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Flora Nicholas

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What Does That 'Right to Bear Arms' Bit in the Constitution Say Again?

Posted: 07/31/2012 3:49 pm

July 20 was a Columbine, Virginia Tech déjà vu kind of day. In the early hours of the morning, an armed man -- allegedly James Holmes -- massacred 12 innocent people and injured scores more in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

In the aftermath of this latest gun-related tragedy, the most vociferous supporters of the right to bear arms did exactly what you'd expect them to do under the circumstances. They took to the Internet and the airwaves to remind us all why they've got an absolute, constitutional right to bear arms! (Impeccable timing folks!)

Well, given the magnitude of Friday's events and the various proclamations that have followed, I took it upon myself to hunt down the Second Amendment (without a rifle in tow of course) to see whether it DOES actually grant all the rights claimed by those in possession of guns, machine guns, semi-automatic weapons, hand grenades, rockets and otherwise.

So here directly from the pages of that great legal journal called Wikipedia is the text itself.

The Second Amendment to the constitution, as ratified in 1791 by that real life American super hero, Thomas Jefferson, says this:

"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."

Now, it must be said that the writings of our 18th century ancestors seem a little clumsy and 18th century-like by modern-day standards. But as any first grade teacher will tell you, and as the anti-gun lobby claim, a sentence is a sentence is a sentence, and the Second Amendment should be read as such and interpreted in its entirety.

So by that yardstick, one could easily conclude that in drafting the Second Amendment, our founding fathers meant that only those citizens who are part of a "well-regulated militia" have the right to bear arms.

However, I know that millions of gun-owning folks vehemently disagree with that interpretation. So let's put aside everything we learned about comprehension in grade school, and focus our analysis of the Second Amendment on just the latter half of the key sentence, i.e. the bit that says, "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Well, yep, that half-a-sentence does actually say, in a half-a-sentence kind of way, that people are entitled to bear arms. So there you have it. The right of every Tom, Dick and James to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution!!

And further more, judges on the highest court in the land totally agree. (Well, by 5-4 republican/democrat margins most of the time, but nevertheless, they agree!)

Game and argument over? Hmmm, not so fast.

I think it's only fair to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and those other 18th century types to determine what KIND of arms the Second Amendment allows us to bear.

Well, considering the amendment was written in 1789, the Founding Fathers certainly gave us all the right to bear, er, muskets. Yes, muskets -- those long, old fashioned, single shot things that were used to fight the Revolutionary War!

So the question is, does the Second Amendment say, "The right of the people to keep and bear the kind of arms developed hundreds of years after 1789, shall not be infringed"?

Um, no it doesn't.

Does the Second Amendment say, "The right of the people to keep and bear numerous
multi-chamber, rapid fire assault rifles, shotguns and handguns per individual, and all at the same time (as per the Aurora shooter), shall not be infringed"?

Er, it doesn't say that either.

And does the Second Amendment say, "The right of the people to keep and bear an entire arsenal of battlefield weapons when they're not even part of an army, or even a militia, shall not be infringed"?

Well, I just read the amendment again, and I couldn't find language like that anywhere!

So I have to say that if our Founding Fathers were alive today, they may conclude that we, the people, have taken a teeny-weeny bit of license with the meaning of the Second Amendment in the last 200 odd years.

They may also conclude that if that license is allowed to continue, some lunatic is going to come along shortly and claim that the dirty bombs he has in the garage are totally legal because hey, dirty bombs are "arms" so he has a constitutional right to store them on the shelf above the antifreeze.

I think that most reasonable folks, be they democrats or republicans, would support action to stop people buying and keeping an entire industrial military complex of battlefield weapons in their homes or sheds -- and then using those weapons to shocking effect against dozens of poor souls, as happened in Aurora, Colorado.

So let's get a grip y'all. For everybody's sake, let's get sensible gun control in place. Either that, or let's get back to muskets.

 

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