Saturday, January 22, 2011


The Second Amendment matters little to me. I have a modest history with firearms. I fired rifles in the backyard to kill sparrows using birdhouses intended for other species, in camp competition, and in military training. I needed a handgun only once in Vietnam and have handled no firearm since. But I accept that firearms matter to others for a variety of purposes, some fine, some not so fine.

I believe that people have not only the same right to firearms as they have to automobiles, but also the same responsibilities for them: registration for ownership and restrictions on use. Loaded guns no more belong in crowded places than speeding cars belong on city streets. The amendment is not needed to protect peoples’ rights—no one wants either their firearms or their cars—and should not be used to pervert or preclude their responsibilities. It certainly does not justify firearms without restrictions, as two common arguments suggest.

One is personal or family safety. Crime statistics and media sensationalism suggest that we live in dangerous times. And America has more violence than other nations with advanced economies. But in the quotidian lives of over 300 million Americans, firearms do little to promote individual safety. Firearms kill more people in domestic accidents or violence than in criminal incursions into the family circle. Most of those who possess firearms for self-defense are, in a showdown, unable or unwilling to use them. But no one denies your right to arms for self-defense even if you are a greater threat to those in your home than to those invading it.

The other is political freedom. Despite inflammatory talk, America faces no risk of a government-led confiscation of firearms as part of an effort to suppress individual dissent. Despite anger at illegal immigrants or fear of foreign attacks, Americans face few, if any, dangers from identifiable threats which can be effectively addressed by armed citizens. If the government transfers terrorists to a super-max prison in Colorado or Michigan, neither their good citizens nor those of Maine, Florida, and Idaho are going to need arms to defend their families and themselves in their cabins, condos, or double-wides.

Let us face it: the Second Amendment is a linguistic nightmare and a historical anachronism. Here it is: “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.” Some versions vary in punctuation and capitalization, but the variations do not much affect meaning. Still, I do not find this amendment as problematic as many find it.

Unlike the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment alone uses an absolute construction, a rare syntactic form which establishes conditions for what follows, like a sentence adverb (e.g., “hopefully”). The conditions are now historical anomalies in its references to a state, not a nation, and to a militia.

The amendment is a fossil. It does not assume the very nation and its federal government which the Constitution defined. Instead, it implicitly rejects both. It reflects a political compromise, with those who believed in a strong federal government allowing this after-thought to assuage ruralists who drafted an amendment assuming states to have powers not since either available or practical. Although state militias survive in law and fact, they are government troops acting under government orders for the public good of the state or nation. The national government, not the states, has primary, overriding responsibilities to defend the nation and to enforce the laws of the land. Only paranoid or political wingnuts—often one and the same—imagine armed American citizens fighting pitched battles against National Guard or regular troops, much less doing so successfully. And they would be a far cry from “well-regulated.”

The main clause is straightforward in stating a right like other rights in the Bill of Rights; like them, it is not absolute or unqualified. The right to free speech entitles no one to libel, slander, incitement, and the like; it is limited by the need to prevent harm to individuals and society. Likewise, the Second Amendment defines the right to “keep and bear Arms” but is likewise limited by a similar need. The absolute construction itself implies a specific political purpose which restricts the right: “the security of a free State.” So an individual bearing arms at a political rally or wearing them in a coffee shop is not “well regulated” and is not doing a thing for “the security of a free State.” He may not like government policies or the coffee at Starbucks, but carrying a weapon to a rally or a restaurant is a threat to constitutional democracy and a danger to law-abiding citizens.

Go hunting, shoot skeet, enter marksmanship competitions; otherwise, keep your firearms at home, unloaded and locked up. And stop using the Second Amendment to justify their misuse.


  1. I never shot a gun until i went to Marine Corps bootcamp in 1989. I remember the first time i shot it when we were zeroing in our weapons, I closed my eyes and turned my head for the first shot. I wound up becoming a 4th award expert on the M-16 service rifle.

    I own two shotguns that I don't even keep in the house and the ammo is stored at Walmart :) I love target shooting at Busch Wildlife in St. Charles, MO. I love fall/spring turkey hunting and consider deer hunting with a rifle "cheating" after I bought a compound bow from a friend for 65 dollars.

    Morons with guns kill people. I gave a speech for a communications class i took in college on hand guns in the home. Back in 1994 when I wrote the speech, you were five times more likely to be shot or killed just by having a firearm in your home.

    I just love all these so call proud Americans that are all behind our Nation's military cheering/supporting, but never had the honor/discipline/guts/balls/courage/intestinal-fortitude/pride/love-for-country to serve at least four years in the GREATEST MILITARY IN THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Why the FU&K would the average American citizen feel the need to own a semi-automatic 30 round clip assault rifle and multiple hand guns??? To protect themselves? Their families? Do you walk around the house locked and loaded just to feel safe? Protected?

    Everyone has to sleep sometime. Who's watching your back? Who's watching your house while you and your family are on vacation? Just think of who has potential access to your firearms…Come talk to me when your house was broken in and your guns stolen, used in a violent crime years later and another person is dead all because you just wanted to buy ANOTHER gun, post a picture of it on Facebook with a stupid post of something like "hmmmm what should I name this little girl?

    All these gun toting, conceal and carry yahoos think they are "safer"…Think again folks. The paranoia level of today's Americans is a pathetic justification to own multiple firearms/apply for conceal and carry permits. I like to call that "survivor-mode". Always hiding behind a firearm to "feel safe" is crock of doo-doo.

    How about a National Armory? When we were done at the end of the day in training what did we do after we cleaned our weapons in the Marine Corps? We checked back in the Armory before we could go on liberty. Are civilians so paranoid these days they feel the need to be packing heat on their Starbucks run before work? What do you do with your gun when you go inside Walmart or any establishment with a NO FIREARMS sign clearly posted? Do you leave it in your car? Locked in a safe in your car unloaded? Yea right…I wonder how many unsecured loaded firearms are in any given public parking lot in a state where it's legal to conceal/carry…Scary thought if you ask me. Let's leave a firearm in our car when we run into the store "just for a minute".

    It makes me sick to see our Nation in this condition. We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world. We should be setting a MUCH BETTER EXAMPLE helping one another. Not arming ourselves to the teeth, posting pictures of yourself with your assault rifle on Facebook, boasting about YOUR RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS EVEN THOUGH YOUR ASS NEVER SIGNED ON THE DOTTED LINE SWEARING YOU WOULD DIE FOR THIS COUNTRY BY JOINING THE MILITARY FOR AT LEAST FOUR YEARS!!!!!!!!!!


    The right to keep and bear arms…it's being abused more than alcohol these days. All you jokers out there that feel safer because you can do so need to step the FUCK up and join and serve honorably. Then you can truly say you LOVE THIS COUNTRY!!! Until then, SHUT THE FUCKING HOLE IN YOUR FACE THE FUCK UP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I would not ordinarily publish a comment with profanity, but I chose to do so because it does present an argument.