The second amendment to the US constitution is very clear. It was inserted into the constitution in 1789 at a time when there was widespread suspicion of the Federal government. Many felt that the individual States needed the possibility to protect themselves against tyranny and they were probably right.
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.
That’s what it says, and to me it seems very plain and unambiguous. It provides for the need to raise a State militia, and it does so by conferring a right to keep and bear arms. It says nothing about keeping a gun for personal protection.
Now, to read some of the replies to my post on the subject here last week before the awful events at Blacksburg, you would think the second amendment was Holy Writ instead of a political clause inserted by men fearful of centralised government.
A couple of things strike me about it.
Firstly, it’s a complete anachronism, appropriate to the eighteenth century but entirely impractical today. What would happen in reality if any individual State raised a militia against the federal government? Well, it already happened in 1861, and the federal government waged a war of such destruction and terror against the insurgent States that the consequences reverberate to the present day.
That was then. That was before F16 jets, Bradley fighting vehicles, depleted Uranium bullets, Cruise missiles, A-10 Warthog tank-busters, spy satellites and gigantic aircraft carriers. With horse and musket and cannon, the federal government laid waste to the South. Imagine what a federal government today would do to an insurgent State. And no bearded militia armed with Kalashnikovs and knives would withstand the onslaught for a day. If you think the violence in Iraq is savage, it would be nothing compared to the vengeance that any uprising would provoke in the United States.
Therefore, the second amendment seems to me to be obsolete and pointless.
Secondly, what is meant by arms? In 1789, the word would have meant muzzle-loading muskets, but today you have people walking around with Uzis and AK47s. Where are the limits? For instance, is there a right to own a field artillery piece? Or a B-52 bomber? What about a nuclear missile? A battleship. Don’t laugh: these are all arms.
Thirdly, it seems plain to me as an objective outsider that it was never intended as a personal civil right. If the intention was to guarantee the individual a right to bear arms, it would have said this:
The right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
That would have been clear, plain and unambiguous, but it doesn’t say that. It qualifies the right by placing it in the context of raising a militia.
Now, the other issue is the law in individual States. As I understand it, you can go to a gun show in Virginia and buy any weapon on sale – there and then – for cash, provided you’re over 18. There’s no background check. There’s no delay. Here’s your assault rifle, Sir. Have a nice day. (Admittedly, it isn’t completely unregulated: you can’t buy more than one weapon a month, which is something to be grateful for, I suppose).
So, even if they kept the second amendment, the individual States could tighten up their gun laws.
But what’s it all about anyway? What’s this business of wanting to carry automatic weapons around with you? I don’t get it, but looking back through the years, I’d probably have loved it when I was eight.
They say, Well, we need to protect ourselves from the bad guys, and you have to agree there’s a big problem with gun-crime over there. Guns are everywhere, and all the bad guys are armed, so what’s the answer? Is it to arm the whole population, or is it to take away the guns from everyone? Are the people armed so that they can do the work of the police, or should the police be better resourced so that people don’t have to keep automatic weapons?
I don’t know. It seems to me that if the US government can afford to spend $20 million an hour on the Iraq war, you’d imagine they could afford to take on and disarm their own home-grown criminals, wouldn’t you?
I really think Moses was wrong about this one.