The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution; “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 amendment was passed by Congress on September 25, 1789 and ratified on December 15, 1791 as part of the first ten amendments to the Constitution, The Bill of Rights.
First lets talk about what the Second Amendment is not. The Second Amendment is not a god-given right to own guns. No rights in the Constitution are god given. All rights in the Constitution derive from “We the People…” In fact if you really want to piss off overly religious conservatives, remind them the Constitution does not mention god or anything divine once.
The Second Amendment was also never intended to give anyone the right to defend themselves against the tyranny of the government. James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and the rest of the delegates hadn’t spent four months creating a government full of checks and balances for some dirt farmer to try to decide what tyranny was. The president could veto a law from the legislature he felt was unjust, the legislature could override the veto if they felt the veto was unjust. Any president or legislator could be impeached if they behaved in a way unbecoming of their office. Add to the judicial review as established in the 1808 case of Marbury v. Madison and you’ve got what should be, in theory, a government incapable of tyranny.
No, the free state that the Second Amendment refers to is the United States of America, state being used here as a synonym for country as is grammatically correct. In 1789 the freedom of the United States was fragile at best. A standing army wasn’t event authorized by Congress until September 29, 1789, the last day of the first session of Congress. Despite the lessons of the Revolutionary War many politicians still believed that a militia could stand up to a trained, professional army. The most obvious army they might have to stand up to was the British army. The British were still stinging from their defeat in the war and had decided not to abide by several clauses of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution, among those was there refusal to abandon forts in the Northwest Territory that had been turned over to the United States in the treaty. It would take a whole other treaty in 1794, commonly known as the Jay Treaty, for the British to finally give up those forts. But in truth any of the major European powers could have sought to bring the mewling infant of the United States under their sway, Spain, France even the Dutch.
Of course there was also the domestic threat by Native Americans, whom the Americans were actively trying to push off their land. When ever and where ever they chose to fight back against the encroachment violent and bloody confrontations followed.
Foreign powers and Native Americans were the threats to a “free State”, not the government itself.
So let’s now turn to the opening clause of the Amendment, “A well regulated Militia”. Contrary to today’s perception of militias which consist of a bunch of misogynistic, white supremacists getting together in the woods with body armor that doesn’t go over their beer guts desperate to prove that they do in fact have penises despite the fact that said beer guts have kept them from seeing them in several years. Although I suppose the misogynistic and white supremacist parts could hold true considering the new government that had been created did not acknowledge women as people, allowed black people to be owned by white people, only counted black people as 3/5 of a human being and actually took away many people’s right to vote.
No, in 1789 a militia was a government run organization. Having studied militia law in New York extensively I offer this state as a case study. Militia law was renewed year to year but the basics stayed the same. The militia belonged to the individual state but could be called out at the request of the federal government for the common defense ( This is in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution). Each county in the state was considered a regiment and was commanded by a colonel who was selected by the state. Reporting to him were captains who were frequently elected by their local constituents and tended to be the richer, more affluent men of the district rather than anyone with any real military knowledge.
It was the captain’s job to ensure his district, or company as it was known, was ready to fight. This meant that all the firearms in each house were registered with the captain to ensure that all men age 16 to 62 had access to a gun. If for some reason a household contained more guns than people of fighting age, those guns could be seized in times of trouble to give to people who did not own weapons of their own. In addition to registering your gun, you were required to report the amount of gunpowder and shot you had on hand along with any cartridge boxes, bayonets, swords, hatchets and if required preserved food that could be used on a march.
The captain would report all this to the colonel of the regiment who would in turn give it to the state so they would know exactly how well their citizens were armed. Once a month men of fighting age were required to turn out for a day of drill with their companies and once a year they were required to turn out with the entire regiment. These musters, as they were known, ensured that the men knew how to properly use their guns and that they were in good repair. Failure to turn up without the equipment you had registered to your name could result in pretty hefty monetary fines.
Some regiments, and it became almost universal during the 19th-century, required uniforms for the militia that each man was responsible for purchasing and maintaining on their own dime.
It can be argued that the American Civil War and the creation of the National Guard was what finally did away with the militias that the Second Amendment protected, although the militias performed pretty wretchedly in the War of 1812 as well. Again, militias could not stand up to a trained, professional army. But lets say for arguments sake that the Civil War was the end of the militia as the Second Amendment sought to protect, people have been fighting, viciously, for the last 160 years over what a now defunct amendment to the Constitution means.
The Second Amendment does not say anything about weapons used to hunt for food. It also does not mention anything about an individual’s right to defend themself with a gun, although in a monumental case of judicial overreach the Supreme Court, in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, decided that the Second Amendment did in fact allow people to own guns for self defense.
The Second Amendment was never about owning guns. It was about the right to join a militia. A state run, well organized and fully registered militia to defend the United States of America.
The problem is it has been warped over the the last 160 years into something it was never intended to be. The gun lobby has bought, lock, stock, and barrel, if you’ll excuse the phrase, the Republican party. The gun lobby doesn’t care about the safety of the people because they want to sell more guns. In fact they want the guns they sell to create more fear in the hopes that more people will in turn buy more guns. And the Republicans are happy to let them do it because the gun lobbyists and the Super PACs they run are giving millions of dollars to them. Millions.
The Second Amendment is the appendix of the Constitution. It is a vestigial organ that serves no purpose in the modern world. It can be argued that the Constitution, because it was written at time when muskets were “the” weapon of war, allows people to carry weapons of war. However the Constitution, despite what the originalists say was created as a living, breathing document. As a people we have changed it over the years; women can vote and hold office, private citizens can not hold slaves anymore, black people are now full people with the same rights as all American citizens. We’ve made mistakes with it too. We used the Constitution to ban the sale of alcohol in the United States and we used the Constitution to undue that amendment.
The Second Amendment should be repealed. It should. There are no more militias, therefore it is unnecessary for any private citizen to own a weapon of war. We have a standing army now, those guys playing with their guns and their tally whackers in the woods are never going to be called upon to protect anybody.
I’m not talking about taking away your hunting rifle. My grandfather hunted deer his whole life with a single shot rifle and filled his tags every year. No one needs a semi-automatic gun with multiple high capacity magazines to kill a deer. If you do need that you should probably give up hunting because you suck. I have heard people say that they need those guns to fight off wild boars in the south. You want to hunt wild boar? You can buy a boar spear on Amazon. Boar spears have been good enough for thousands of years, and now they have carbon fiber handles and all kinds of features. Prove you’re a man and use a spear.
To put it simply no one should be able to buy an assault rifle and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition at any time. They should not be allowed to walk into a school and destroy untold numbers of lives because they are angry the girl they asked to the prom said no. They shouldn’t be able to fire bullets that decapitate and blow off limbs with one shot. They shouldn’t.
What breaks my heart is that we had a demonstrably effective law against these types of weapons. It worked. Was it perfect? No. Did people still die from gunshots during the assault weapons ban. Yes. But did a lot less people die from gun shots during the assault weapons ban. Yes.
It was during the Republican administration of George W. Bush and the Republican controlled legislature that the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. Hell, it was because of the Republican party that the assault weapons ban had a time limit any way. But of course, as we have seen, if the Republicans don’t bow down and service the NRA and the gun lobby than they don’t get their money.
This is a uniquely American problem. A problem that Republican leaders are keen to ignore because of the money. Somehow they are able to sleep each night knowing that the blood of thousands of people, thousands of innocent children who never had a chance at life, is on their hands because their bank accounts got a little bigger. And it truly is that. NRA and gun lobby spending go up every time there is a mass shooting, just on the off chance that one of the politicians they have purchased might develop a conscience.
So we are stuck in an endless cycle of doing nothing. A gunman kills dozens, often times children, the Republicans offer thoughts and prayers with one hand while taking their money in the other, Democrats call for change but they don’t have the votes to do anything meaningful. Then it all happens again.
Despite the checks and balances of the United States Constitution the system is broken. We are being held hostage by the minority. Right now Republicans represent, in both houses, millions less people than the Democrats yet they are able to prevent any legislation from happening. What’s truly astounding is that they are holding up legislation that their own constituents want because they are so deep in the pockets of guns. 90% of Americans would agree that universal background checks are a good idea. Yet nothing happens.
Nothing happens. Meaningful legislation seems impossible. There’s too much money in politics to take money out of politics. There’s not enough will to do anything. Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz and their ilk have managed to break the United States government. The whole goddamn confederate army couldn’t do that. The Nazis couldn’t do that. But they have. And I don’t see the another Benjamin Franklin or George Washington to fix it. When the hell is there going to be a true profile in courage, a true patriot? Someone who says “Americans are dying by the thousands, lets fix this. Damn my party, damn the money, lets fix it.”
The Constitution was a brilliant document when it was written. A document meant to change over time. It is a sacred yet flexible document but some people refuse to see that. Refuse to understand that. It could fix the problem of gun violence in the United States. Repeal the Second Amendment, outlaw assault rifles, buyback assault rifles and destroy them. If they are found during a search of a house or car, destroy them. Make background checks mandatory for all other gun purchases in the country. This is all doable. Other countries have done it, Canada is doing it right now and they have polar bears to contend with.
I’ll finish with history. The Second Amendment is a dead amendment that needs to be swept from the Constitution just like the part of Article 1, Section 2 that excluded “Indians” and 2/5 of each black person from being counted as an American. The Constitution was designed to protect us, to allow us to be free members of society. It was never meant to be destroyed by one antiquated amendment.