Sunday, January 20, 2008

Second Amendment: Clear As Mud

Saturday’s TD published the letter “Second Amendment Isn’t Hard to Understand.” ( As I’ve mentioned before, the TD publishes a whole lot of letters interpreting the Second Amendment as guaranteeing your right and mine to own and bear AK-47s, Uzis and other killing machines. And they all opine that the amendment is crystal clear on its face. Our writer today is no different. After quoting the amendment (although not without adding her own words) our writer asks “Why are the words ‘shall not be infringed’ so difficult to understand in 2008?” So our writer not only adds to the language of the amendment but also interprets only a part of it. I could reply to the writer “Why are the words ‘A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State’ so easy to ignore in 2008.”

What our writer is unwilling to recognize is that the Second Amendment is not as clear as she says. Interpreting it without knowing the context in which it was proposed and ratified may just produce the wrong conclusion. She needs to realize that our founding generation was deathly afraid of standing armies. As British citizens, they surely knew that it was only about a century since Oliver Cromwell had used Britain’s “New Model Army” with its red uniforms to overthrow the king and have himself installed as Lord Protector. They also knew that the kings in Europe, including their beloved George III, maintained power by keeping large standing armies to protect them. Even during our Revolution there were many Americans who feared George Washington’s Continental Army as a force that could impose a new tyranny after ousting the British. Militias of the people, however, could provide for the national and state defense without the dangers of a standing army.

The first statement of what later became the Second Amendment was contained as Article XIII of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. It read,

That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.

The phrase “That the people have a right to keep and bear arms” was added to this language in 1788 by the Virginia constitutional ratifying convention in its proposed bill of rights. The New York convention broke up the right into three paragraphs:

That the People have a right to keep and bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, including the body of the People capable of bearing Arms, is the proper, natural and safe defence of a free State;
That the Militia should not be subject to Martial Law except in time of War, Rebellion or Insurrection.
That standing Armies in time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and ought not to be kept up, except in Cases of necessity; and that at all times, the Military should be under strict Subordination to the civil Power.

When James Madison submitted his version of the Bill of Rights to the Congress in 1789 the provision was close to its final language,

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

The final version, adopted by the Congress and then sent to the states for ratification, reversed the order of the first two clauses and dropped the conscientious objector provision.

To me it is clear that the right to keep and bear arms must be read in conjunction with the founding generation’s determination to rely on militias, rather than a standing army, for national defense. Certainly the right to bear arms is a right of the people, not the state or federal governments. On the other hand, the right was clearly intended to guarantee the existence of militias, not for any other purpose. Further, the fact that we now are perfectly comfortable maintaining a standing army, navy, air force and marine corps and that our state militias have been themselves formalized into National Guards and Reserve components, could lead one to the conclusion that the right to bear arms for the purpose of maintaining a strong national defense is no longer relevant in 2008.


Paul Hammond said...

You can have my rocket proprelled grenade launcher when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.

Cargosquid said...

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.

The above amendment states, in MY opinion, that the citizens of the United States have the right to bear arms. The purpose of the right is to provide for the security of their freedom. And since unorganized mobs tend to lose battles to organized forces, the citizens should form well trained militias. In fact, we HAVE THE RESPONSIBILITY to form militias to secure our freedoms and those of our fellow citizens. With all rights come responsibilities. Since part of the the freedom that we enjoy includes the right of being safe in our homes and in our daily lives, carrying weapons for self defense is included.

The militia was always a volunteer force, expected to provide their own weapons, subject to being placed under government control voluntarily, subject to the ability to leave government service under certain conditions. While not as well supplied or trained as regular forces (hence the name "regular"), the LOCAL militia was still armed with the latest weapons affordable, including CREW SERVED WEAPONS. While, admittedly, such cannon were kept in central armories, they were kept there for efficiency, because there were no regulations or laws restricting ownership of cannon.

Militia members were and are not regular military, as the Reserve and Nat'l Guard is now. Every one is in the unorganized militia.
Just because the citizenry of today refuses, for a variety of reasons, to uphold the rights by force of arms is not a reason to repeal the legal protection of said right.

Remember, we have these rights REGARDLESS of the Constitution. The Bill of Rights just enumerates those that are recognized. They are not being "given" to us by the government.

Leif Rakur said...

The Second Amendment was written to guarantee the continued right of the people to keep and bear arms under state laws that provided for well regulated militias. Most men were obliged under such laws – called by Washington “well regulated Militia Laws” -- to arm themselves for militia service. They were required to be enrolled in a specific militia company and to muster for periodic training.

It would have been odd indeed for Madison to have framed the Second Amendment to protect the “right” of the people as individuals to obey their own state militia laws.

The amendment was an instruction to the federal government not to use the Constitution to replace the state militia system with a peacetime standing army – a prospect that had been vigorously opposed by such anti-federalists as Patrick Henry.

Thomas Jefferson, the most prominent of the active proponents of a Bill of Rights, recognized the militia purpose of the Second Amendment. He referred to the amendment as “the substitution of militia for a standing army.” (Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Joseph Priestley, June 19, 1802)

The Second Amendment is silent upon the right of individuals to arms for personal purposes, a subject left to state constitutions and state laws except to the extent that other provisions of the federal Constitution apply.

Flick said...

Bert concluded: "...the fact that we now are perfectly comfortable maintaining a standing army, navy, air force and marine corps and that our state militias have been themselves formalized into National Guards and Reserve components, could lead one to the conclusion that the right to bear arms for the purpose of maintaining a strong national defense is no longer relevant in 2008."

Flick responds: Have you been asleep for the past seven years? Starting soon after the burning of Rome--no, the Reichstag fire--er, I mean the re-supplying of Fort Sumter--um, maybe it’s the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine--no no, the Gulf of Tonkin attack--oh, I’ve got it, the attacks of 9/11, we have seen a slew of blatantly unconstitutional legislation starting with the PATRIOT Act and continuing most recently with the Thought Crime Prevention bill (H.R. 1955).

The 2006 Military Commissions Act allows the president to label anyone an enemy combatant, thus enabling the executive office to imprison anyone for as long as it wishes without trial. The 2007 Warner National Defense Authorization Act did away with Posse Comitatus, which means U.S. military personnel can be used for domestic policing in an "emergency." The U.S. government is sanctioning torture. Giving Democrats control of both houses of Congress in 2006 did nothing to halt this assault on the Constitution, nor will putting a Democrat in the White House in 2009.

America’s two-party system is an illusion; it is a single party. When Democrats are in office, they hack away at the tree of liberty from the left while Republicans point fingers, wave their hands, jump up and down, raise funds, and howl about how awful the Democrats are for attacking liberty. When Republicans get in to office, the Democrats hand the ax to the Republicans. The Republicans then hack away at the tree of liberty from the right while the Democrats raise funds and go through the same motions demonizing the Republicans. Their goal is the same, they work together to accomplish it, and their efforts have nearly paid off. Liberty in America hangs by a thread. Do you think Germans in the 1930s supported Hitler because they were evil people? Wake up and smell the parallels.

I will end with a quote from globalist insider Professor Carroll Quigley from his book, Tragedy and Hope, A History of the World in Our Time: "The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers. Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the American people can throw the rascals out at any election without leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy. Then it should be possible to replace it, every four years if necessary, by the other party, which will be none of these things but will still pursue, with new vigor, approximately the same basic policies."