09 March 2010


“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.”
U.S. Const, Amend 2

In the run-up to and aftermath of the Supreme Court argument in the Chicago gun ban case, McDonald v. Chicago, I heard an anti-gunner refer to the Second Amendment as “the most dangerous amendment.” Then the Philadelphia Inquirer, a champion of the First Amendment, editorialized in the same vein, although it did not use those words. And it got me to wondering. . ..

The document that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 sent to the States for review and ratification was a framework for a central government of limited powers. However, a number of prominent Americans, particularly George Mason of Virginia, one of the drafters of the Constitution, were concerned about the absence in the document of any protections of the fundamental rights of free men. So distressed was he that he refused to sign the document in part because it lacked any provisions specifically protecting explicit States’ rights and individual rights to balance against the significantly increased federal powers conferred upon the proposed central government. Upon his return to Virginia, along with Patrick Henry and other anti-federalists, he pressed for such a statement. The result was a “bill” (or list) of 12 amendments to be taken up by the First Congress which sent them to the States in 1789. Based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason had drafted in 1776, proposals 3 through 12 were ratified by the States by 1791 and are now known to us as "the Bill of Rights."

Allow me to digress. The second proposed amendment, which was also sent to the States in 1789 was finally ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment. That amendment limits the power of Congress to increase the salaries of its members by requiring one election to occur after a pay raise is adopted before it goes into effect. Significantly, Congress has not formally raised its own pay since ratification, taking only occasional “cost of living” increases based on inflation. Those pesky voters might object, eh?

To return to the topic, what is it that makes our liberal friends so fear the Second Amendment, while revering the First and Fourth through Eighth? Why do folks who find a “right of privacy” (never mentioned in the Constitution) which, they claim, “clearly” allows unlimited abortion nonetheless deny the very explicit statement of the Second Amendment?

I suspect that it is for the same reason that one “scholar” on a recent national news program opined that it is “unfair” for small States to have the same number of Senators as, e.g., California, thus enabling 20 small States to block “important, crucial” legislation such as his preference for national single payer health insurance. (Quaere: Has our educational system become so bankrupt as to fail to teach Americans our constitutional history—that the great compromise of 1787 envisioned exactly that result?)

The importance of the Second Amendment to the preservation of our liberties is demonstrated
every time a politician, sadly, usually a member of the Democratic Party, claims to know better what the people need than do individual citizens. That claim of a right of the elitist liberal ruling class to ignore the desires of the people is exactly what the framers knew they had to protect against by adopting the Bill of Rights.

And to ensure that the new federal government was never allowed to usurp the rights of the people, a right of the people to keep and bear arms was essential. After the Revolutionary War, most of the 13 States incorporated into their constitutions a “right of revolution.” The current Constitution of New Hampshire, adopted in 1784, provides in Part I, Article 10 that

Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.
The Constitutions of at least two other States (North Carolina and Tennessee) and 2 Commonwealths (Pennsylvania and Kentucky) still specifically recognize a right of revolution, described in the constitutions of the two commonwealths as “an inalienable and indefeasible right [of the people] to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may deem proper.”

Thus, the Second Amendment is actually the most important, the one that ensures all the others, and the least dangerous to the freedom and rights of the people. It ensures the survival of the protections afforded by the rest of the Constitution.

In 1989, as the Nation celebrated the bi-Centennial of the Constitution, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a ten-day series of articles on the Bill of Rights, one article per day. When it came to the Second Amendment, the writer was a law professor from the University of Pennsylvania. Expecting the worst, I was pleasantly surprised when the author, whose name I cannot find, wrote that the Second Amendment clearly protected an individual right.

In summing up, he wrote (as nearly as I can remember): “We have all seen the bumper sticker that says ‘When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.’ If the Framers had written that bumper sticker, it would read ‘If guns are outlawed, only government will have guns.’ And that scared them a lot more than anything else!”


Reformed Catholic said...

Great post Mac.

My problem with the Second Amendment is how people have taken it to the extreme, where guns of all types are allowed.

IE: .. I feel that there is no need to have any weapon that can be modified from semi-auto, to auto by replacement of a few parts legally sold in the US.

I also feel that any responsible gun owner, would not feel threatened by a law that requires them to report when a gun goes missing or stolen.

Too often 'missing' guns are actually sold for less 'responsible' uses by those who 'lost' them.

Mac said...

Re:semi-auto rifles. Since I have one in the class you mention, I sort of disagree. I know that there are criminals who do illegal conversions, but the solution is for prosecutors to turn them over to the Feds where there is a mandatory additional sentence and then put them in jail. Sadly, they rarely do, opting rather to limit the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. That being said, even limited to my trusty old Mossin-Nagant, Model 1891, from 1000 yards, I could quickly get an already converted weapon if the need ever truly arose.

2. I agree, so long as the law does not require the owner to report the loss as soon as it occurs. Rather, the duty ought to arise duty as soon as the weapon is discovered to be missing. The proposals I have seen here in PA are of the former standard and are designed for their ,in terrorem effect against lawful owners.