I’m no lawyer, but I know how to read what is written in black and white when it’s staring me right in the face.
The Second Amendment – the right to bear arms – does not say that every yahoo with a grudge against authority and a problem with his own masculinity has the right to swagger around with a gun on his hip, intimidating everyone around him.
The Founding Fathers were smart people and good writers. If they meant that every yahoo could strap on a gun and bully people, they would have said it, clearly and simply. What they wrote does not say what the NRA/Tea Party/Wacko Gun Nuts want it to say.
It 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.”
Notice that part that the gun nuts don’t like to mention: “A well regulated militia…” When the constitution was written, the Founders didn’t put that in because they needed to use up more ink. They weren’t trying to bulk up the document to reach a specific word count. They wrote it because they meant it. People have the right to bear arms only in the context of a regulated militia.
It doesn’t say that people have the right to bear arms to defend themselves – or to hunt or to win the Olympics, for that matter.
If the federal government, or your state government, or even your local city government wants to pass a law that says that you can defend yourself with a gun, that is their prerogative. The Constitution says that the states have the right to pass whatever laws they wish as long as those laws don’t contradict the constitution.
The Second Amendment only talks about what happens when a militia is created. No government can prohibit the citizenry from keeping arms for that purpose.
But, the government can certainly pass laws that regulate the formation and conduct of a militia. It has a right and duty to ensure that militias are “well ordered”. Reading this amendment as it is written, the government can pass laws that license firearms, require that firearm owners identify themselves, prohibit some kinds of firearms, and prohibit unsuitable individuals from owning them.
The logic for this interpretation is simple. The people as a whole can maintain an effective militia even if only some of them are permitted to enlist, own, and bear some kinds of arms.
The government can maintain a well ordered militia without letting every nutty, delusional scofflaw who has a couple hundred bucks in his pocket buy a handgun to strap on his hip when he goes to Starbucks to buy a venti chai latte. It requires only enough armed men and women to defend the state.
For more than two hundred years, virtually all the academic discussion and legal interpretation of this amendment centered on the nature of militias. Supreme court decisions consistently upheld the position that states had a right to regulate and license individual ownership of firearms. And, because the state laws were viewed by most people as reasonable, there was little concern or debate about the Second Amendment.
But the status quo was not good enough for the arms dealers. They need Americans to keep buying more and more guns and that’s a problem. Guns aren’t perishable. Once the average person has a few, he doesn’t need to buy any more for the rest of his life. In fact, his grandchildren will probably find his guns satisfactory. The NRA’s corporate sponsors need more customers; and money from children, petty criminals, and crazy people is as good as anyone else’s. They don’t want any regulation, whatsoever, and they don’t care how many people get killed in the ensuing massacres.
So in 2008, only five years ago before this essay was written, the Supreme Court decided that, despite what the Constitution says, the right to bear arms is an individual right that exists outside the context of a well ordered militia. States would no longer be allowed to pass laws restricting anyone’s right to carry a gun for self-defense.
Yup. The Supreme Court had to be loaded with right-wing-nuts by the Bush, Jr. administration and led by Antonin Scalia before it would ignore the clear and obvious wording of the amendment and concoct a bizarre logical justification for turning the NRA’s wet dream into our daily reality.
And it took the Cato Institute, a right-wing advocacy group founded by the billionaire, Charles Koch, to concoct an artificial legal case to present to the court to further his libertarian agenda.
The way the courts and constitutional scholars had interpreted the amendment for over two centuries was tossed aside. The majority decision, written by Justice Scalia, included historical references to Charles II of England and the assertion that “militia” includes every able-bodied male in the country. Doesn’t Justice Scalia realize that the Revolutionary War was fought because the American colonies didn’t like living under English law?
This was the first time in the entire legal history of the United States that the Court ruled that the Second Amendment was about personal self-defense. It did not matter to them that the amendment does not include a single word about self-defense. Or hunting, for that matter, which was a crucial aspect of the history of the right to bear arms in England but was also considered unimportant to the Founding Fathers.
I, for one, am calling “naked!” on this emperor of misinterpretation and saying shame on the Supreme Court for clothing him in so much transparent nonsense.
It’s time to tell the Supreme Court to rule on the Constitution as it is actually written and not as the puppets of wealth and privilege wish it had been written. The Founding Fathers knew what they were doing. They were trying to make the greatest country in the world, not build a continent-wide slaughterhouse.