percent of them want it.
They should remember also, that although some of us regard the Bill of Rights as sacrosanct, it is not.
It is a part of the Constitution, and it is subject to the amending process just the same as any other part of that document is.
So, if a sufficient head of steam is built up to pressure the state and national legislators, our gun rights could be abolished in just a few months time. This has happened before, less than a hundred years ago, when the Prohibition Amendment (No. 18) was repealed by Amendment 21.
Similarly the Second could be repealed by the 28th or subsequent Amendment. The NRA should be reasonable and avoid this possibility. The pressure is not yet great enough but another couple of massacres of women and children could increase it to that point.
And the last time we looked, the number of potential “Profiles in Courage” serving in the Congress and the various state legislatures could be counted on your digits.
The threat of NRA membership is potent but would be powerless against a tidal wave of voter protest such as could arise over a 90 percent issue.
The NRA leadership should remember that and not spoil everything, not only for themselves but also for all the rest of us who wish to preserve gun rights, for the reason stated in the Second Amendment!