The 2nd Amendment of the Unites States Constitution – The Debate

7 Mar

The Second Amendment of the United States of America Constitution:

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.

There is an ongoing national debate over the purpose and the relevance of the Second amendment. Due to the high incidence of crime from gun violence in recent years, this debate is rightfully justified. The country witnessed massacres across college campuses, high schools, and even elementary schools (recall that PA Amish community shooting). Guns were even used to kill dozens of people at various shopping malls around the country. But perhaps the biggest problem with guns revolves around inner cities where gang members and hoodlums use guns to kill each other and innocent bystanders at very alarming rates.

With this being the setting for the national debate on gun control, it is time that Seth and I formed an opinion on the matter that will hopefully address this issue in a thoughtful and meaningful way. In order to do so, we have researched many popular and unpopular opinions that we considered when writing this piece. Enjoy.

-Ray

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Ray: Because there are many opinions on the issue of gun control already circulating out there in the world, I will choose to make my opinion short, potent, and to the point. Here it is:

Every law abiding citizen should be allowed to carry a gun in order to protect themselves from a myriad of various perils. The 2nd Amendment was not written as rule of that particular day, but it was intentionally meant to serve as a clause that protects citizens from their government. Don’t you remember how afraid of tyranny the founding fathers were? You should also know that tyranny is the state of being under the influence of an oppressive power, not necessarily a government (keep that in mind).

A wise man once said that the 1st Amendment was written to give us our rights and the 2nd Amendment was written to protect them. To this affect, I must agree.

I would also like to point out that the guns are not responsible for the deaths of people, but it is the people themselves who are responsible. The undeniable truth is that human beings have been killing each other since the first family as describe in the Bible. In other words, be eliminating guns, you do not eliminate the element of human nature where murder is a fact of life. It can’t be swept under the rug. We can’t deny this truth so we must learn to deal with it.

The other obvious point in this debate is that LAW ABIDING CITIZENS DON’T COMMIT THE CRIMES, THE CRIMINALS DO. By making guns illegal, you’re only hurting the people who don’t commit crimes. By definition, a criminal is someone who has no or little regard for the law and breaks it. In other words, by making guns illegal you don’t stop the criminals from getting guns. Instead, you disarm the law abiding citizens that would otherwise protect themselves from these criminals. I would like to go one step further and say that criminals are fully aware that an overwhelming majority of their victims do not carry weapons of self defense.

In a practical situation, I imagine myself with a family in a nice sized home. I’d have a loving wife and several adorable children. I can not fathom a scenario where someone would break into my home with the intent to harm and terrorize my family and I wasn’t able to protect them. Those who scream for gun control would say that I should call the police. If I was to do that, they’d arrive to a gruesome scene of a slaughtered family. However, if I am allowed to carry a weapon according to my rights in the 2nd Amendment, then that bad guy goes down and my family will be saved. Honestly, that’s how I think of this law whenever there’s a debate. I MUST have the right to protect myself and my family. That’s not debatable.

What is debatable is to what extent there shouild be gun regulation. I remember one idea from Chris Rock who said, “All bullets should cost $5,000… there’s be no innocent bystanders.” As funny as that is, I think that’s a viable option. Just think about it. Another solution is what many politicians are already considering which is updating the registration process to include accurate and real-time information about gun owners. If you don’t think that’s the issue, chew on this: in all of the gun crimes in New York, 98% of the guns used came from out of state (according to Fox News). Registration reform is important because it will allow us to keep better tabs on the guns, bullets, buyer, and seller of ALL weapons.

My final solution is to significantly increase the penalty for being caught with an illegal fire-arm, using an illegal fire-arm to commit a crime, and selling/giving a registered fire-arm to an unregistered person. I’m talking 20 year prison sentence minimums. It’s time to get tough on these criminally minded fools. I would also charge all gang-members with charges of DOMESTIC TERRORISM because essentially, that’s what it is. It’s not right that law abiding, tax paying citizens are being terrorized in their communities and they deserve better.

In fact, I would like to reiterate a concept that many Americans still don’t fully understand. That is, you can’t fix problems by ignoring the symptoms. Gun violence is a direct result of a number of issues this country is facing starting with a broken education system. There are also medical, economic, and lobbyist components that contribute to the abuse of the right to bear arms. My argument stands in line with the idea that you don’t stop teen pregnancy by banning sex, you don’t stop illegal drug use by enacting a ‘War On Drugs’, and you don’t stop murders and accidents by banning guns. The onus is on the will of the individual to make better decisions and the country to raise it’s moral standards.

Finally, I would just like to mention that Barack Obama (he better win), Hillary Clinton, and John McCain all support the 2nd Amendment and agree that the registration process of guns should be addressed, but the right to own guns is indeed, a right. It should also be noted that most gun control advocates aren’t in favor of disbanding the 2nd Amendment, but they would rather slow the process of acquiring a gun by adding more stipulations. There is also the issue of Gun Free Zones which is adequately explained here http://youtube.com/watch?v=vlLdWOMPdvs .

Laws Don’t prevent crimes, they only provide the means by which to punish the criminals. Either all guns disappear, or we all have the right to bear arms in a lawful and well documented manner. I think the latter is more likely to happen.

That’s my view. You can’t depend on security guards or police to protect you 24 hours a day. Criminals will use guns rather or not they are banned so why put law-abiding citizens at a disadvantage? If criminals knew that the odds of their next victim carrying a weapon was high, they would think twice before committing a crime. See Texas and Nevada crime rates for details.

P.S. – Sorry that it wasn’t short after all. I guess it’s all relative.

*************************************************

Ray, I can’t tell you how excited I am that we disagree on this issue. In no terms will this be short, and I think you may have opened somewhat of a can of worms. Let the debate begin.

We are a nation of laws.

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is perhaps the single most debated clause of American legislation today. It is hard to say what it definitively states, but its most common use is the regulation – or prohibition thereof – of guns. Groups both in favor of and opposed to restricting the right to “keep and bear arms” use it to defend their position. The Amendment today reads:

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.

If you read that and were somewhat confused by the sentence structure, you understand the problem with this Amendment, but the confusion doesn’t end there. On top of that, there is another commonly used and interchangeable version of the Second Amendment. The differences are in capitalization and punctuation, but it further exemplifies the difficulty surrounding this debate. These slight changes have the ability to change the interpretation of the Second Amendment.

You can blame the problems understanding the Amendment on our public school system today. The beginning of the Second Amendment is written with what is called an ablative absolute construction. This type of phrase is common in Latin, a language whose rules our founding fathers were eminently familiar with. Removing the first comma, the above version becomes more easily understood. Well what does it mean then? As I read it, a more simple translation of the Second Amendment reads:

Because a well regulated militia is necessary to the sovereignty and security of a nation, and because the citizens will make up the militia, the right of the citizens of that nation to have and use weapons for that militia shall not be infringed.

Now this is where the debate begins. It seems to me that the right of the citizens to keep and use weapons is inextricably tied to their function as part of the militia. When the Bill of Rights was drafted there was a heavy debate about the need and potential harm of a standing army to the nation. Today there isn’t a second thought about it, but we have to remember that this was a time when people were fiercely suspicious of governments and their potential for tyrannical rule, thus the need for a Bill of Rights to protect people from the government.

If you look at the evolution of the clause and also the history of the right to own a weapon in English common law, written law, and tradition (in all of which we find the origination of our laws), the relationship between participating in the militia and the need for weapons is clear. For further clarification, I have below posted the Senate’s final draft that was sent to the House. Because people make up the militia, and a militia needs weapons, the government will not prohibit people from having weapons. Furthermore, the phrase “bear arms” is historically tied to the idea of military service and national defense.

A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

I’ll now move on to Ray’s views. I agree that the Second Amendment was written to protect our rights, but from enemies foreign, not domestic. I also agree that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. When Ray talks about law abiding citizens being victims of making guns illegal, I disagree. Everyone in society will benefit [from a ban on weapons].

If you don’t know stats for homicide rates by gun, by nation, look them up. We kill more people per capita in the U.S. than any other nation. Here in Philadelphia we have a serious gun problem. Because there is a large rural population in this state, guns laws are lax and there is easy access to them. However, as I hold a degree in Criminal Justice, I know that most people who are killed by firearms know their killer, and are associated themselves in illegal activities. And here, people who have guns don’t care if you have one because they’re going to kill you first. We have to make guns illegal, and drastically increase the penalties for possession of them. By the way I am opposed to your views on mandatory minimums – they suck.

The argument for the ability to protect your family is one that I can’t say I feel differently than you about. However, having guns in the home is a very dangerous proposition. A study of 626 shootings in or around a residence in three U.S. cities shows that for every time a gun was used justifiably for self-defense, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides and eleven attempted or successful suicides. Guns anywhere are just a bad idea.

That said, and taking into consideration America’s affinity for weapons we have to create realistic solutions. Ray, you offer great ones in terms of higher prison sentences and making bullets cost-prohibitive. There is an idea that every bullet can be tracked so we know exactly who bought it and used it. Just as guns are useless without people, they are also useless without bullets. If there is tighter control and we can assure people can’t get them illegally, we will be a lot closer to solving the problem. In his book Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama mentions this (he better win!).

There does need to be a stronger and more effective registration law to update the Brady Bill which only covers dealers licensed by the Treasury Dept. States with shall issue gun laws are the least restrictive, allowing those who meet minimal requirements (background checks, residency, and age, sometimes a safety class) to purchase guns without restrictions. Also, the types of automatic weapons that are available for purchase are ridiculous.

For me, it comes down to this: We are a nation of laws. I think the powerful gun lobby and those with like-minds have seriously misunderstood the spirit and the letter of the Second Amendment. If we’re going to have guns in this nation, let’s do it the right way, the safe way, and the legal way. Second, criminals can take guns everywhere. I really won’t feel safe if good-intentioned, law abiding citizens are carrying them as well because accidents will happen. You want to see innocent people shot, then let people carry guns freely.

My favorite TV show is The West Wing. At the end of season one, the president was shot after speaking at a town hall meeting. This is what Press Secretary CJ Cregg said following that incident, and I think it bears importance in this discussion:

“There were 36 homicides last night, 480 sexual assaults, 3,685 aggravated assaults, all at gun point. And if anyone thinks those crimes could have been prevented if the victims themselves had been carrying guns, I only remind you that the President of the United States was shot last night while surrounded by the best-trained armed guards in the history of the world.”

Lastly, Ray you refer to your future “adorable children.” I don’t know how many of our readers know you, but for your children to be anywhere near normal looking, you had better marry Halle Berry.

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5 Responses to “The 2nd Amendment of the Unites States Constitution – The Debate”

  1. StarrySky March 9, 2008 at 5:12 am #

    Seth,

    I have read your response to Ray’s comments and I must say I am incredibly disappointed on a variety of levels. Your piece is not only pompous but extremely misleading for readers and I shall explain why.

    To begin with, Seth, you attempt to fool readers with the idea that you are a grammar genius with the discussion about commas and “ablative absolute construction.” Unfortunately, you fail to cite the New York Times editorial that you plagiarized that entire argument (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/opinion/16freedman.html). This fact alone discredits your ability to successfully argue for either side of this issue and I for one, will tell you right now that I feel you owe readers an apology. I’m not trying to insult you or defer the importance of the issue at hand, but your theft of Adam Freedman’s idea(s) is seriously unprofessional.

    Yet, Mr. Freedman’s ideas are quite interesting. The problem is, during Supreme Court considerations, Justices are charged with evaluating previous rulings while keeping in mind the “original intent” of the founders. I find it curious that that very common term was no where to be found in your argument (or Ray’s for that matter). Indeed, the construction of the 2nd Amendment is confusing and for that reason we must defer to the writings and notes of the authors. Many of the founding fathers keep diaries and notebooks regarding their beliefs on these subjects. Primary historical documents suggest that the founding fathers were trying to protect militias but that these militias would be separate from the U.S. Military structure. They would be constructed of average people with their own weaponry – hence, the reasoning for protecting private ownership.

    Of course, the “original intent” story ignores the outstanding arguments for private gun ownership. Many of these arguments are tied to the threats of domestic tyranny that Ray cites, yet I believe that you (Seth) dismiss these concepts way too casually. One of the most egregious anti-democratic displays of the 20th Century was the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. Tanks were used in defense of the oppressive Chinese government and the protesters were defenseless…Why?…private gun ownership is outlawed. Imagine a similar situation in this country…it’s not too difficult. And private gun ownership remains the deterrent to that possibility.

    Regarding your final comments about increasing the cost of bullets – the price of bullets has actually increased by a significant amount since the beginning of the war in Iraq and further industrialization by China & India (copper jackets on bullets, copper electrical wires in China/India). Yet, we see no significant difference in gun crime. With unlimited time and space, I would argue that gun crimes are directly proportional to the economy and employment figures – many scholars would agree with me. Yet, because I am getting rather long-winded here, I will attempt to address some of the specific points in your argument.

    Toward the end of your commentary, you cite the need to “update” the Brady Bill. For those of you unfamiliar with the Brady Bill, it was named after White House staff member James Brady who took a bullet for Reagan during the failed 1981 attempt on the President’s life by John Hinckly. A major component of the Brady Bill was almost immediately ruled unconstitutional for it’s violation of federalism and the 10th Amendment because it required the states to conduct lengthy background checks to comply with the federal law. The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that this section could not be enforced but that states were welcome to continue conducting them but this became a non-issue when the Gun Control Act of 1998 required Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers to check if the buyer is eligible to own a gun. The Virginia Tech shooter passed his background check according to CNN and the purchase was unremarkable according to the shop owner. In the end…the Brady Bill did not prevent the VT shootings…even if the background check were longer and more in-depth, it would not have prevented this incident and many others. What really burns me up is your final statement in that paragraph – “Also, the types of automatic weapons that are available for purchase are ridiculous.”

    Sorry, Seth…I’m confused…what automatic weapons? Since the passage of the 1986 Firearm Owners Protection Act, there haven’t been any new automatic weapons on the public market! With that said, most automatic weapons cost upwards of $10,000 (how about that for out-pricing gun ownership?!)! Of course, an automatic Mac-10 can be purchased for $3,000 but I highly doubt any street-level criminal has the funds for that sort of purchase and to prove that – a published work has demonstrated that none of the registered automatic weapons in this country has ever been linked to a crime (Kruschke, Earl R. (1995). Gun control: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, p. 85. ISBN 0-87436-695-X.).

    But what about the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (FAWB)? You never mentioned this, but I’m sure – given the chance – you will. Many people on your side of the argument, a long with members of the media and the government will simplify the issue by saying – “If we still had the FAWB, crime crimes could have be prevented.” First let’s discuss what the FAWB did. Passed as a part of a crime control bill as a knee-jerk reaction to the crack-dealing violence of the late 80s and early 90, FAWB created a category of firearms known as “assault weapons” and prohibited their manufacture. “Assault weapons” were defined by their cosmetic features, which often included features that made them look like military weapons. None of these weapons were automatic – as fully automatic weapons have been restricted since the 1930s (which you neglect to inform your readers) – but just standard semi-automatic weapons…meaning, one trigger pull – one bullet. These physical features did not necessarily pertain to their deadliness…for example, weapons with bayonet mounts were banned (When did you ever hear of a drive-by bayoneting?). As I mentioned earlier, the manufacture of large capacity magazines were also banned along with these “dangerous guns,” but “pre-ban” magazines and guns were permitted. Simply the creation of new high capacity magazines and scary-looking guns was banned – nothing more. Of course, the price of the banned weapons went up considerably. The Republican-controlled Congress and President Bush allowed the ban to lapse to make sure they got the NRA vote in 2004.

    Even with the FAWB, you could still easily purchase a .50 caliber hunting rifle which was much more accurate and deadly than any of the weapons banned by the bill. Furthermore, most of the weapons that were covered in that bill were cheap, inaccurate weapons most likely to be in the hands of someone black, young and poor…but were rarely used in killings (specifically the much detested “drive-by shootings”). These guns were made infamous by their use in rap music videos and movies like “Menace 2 Society” and films of the sort. With that said, the FAWB was a racist and classist attack on the type of weapons that were associated with minorities and poor people.

    Your favorite show might be the West Wing…but that’s a fantasy world. I live in the real world where guns a fact of life and need to be treated rationally with strict safety courses and training requirements. Flashy talk about the perils of “assault weapons” and debates about commas are not going to solve anything.

  2. Seth March 11, 2008 at 11:59 pm #

    Wow.

    First, thanks StarrySky for reading our blog, and taking the time to write your comment. It is lengthy and I won’t be able to address/refute all of your claims that I disagree with, but I will comment on those that were mentioned in my argument.

    Regarding the NY Times article: I did not plagiarize. I rarely read the Times, and had never seen the article before you brought it to my attention. Any scholarly (not to implicate that I myself am a scholar) discussion of the Second Amendment will indubitably include an analysis of the language. I will never claim to be an expert about anything, certainly not the Constitution. Neither am I a grammar genius. If you continue to read the blog, that much will become evident, if it has not already.

    During my undergraduate career, I took a number of classes in which the Constitution and the challenges Supreme Court Justices face while interpreting that document face were discussed. I can tell you that “original intent” is not the only method of interpretation if not only for the fact that the founders themselves disagreed on the meanings of every possible clause in the Constitution. That is evidenced by the final Senate version, and the final House version, both of which I used in my argument. That takes us to the textualist approach which seeks to find meaning solely in the words written. This is can be unreliable as well. You’ve got people who prefer to examine the text in light of the context it was written in, or those who think the Constitution is a living document able to be applied differently in different circumstances. There is no one accepted method of interpretation; even the principle of stare decisis (accepting precedent) isn’t always followed. The ability of the Supreme Court to even rule on the Constitutionality or legality of legislation or governmental acts isn’t found in the Constitution, the document from which the Court receives its authority.

    Next, your argument about domestic terrorism. I stated I believe that the 2nd Amendment was written to protect us from foreign enemies, in that it ensures Americans will be armed and able to fight to defend the nation. Forgive me sir, but I am incredulous to the thought that an armed populace would have prevented the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Surely, you do not believe that the highly trained, well equipped Army of the United States could ever be overcome by an army of citizens with pistols and hunting rifles. While I run the risk of being indignant and pompous, I must say your argument is silly.

    I won’t get much into your talk of the Brady Bill and the FAWB but to say that the Brady Bill is generally ineffective, and I am not sure that the Supreme Court will even allow much federal restriction concerning guns in the first place. I advocate for federal legislation because I see the difficult position state legislatures are in concerning keeping guns off the street and out of the hands of criminals while balancing the “right” of hunters and the like to have weapons. The nuances of the Brady Bill and FAWB make a concise debate is impossible, so I won’t go into that any further.

    Lastly, concerning the West Wing quote, I used it to demonstrate a point. By the way I was hoping readers would make the connection between the quote and the attempt on Reagan’s life that spawned the Brady Bill. Secondly, while I advocate for “realistic solutions,” my over-arching point concerning guns is that having them does very little to prevent crime. In a recent discussion with Ray I put it this way: We need to get rid of all guns. They are like nuclear weapons; with them around no one is safe and Iran will retain adequate justification to develop their own. Their [the guns’] presence only increases the chances that they will be used in a harmful way which is more often the case.

    Again, thanks for reading and commenting. Your thoughts add value and will hopefully inform other readers. Please continue to contribute. The only negative about your dissent is that I became the issue, which could have distracted from the subject.

  3. David April 1, 2008 at 6:49 am #

    Seth,

    What part of “shall not be infringed” don’t you understand? Also, why are you quibbling over whether the 2nd Amendment applies to individuals or is really some “collective” right?. Surely you’re not advocating that the term “people” in the other parts of the Constitution really don’t apply to “people” but rather mean some “collective” right?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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