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M.S. Bellows, Jr. Headshot

After Arizona, Reconsidering the Second Amendment

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The Arizona shootings are a good opportunity to reconsider the current Supreme Court's oversimplistic analysis of the Second Amendment.

The Supreme Court's conservative majority declared in 2008 that the Constitution gives people a personal right to possess firearms, ignoring the 2nd Amendment's limiting clause, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

There's no serious movement today to take away people's hunting firearms; politically, the fight is over whether students may carry guns at school, use of body-armor-piercing ammunition, etc. The recent Supreme Court ruling is now being used as the basis for arguments in favor of "cop-killer" bullets, fully automatic weapons, and unlimited concealed-carry rights (even, in Arizona, in bars and schools).

It's time to recognize that politics is more than a game, and that fine-sounding theories about "the blood of tyrants" can manifest as "the blood of nine-year-old girls" when troubled people take them too seriously. After the shootings in Arizona, we as a nation need to ask ourselves: does anyone really believe the Founders considered universal ownership of military weaponry, outside the context of a National Guard unit or other "well-regulated militia," to be a human right as fundamental to liberty and conscience as the freedoms of speech and religion? Are your Bible and your Glock equally sacred? (If so, what does that say about the primacy of your faith?) Did the Founders truly see gun rights as civil rights, or are the electoral games of conservative politicians and the intellectual bankruptcy of conservative judges now costing innocent lives?

It is rare, but not unheard of, for the Supreme Court to see the error of its ways and quickly reverse a poor decision. What's more, the Court's conservative bloc holds a mere 5-4 majority. It's not too late: one justice changing his mind, or one conservative justice being replaced by a more progressive one, could swing the balance in favor of a sane re-interpretation of the Second Amendment to acknowledge that the right to bear arms applies only to well-regulated militias, not to individual citizens like Jared Loughner. The individual "right" to bear arms is, in essence, the right to kill other people -- and that right cannot be allowed to trump the rights of good citizens who, like those murdered in a Tucson Safeway, merely want to exercise their own true rights of speech, assembly -- and life.