We gun rights advocates claim we’re the defenders of the Second Amendment. This is usually something even the anti-gunners don’t dispute. They may argue about the relevancy of the Second Amendment, or how it should be interpreted, but they don’t argue that they’re somehow the real defenders of the Second Amendment.
In any debate about guns in America, there’s one aspect that’s seemingly inescapable: the moment when the National Rifle Association (NRA) or other defenders of an anything-goes gun policy recite the second amendment from memory.
Perhaps no subsection of a political movement is so passionately animated by a clause of the US constitution. As many a gun enthusiast is eager to say, gun regulation is a non-starter; the second amendment is the law of the land, so the government can’t tell me what to do with my guns.
But those seeking sensible gun regulation – like the 83% of Americans who support a mandatory waiting period for buying a gun and the 67% of Americans who agree with a ban on assault weapons – should not just accept the distortion of the second amendment as fact. Instead, they should loudly respond that gun regulation’s proponents, not the NRA, are the true defenders of the second amendment. In fact, both supreme court case law and the text of the second amendment itself support reasonable regulations on guns. As written, the constitution and the second amendment permit precisely the kind of regulation Congress should enact.
In 1991, former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Republican appointee, explained why the text of the Second Amendment affirms the importance of gun regulation. The first words of the amendment, Burger pointed out, are “a well regulated Militia.” This language presupposes the idea that the militias should be regulated. So, Burger reasoned, if the amendment rests on the assumption that well-trained state armies could be regulated, then it is sensible to think it also allows Congress to regulate guns among the general citizenry.
The constitutional argument for gun regulation also goes beyond the Second Amendment. The Constitution’s preamble speaks of the need to “insure domestic Tranquility”—a fundamental task of any government that can be aided by regulating deadly weapons. The recent tragedy in Florida—merely the newest in a line of one numbing bloodbath after another, a crisis that no other developed country on earth suffers from—has made it clear that our schools, hospitals, and military are anything but tranquil. In places where they once would have thought themselves safe, citizens fear another attack.
It goes on like that for a while, but mostly focuses on the phrase “well-regulated.”
Oh, how I wish I had a time machine so I could warn our Founding Fathers of what future generations would make of that phrase.
First, let’s focus on that phrase for a moment. Burger’s argument is predicated on the modern understanding of the term. If something is regulated, it means there are rules about it. There are procedures for things. Basically, there’s some kind of bureaucracy surrounding it.
That wasn’t true in the Founding Fathers’ day. Back then, the phrase “well-regulated” meant “properly functioning.” That’s why there are references to well-regulated clocks and similar such things. It wasn’t that there were rules around it, but that it worked like it was supposed to.
What the Founding Fathers meant was a militia that did what it was supposed to do.
Further, Burger’s argument also requires one to completely dismiss the remaining words in the Second Amendment, namely, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
That bolded phrase alone negates any claim that our Founding Fathers approved of and supported the idea of gun control. There is no misunderstanding possible. It means that our right to have guns should never be touched, and there’s been a whole lot of infringing going on in the last couple of centuries.
It’s a simple fact that our Founding Fathers never wanted the government to get in the way of us having guns. Their writings tell us of their feelings on the matter and that they supported the American citizen being armed and ready to go to war, whether it was against a foreign power or a tyrannical government. It didn’t matter. They believed it was our right to prepare for such potential eventualities.
Burger’s argument, and thus the argument from so many gun control activists, is bogus.
But to pretend that adhering to that argument somehow makes you the true defender of the Second Amendment and the constitution in general? Ridiculous.