Back in June, the Chicago Tribune said we should repeal the second amendment (link here, but it appears to now be broken).
The issue, for them, is the first 13 words of the second amendment: 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.
Quoting from the editorial:
If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn’t, and it isn’t. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.
On Tuesday, five members of the court edited the 2nd Amendment. In essence, they said: Scratch the preamble, only 14 words count.
I’m no legal scholar, but I play one on blogs.
So the argument here, to my reading, is that the true intent of the Second Amendment was to allow the “state” — whether that refers to a nation or a state — to raise and arm a militia, but not to also explicitly allow private citizens to own firearms for self-defense as well.
So, does this argument make sense?
My understanding is that, for all practical purposes, the militia was the people, and the people was the militia. I’m not an expert in this area, and should read up more on it, but there is all kinds of evidence to support my contention.
The “regular” Army of the 1775-1787 period was pretty disorganized and suffered massive desertions and discipline issues. I’d imagine it was comprised largely of private citizens who used their own weapons.
There was also a very weak central U.S. government, with little or no taxing authority, and therefore little or no ability to issue weapons.
The new United States had just fought a war against the most dominant Imperial power of the day, and the ability to do so would have been unthinkable without an armed population. It was a guerrilla war, an insurgency, more or less.
So, would it have been wise — right after winning our independence in a bloody war for our very existence — to then immediately draft laws taking away the right to bear arms for private citizens? The whole point of fighting, and dying, was to prevent abuses by a too-powerful central government. It is inconceivable to me, given all this, that the amendment would have been drafted to mean that private citizens should suddenly be disarmed. I don’t believe the people of the new nation would ever have stood for that: they understood that, along with the right to free speech, the right to bear arms was key in preventing out of control government.
Let’s pause to reflect on something: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights was then, and remains today, the most remarkable protection against tyranny for private citizens ever invented. This is a fact. Every item in the Bill of Rights, in particular, was meant as a check on abuse of power by government, and therefore, a protection of freedom for the people. And among those protections against tyranny is an armed populace.
Take a look around the world, and examine the records of the various governments over the last few hundred years. Is there anyplace besides the United States, that has been as powerful, and yet free of tyranny? Even the British, as admirable as their form of imperialism might have been in the big picture, still oppressed large populations in India and elsewhere, which would have been unimaginable if those populations were allowed to own firearms. Other examples are much worse, and too numerous to mention.
In Switzerland, everybody is armed, because they have a militia of armed private citizens. Yet they have one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. Obviously, the presence of lots of guns is not the sole cause of gun crime, nor a primary cause.
Regarding the argument by the Tribune editorial that since the U.S. now has a powerful military, the idea of a militia is outdated: it depends on who you’re trying to protect yourself from. Big-city newspaper editorial writers are, generally, comfortable with ever-expanding centralized government power; I’m not. Do I obsess about government storm troopers occupying my suburb and invoking martial law in the near future? Of course not. But I do believe in protecting every freedom that helps me protect my family, and helps us as a people protect our liberty by providing a check on government power.
Which, in fact, is exactly what law-abiding citizens of Washington D.C., and Chicago, and other places with recent gun bans, would like to do for their own families: provide necessary security, because they don’t feel safe enough in high crime urban areas. Mayor Daley and other big city mayors remind me of the New York City mayor in the movie “Death Wish”, knowingly sacrificing public safety in the interest of protecting the reputation of the police force and by extension, the reputation of the mayor himself. Maybe if big city mayors didn’t personify that conflict of interest — and didn’t also enjoy the security provided by armed bodyguards — their views would resonate a little better.
And at least in Chicago, that precious gun ban doesn’t seem to be working too well.
Then we have this quote from Randy Barnett, a law professor at Georgetown: “… original-intent jurisprudence was discredited years ago among constitutional law professors …”
Again, I’m no legal scholar, but for those keeping score at home, the above argument put forth by the Chicago Tribune editorial board seems to be historically nonsensical, empirically dangerous and unworkable, naive, disingenuous, cynical, a conflict of interest, and discredited by constitutional law experts.
Other than that, though, well done!