“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.
But … laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.” – Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Samuel Adams, 1816
De-Sanctifying the 2nd Amendment
Carrying through with professor David Hemenway’s suggestion in my previous article of changing the environment that can create a culture of violence where resorting to firearms becomes a solution rather than a problem, it seems we need to do a better job at putting the 2nd amendment in it’s proper historical context.
Don’t make the 2nd amendment out to be a gift from God, “our American birthright”, as NRA VicePresident Wayne Lapierre recently asserted at the 2018 CPAC Conference. The claim that every American has a right to possess a firearm was not in the original Constitution and it was only in District of Columbia, et al vs Heller back in June 2008 that the Supreme Court took the position that the 2nd amendment does “protect an individual’s right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.” Up to that time the traditional view held by the courts for nearly 200 years was that gun ownership was limited.
As Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens pointed out in an Op-ed piece back in April 2014: “First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms. Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well regulated Militia.”
Even in the Heller ruling Justice Antone Scalia, a pro-gun, card-carrying member of the NRA stated emphatically that “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. “
I think Jefferson feared what we have become in regards to how some look at the 2nd amendment, with “sanctimonious reverence … too sacred to be touched” rather than as a secular law drawn up by 18th century thinking of humankind. One that needs to adapt to the times and confront the horrid reality of gun violence that I feel can in part be attributed to how we have allowed the for-profit gun industry dictate our relationship with firearms separate from its intended, primary use with a well-regulated militia.
Once we de-sanctify the 2nd amendment from people like Wayne Lapierre and put it in it’s common-sense, historical perspective, we can move forward with limiting the sale of assault-style guns prominently used in mass shootings like the AR-15 and other deadly weapons commonly found within police SWAT teams and our armed forces, without giving credence to the unfounded fear that one’s right to own a gun for hunting and self-protection in their home is being taken away.
The 4th and final article on this series will deal with the toughest issue of all. How to break out of the culture of violence we have developed over the last two and half centuries