How can we interpret the second amendment?
MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., January 30, 2014 – One of the most polarizing subjects in American politics is the one dealing with the possession of fire arms. The Second Amendment to the Constitution reads:
“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.”
During the negotiations for the approval of the Bill of Rights, there were several drafts based on different punctuation schemes for this amendment. Proponents of the different versions believe punctuation was crucial to determine its purpose.
Over the centuries, there have been different interpretations on what the Amendment actually means. Recent court cases have found that all citizens are entitled to keep and bear arms, regardless of their participation in a well-regulated militia.
Many Americans explain the phrase “well regulated militia” as meaning that in time of war, citizens can be called in to defend their country, so they should be prepared.
Others argue that the phrase also provides citizens’ defense against a tyrannical government or even basic criminal threats. Both of these interpretations agree with the eighteen century British law in which the Second Amendment is based.
Others would say that the Second Amendment only states that the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed, without qualifiers and that the other text is just static. It seems that some fire arms advocates and the NRA agree with this latter interpretation.
In fact, it is possible that most gun owners in the U. S. purchased them for basic self-defense and/or for sporting purposes. The majority are not that concerned about tyranny by the government or national defense. We have a professional military, funded at the highest level in the world, to protect us from foreign threats.
What most Americans find it hard to deal with is the proper definition of infringement. Does universal fire arm registration violates the mandate? Is requiring background checks curtailment of this freedom? Is there a limit to the number of arms in a home needed for securing a free state? Should the mental state of the citizen be taken into account for fire arm possession?
There can be many more questions of this kind, probably more than the 27 words that comprises the amendment.
The strict constructionist solution
Taking a page from Nixon and Reagan when choosing candidates for the Supreme Court, maybe the final meaning of the amendment should be decided using “strict constructionist” methods. This would mean that all the text in the amendment should be considered, and the only “interpretation” is to read what the document says. Within this realm, the wishes of the fire arms lobby, the rants of apocalyptic plot believers, the bellyaching of the sportsmen, the cries of the animal defenders and other liberal wimps should be ignored. Only the facts emanating from the amendment and its original meaning, as documented, should be considered.
It could be that as a result, when a citizen decides to buy a gun, s/he would have to agree to train to be part of a defensive force. After a basic training period, the person would agree to keep up skills by annual boot camps. Weapon qualifications would be required periodically. This would enhance our National Defense and keep unoccupied minds away from drugs and alcohol. It would also complement rescue forces in cases of emergencies. Just imagine one million Georgians organized to deal with a snow catastrophe, ready to assist. This would be paid by a tax on guns and the training skills and vast resources of the National Rifle Association.
The pragmatic approach
We Americans have in the past found solutions to problems as difficult as the gun controversy. While we are polarized in the benefits of free availability of guns, there should be some common ground that would keep all parties on the table. Things like universal registration and background checks, including mental health checks, don’t infringe on any able, law abiding citizen’s right to keep and bear arms.
A good parallel is the ownership of motor vehicles that require registration and demonstration of ability to operate it by its conductor. Some could claim that this interferes with our freedom of movement, but it is only common sense to make sure we are safer on the road.
The do nothing approach
Recent mass shootings have become ho-hum news to many. Maybe the American public has become desensitized to them. The furor to get new limitations on hand gun availability after the Newtown massacre did not result in changes of any significance. Six straight days of gun violence in public places culminating with three dead in The Mall in Columbia, Maryland have not received much publicity from our main media.
Maybe we Americans have decided to do nothing and hope that one of our neighbors or just a stranger, who has the right of life or death over us because he has access to a fire arm, will not pick us for a grand finale.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is in Facebook (Mario Salazar), Twitter (@chibcharus) and Google+.