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. Second Amendment -- U.S. Constitution.
There it is. Fewer than 30 words have ignited a firestorm in this country like we have not seen in decades. You would never know that there are parts of this debate that people on both sides agree on by how polarizing it has become. And as soon as our elected officials became involved, you can expect the polarization to get crystal hard.
The history of this important amendment is so old by now that just about everyone has decided that it stands for whatever they stand for. It means what they mean.
But what did it mean when it was first passed? The American settlers viewed the right to bear arms as important for one or more of these purposes: organizing a militia system, participating in law enforcement, deterring tyrannical government, repelling invasion, and suppressing insurrection. Of these original purposes, it would appear only one seems to drive the debate and the divide today -- deterring tyrannical government. As to the other purposes, we don't need a militia, we have law enforcement, we're not likely to be invaded, and there is no internal threat of insurrection.
What has changed is that this freedom has fallen into the hands of some of the most irresponsible and unstable people in a society of 300 million. And the free movement of these unstable individuals is due in part to the decisions made by some who house or institutionalize these types of people. Instead, we have either released or failed to detain people who are incapable of living peacefully within the societal rules of a peaceful people.
Over the years the U.S. Supreme Court has heard and reheard the Second Amendment to address the meaning of "well regulated militia," "the right of the people," and "keep and bear arms." For almost a century following the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the intended meaning and application of the Second Amendment drew less interest than it does in modern times. The vast majority of regulation was done by the states.
State and federal courts historically have used two models to interpret the Second Amendment: the "individual rights" model and the "collective rights" model, which holds that the right is dependent on militia membership. For the most part, the collective rights model has been discarded. Today, this is clearly about individual rights.
There have been at least seven Supreme Court cases that have addressed the application of the individual right to bear arms. The path of litigation regarding the right to bear arms is quite similar to the court's ruling on the right to an abortion. That is, once the individual's core right has been established as the law of the land, we find both Congress and state legislatures working around the edges to make conditions, modifications, requirements, and regulations. Clearly, while the Supreme Court has the last word on the rights of Americans, there will be those who have to keep finding ways to chip away or put hurdles in the way of individuals who want to exercise that right.
Does anyone hold to the position that the right to bear arms belongs to everyone, even the insane? Does anyone reasonably believe that their right to bear arms is greater than the right for anyone to have a safe and protected life? Does anyone really believe that we can remove all of the guns in America any more easily than we can remove all of the illegal immigrants in America? Does anyone really believe that the right to bear arms means you have the right to use that arm any way you want? How does the Second Amendment jive with the core principle that every American is entitled to the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? To protect the children at Newtown, does that mean that there should have been a way to keep the gun from the murderer?
The problem in our country isn't with the individual's right. It's with those who are irresponsible with their rights. There are a number of examples of this. Most of us use prescribed medicine to cure a cold, not to make meth. Most drive our cars responsibly, not drunk. Most people are trusted by their employer because they are honest, not an embezzler. Most gun owners are the most responsible people in a community, not the most dangerous.
But the fact is this: there are bad, mean, insane, evil people in our midst. No number of laws, rules, regulations, debates or arguments will ever change that. So we have millions of guns around millions of bad people. What's a society to do? Compared to other countries in the world, we are a relatively new country. We still remember and teach how government power can crush the individual liberty of people. We still remember that this is the only country on earth that was founded by freedom seeking people who fled the crushing power of their government. We are a very materialist country and what's mine is mine and if you try to take it, I'll use whatever force I have to stop you.
Even with the president's executive orders and laws enacted by Congress, this issue is far from resolved. It is quite likely that the final path will lead where it has over the past two hundred years -- the Supreme Court. When the executive and legislative branches of our government cannot or will not solve our problems, ultimately it's the third branch that will do it. One thing does appear certain. Things will never be the same again.
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