As a former teacher of high school American History, I studied the formation of the Articles of Confederation, its abandonment, and the formation of the Constitution. I also was curious about the Bill of Rights and the reasoning behind one of them in particular — the Second Amendment, to wit:
“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.”
I had always thought that because the infant U.S. feared an invasion by England after winning its independence, the 2nd amendment was ratified to provide additional security against England. Also, many “lived off the land” and the use of firearms for the killing of game for food was taken for granted.
However, in a recent U.C. Davis Law Review article “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” Roger Williams University School of Law Professor Carl T. Bogus offers a thesis that about the writing of the Second Amendment:
“James Madison wrote the Second Amendment to assure the southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, which were then the principal instruments of slave control throughout the South.”
If the thesis is correct, the history of the writing of the Second Amendment is important for two reasons.
First, it supports the view that the amendment does not grant individuals a right to keep and bear arms for their own purposes; rather it only protects the right to bear arms within the militia, as defined within the main body of the Constitution, under the joint control of the federal and state governments. At the time, the southern states extensively regulated their militias and prescribed their slave control responsibilities.
Second, the hidden history is important because it fundamentally changes how we think about the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment takes on an entirely different complexion when, instead of being symbolized by a musket in the hands of a minuteman, it is associated with a musket in the hands of a slave holder.
So much for Madison’s possible motives.
Where the Supreme Court Stands:
The only Supreme Court ruling in U.S. history prior to this decade that has focused primarily on the issue of what the Second Amendment really means is U.S. v. Miller (1939), which is also the last time the Court examined the amendment in any serious way. In Miller, the Court affirmed a median interpretation holding that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, but only if the arms in question are those that would be useful as part of a citizen militia. Or maybe not; interpretations vary, partly because Miller is not an exceptionally well-written ruling.
The D.C. Handgun Case and District of Columbia v. Heller:
In Parker v. District of Columbia (March 2007), the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Washington, D.C.’s handgun ban on grounds that it violates the Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to bear arms. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller.
District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), was a landmark case in which the Supreme Court held that the 2nd amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for private use within the home.
So, there we have it. Firearms for private use within the home are constitutional. Bad decision. It could be reversed in the future.
It is estimated that there are upwards of 70,000,000 handguns in the U.S. A National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms (NSPOF), conducted in 1994, indicates that Americans own 192 million guns, with 36% of these consisting of rifles, 34% handguns, 26% shotguns, and 4% of other types of long guns.
There are three handguns produced every minute in the U.S. Four people are killed every hour by firearms in our country.
It is estimated that today there is a known firearm for everyone of its over 300,000,000 citizens.
Now I ask you — isn’t that overkill? Who the heck needs a gun for every man, woman, and child? Nuts. Absolutely nuts. Handguns should be the domain of law enforcement officials and the military. Period.
We have paid an enormous price in loss of life in out government because of handguns. Four U.S. presidents have been assassinated while in office: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. Three of the incidents involved handguns and one involved a rifle.
Presidents Jackson and Truman were uninjured during assassination attempts, as was President Ford in two separate attempts only a few weeks apart. President Reagan survived an assassination attempt and President Teddy Roosevelt was shot and wounded during the 1912 presidential campaign.
Bobby Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were killed with firearms. Rep. Gabby Giffords is recovering from a handgun bullet that went through her brain… I could go on.
The central argument used today for handguns is self and property protection. Two incidents of which I am familiar where that was used occurred in our area. In both instances the protector of property who resorted to use (in one case, the handgun was only displayed) was hauled into court, being charged by local prosecutor for inappropriate use of a firearm. Use a registered handgun to defend yourself, your family, or your property? Expect YOUR day in court.
The argument is always made that if handguns were declared illegal is that criminals would find a way to get them anyway. That is probably true, but if life in prison were a mandatory penalty for use of a handgun in a robbery or attempted homicide, that might curb their use.
Efforts have been made to entice handgun owners to turn them in for a cash reward. Several states and municipalities have had varying success with such plans. Money spent on a national “Handgun Roundup” campaign would be worth it. Outlawing them by legislation might take a decade or more. Enforcement would be difficult, certainly.
In the U.S. for 2006, there were 30,896 deaths from firearms, handguns being far and away the most used. Death tally: Suicide 16,883; Homicide 12,791; Accident 642; Legal Intervention 360; Undetermined 220. This makes firearms one of the top ten causes of death in the U.S.
I have no issue with shotguns or rifles used for sport or hunting. Many a small pest that have begun to chew up my garden crops have felt the fatal sting of my 12-gauge shotgun formerly owned by my grandfather.
Criminalizing ownership or possession of handguns by private citizens would no doubt lead to an illegal underground gun business. Big problem. Although I know my opinion to many is quixotic, how many more deaths do we have to endure before this country’s legal system gets rid of this plague? When does the possession of handguns become a moral issue? I think that history shows it already has become one.