THE BLOG

The Real 2nd Amendment Isn't The NRA Version

12/17/2012 12:03 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2013

Like many people, I have had conflicting feelings about guns and gun control. I have never personally owned a gun, but as a single woman, I've thought about it. I would, I think, consider having one if I lived out in the middle of nowhere or in a neighborhood in which I felt unsafe. I also know people who are hunters and responsible gun owners, although to my knowledge none of them own a semi-automatic assault rifle or have a stockpile of ammunition.

In light of escalating tragedies, and out of a need to clarify my own understanding, I revisited the 2nd Amendment. I knew I wanted to stand up for something as our nationwide grief turns into political calls to action -- I knew, too, that I would be on the side of prevention -- but I wasn't yet sure what that meant in real, actionable terms. I have a better idea of where I stand now. Here's my take on the most consistently controversial amendment, and some follow-up thoughts.

 Amendment II

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.

A "Well Regulated Militia":

Verb - Regulated

  • Control or maintain the rate or speed of (a machine or process) so that it operates properly.
  • Control or supervise (something, esp. a company or business activity) by means of rules and regulations.
Noun - Militia
  • A military force of civilians to supplement a regular army in an emergency.
  • A military force that engages in rebel activities.
It seems obvious to me that the constitution did not see individual gun ownership as something that would be without rules or restrictions, nor did it advance the ownership of guns as a guaranteed personal right, but as a means to arm a "military force of civilians" in defense of the country. That is made clear through the second part of the sentence:

Necessary to the Security of a Free State - In conjunction with the word "militia," it seems the founders had a very clear vision of who might own arms and what the purpose of those arms would be under the constitution. The "security of a free State" might otherwise be extrapolated to mean the right to do any number of things in pursuit of one's individual rights or personal security -- but that's not what the framers of the Constitution were concerned with, nor what they sought to guarantee. They were not guaranteeing the rights of citizens to bear arms for their own purposes, but as part of a "well regulated militia" that would defend the "security of a free State."

The Right of the People To Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed - This is the most quoted part of the 2nd Amendment and out of context with the rest, it would seem to mean that "the People" is all-inclusive, but that's not what the amendment in its full text points to at all. The framers of the constitution did not speak of the People as self-interested individuals, but as part of a militia meant to defend the security of a free State. In addition, "shall not be infringed" has to be measured against the very clear directive of  "well-regulated."  It would seem that the founders did not believe that regulating weapons was an infringement upon the rights guaranteed by the 2nd amendment. To the contrary, they seemed to believe that weapons should be "well-regulated."

***

The Constitution is often called a living document, meaning that it is supposed to be open to changes. Wherever our heated and passionate debates on gun control might lead us, I believe that the 2nd Amendment needs to be updated for current times. Obviously, we no longer have citizen militias that operate in the best interests or under the authority of the United States. The few groups that may call themselves militias are unattached relics of civil war-era separatism, or operate under some other fringe interest that has nothing to do with a "well-regulated militia" or the "security of a free State." Did the framers mean to insure an inalienable right to arms -- of every kind, in any number, for any personal reason that might exist -- for every citizen who is not part of a recognized, regulated militia? It would appear that they did not.

I believe that the "well-regulated" part needs to be expanded and better defined on a federal level. What compelling reason is there to own an arsenal of modern day assault weapons, or a stockpile of ammunition? We need to talk about that, and strike a balance between personal self-interest and the overall good of society. I don't believe that the framers of the Constitution envisioned a day when citizens would target large groups of innocent people at movie theaters, churches, or schools.

It may be true that some people intent on violence will find a way, but that doesn't mean we need to make it easier for them. The other day, I heard someone compare guns to drugs, trying to make the case that addicts still buy regardless of legality. The difference, of course, is that we don't sell heroin or crack at K-Mart or in the classifieds. If we did, there would surely be more addicts, and more people who made impulsive, dangerous, and even deadly purchases. What we do sell freely (and often with no regulation at all) in the marketplace now -- including body armor, semi-automatic weapons, and as much ammo as anyone desires -- needs to be revisited. How many tragedies, how many mass murders, need to take place before the grieving public trumps the political lobbying power of the NRA?

Outside of those who are vehemently pro-gun and NRA, I don't see many people who believe that the answer lies in more guns. There are not many of us, it seems, who want to live in a world where armed guards are necessary at every public door, and most especially the doors to our schools.

Many people have suggested that if these were murders were considered acts of terror, changes to laws and policies would be swift. Comedian John Oliver summed it up in this quote: "One failed attempt at a shoe bomb, and now we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one (mass) shootings since Columbine, and no change in our regulation of guns." After seven people died because of Tylenol tampering in the early 80s, sealed products very quickly became standard. Changing our regulations to meet the threats of today does not have to be a slow, arduous task. We only need enough of the public to demand changes, and elected lawmakers who will stand strong in the face of well-funded, firmly entrenched opposition.

Hopefully, it won't take another mass murder (or 10 or 20 or 100) to spark changes to gun laws. And no, I don't expect that new regulations will prevent every single future tragedy, but if they prevent even one that's more progress than we're making now.

Diane Feinstein has vowed to introduce assault weapons legislation at the start of the next Congress. Article here. Let's do what we can to support her in this effort, which is sure to be hotly contested.

This Blogger's Books and Other Items from...