The Second Amendment isn’t exclusively about guns, though most people don’t realize that. Yes, guns are mentioned in the text, and through tortured readings over the decades, courts and advocates have reached the conclusion that the Second Amendment provides everyone a right to own weapons.
But the Second Amendment is actually more about maintaining a militia at a time when the country did not have a standing army. It’s about the understanding that defense of the nation was important to all citizens and that those citizens might be needed if an external or internal enemy decided to attack.
Here’s the full text: “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 first words of the amendment are about a militia, not about weapons. That’s the gist of the justification for allowing people to own guns. And arguably, that right disappeared once a standing army was created. Of course, courts (and even original constructionists) haven’t seen it that way. But that’s what was in the minds of the framers when they drafted the Constitution.
Even if we concede that the right still exists, it is not an absolute right. Just as folks can’t yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, just as pornographers can’t peddle filth involving children, there are restrictions inherent in all constitutional rights granted.
What would be so horrible about banning semi-automatic weapons or devices that turn them into fully automatic weapons? What harm would befall society if background checks were required for every gun purchase?
The NRA and its more vocal members, of course, see things differently. They believe we have the right to defend ourselves and there are times, they say, when a plain old shotgun just isn’t enough protection. Well, we may be getting closer to those times now, but that’s because more and more people are buying these military style weapons.
Even in the old West – places like Dodge City and Tombstone – weapons were not allowed. They had to be checked at the edge of town or with the sheriff’s office. Gun laws today are far more lenient. Yet they’re not lenient enough for some. A few prefer that everybody be allowed to carry concealed weapons all the time everywhere.
Fear consumes these people. They see potential danger in every situation and they think that having a gun will protect them. I’m sure they’re right – nearly one percent of the time. But mostly, having guns just leads to an increased risk of gun violence: suicides, accidental shootings, sudden impulses of tragic rage.
I’m not advocating for eliminating guns – just common sense restrictions. But the NRA thinks any restrictions are too many. And that’s a tragedy that will lead to further tragedies.
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