Friday, December 28, 2012

Repeal the 2nd Amendment

If Thomas Jefferson wasn't in Paris from 1784 to 1789, we probably wouldn't be having the discussions we are having now about the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.  James Madison, the author of the Bills of Rights, had a great legal mind, but was not the writer that Jefferson was.  The original intent would be clearer. We deal the consequences today and still battle over its meaning.  

It is difficult to understand what was originally meant by the 2nd Amendment.  More than one version of the text exists, Congress approved one version, while the states approved another one. The image of the text that the Library of Congress has on file has only one comma.  

"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."
This version implies that the individuals have a right to bear arms for their own use. This is the version that the states ratified.  But if you look at the amendment now, with the comma that was added by Congress (upon federal government ratification), it could have a different meaning.  
"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."
As an English major, I have a problem with the interpretation of this as protecting the rights of  individuals as opposed to that of a militia.  The comma between "Militia" and "being" makes "Militia" the subject of the sentence.  With "Militia" being the subject, this makes "shall not be infringed" the verb. The simple structure of the sentence is this:  "a militia shall not be infringed." This is a moot point, of course, the Supreme Court has ruled a number of times on this.

The problem with this discussion is that the original intent of the founding fathers is irrelevant. When the Bill of Rights was written, the most powerful weapon available was a musket. It had one shot, it was difficult to aim and took about a minute to reload. They feared a tyrannical government so the ability to defend yourself against that government was important.  But once your government has nuclear weapons and drones, shouldn't the idea of arming yourself against the government be shelved. The Constitution is a living document. Jefferson believed that we should throw it out every twenty years.  You don't have to delve deep to know what he thought on this subject. You just need to look at this quote written in stone on the Jefferson Memorial:
But I know also, that 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. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
The original intent argument is the nonsense that the right wing likes to cling because progress scares them.  We are a new age wearing the tattered rags of an old paranoia that is no longer relevant.  

Oddly enough, gun ownership in America is down ... that is, less people and households own guns. With more and more of our society becoming urban, less people hunt. This is the scary stat:  we have more guns than ever.  What that means is that those who own guns, own a lot of them. People are stockpiling them. I am not suggesting that everyone that owns guns is a raving mad lunatic ranting about the Federal Reserve or Socialism, but I am saying that there is sufficient evidence that some of them are. Enough so that taking political action is not unreasonable.  

We need to repeal the Second Amendment and rewrite it to be more clear and modern. We can protect people's right to own a rifle for hunting and/or a handgun for personal protection while  also protecting us from more dangerous weapons. I used to think that we could live with the Second Amendment the way it is now, but when you see that first graders are being shot in their schools and firemen are being shot from rooftops, then I think that it is time to stop being so timid about this. Being reasonable and polite isn't working, it is time to be unreasonable and rude. Like most progress, the lack of political will stands in the way. The horror of Newtown is waning.  We need to keep talking about it.  If we cannot do this after these events, then we are doomed. I don't want to have to arm myself to go to the mall, a movie theater or when I go into work.  None of us should.  It is time we wrapped this old man into a well fit coat.

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