Column: Purpose of 2nd Amendment?

Los Alamos

In what’s apparently been an ongoing Second Amendment discussion in the Daily Post, Chick Keller asks “A careful reading shows that the (2nd) amendment uses for its justification of personal possession of guns, the necessity for a “well-armed militia.” Since we no longer have (or need) such a militia, hasn’t that reasoning gone away, and haven’t we returned to a state where individual possession is no longer necessary?” Mr. Keller further opines “This might not mean that people can’t have guns, but it would mean that their right to “bear arms” is no longer supported by the Constitution.”

Interesting question. I’m not convinced the “well regulated militia” (actual Constitutional wording) doesn’t exist, as it has morphed into a National Guard. The Guard itself draws on the general population, as the Founders desired. The Federal Government established the Civilian Marksmanship Program in 1903 in the hopes that we could ensure new recruits or conscripts could shoot straight and know the muzzle from the breech of a 1903 Springfield rifle. This program has more recently been redefined by Public Law 104-106, (10 February 1996) which created the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety.

The Second Amendment has far less to do with defending one’s self against crooks, blue helmets, or black helicopters, as some would assert, and more to do with the separation of powers. Some have suggested that self defense and putting food on the table are such basic human rights that the Founders would not have considered these as needing protection. The 2nd’s basis was in a broadly disseminated militia to be called on in defense of the nation or state in support of a limited standing army. Its never been considered an unlimited right to own any gun for any reason, even by the current conservative Supreme Court.

So, if some folks don’t think that the Constitutional context for private gun ownership is relevant due to our large standing army, military industrial complex, and drone warfare, does that mean the public’s right to keep and bear arms under the 2nd Amendment is no longer supported by the Constitution?

I’m not sure I buy into the idea that we can casually dispense with portions of the Bill of Rights merely because they don’t seem relevant to some of us. If the public no longer values the 2nd Amendment, it can do what is right and proper: repeal or modify it. That has been done with the 18th Amendment (Prohibition), which was repealed with the 21st. Such a mechanism is far less ambiguous to the public, the courts, Congress, or the Executive Branch.

That said, the 2nd Amendment is not only clear in its statement that the people own the right to keep and bear arms as the underpinnings of a well regulated militia, but it is symbolic of a distribution of power away from a central Federal authority. Many Conservatives value it for not only its literal empowerment of the citizen owning a gun, but in its distrust of a Federal authority owning all the guns. I don’t think that notion is going to go away any time soon, and indeed, may be inflamed by thoughts of removing 2nd Amendment protections. Perhaps we need to find a less polarizing way to solve our gun violence problem than by scrubbing the Bill of Rights of one of its ten amendments.