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The second amendment means what it says!

In the aftermath of the attempted assassination of President Reagan, Senator Howard Baker was asked if he thought there was a need for stronger gun laws. In answering the question, he made the remark, "...I believe the Second Amendment means what it says...."

What does it say? We've all read it 100 times: "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." It's clear and simple; a 27-word sentence made up of two noun phrases and a clause.

Still, as clear and simple as it is, there has probably been more controversy, confusion and heated debate over this one sentence than any other sentence ever written.

The anti-gunners can only see the word "militia" in the Second Amendment, and use that word as the basis of their whole argument. They say the militia is the only group that is given the right to keep and bear arms, and the militia is the National Guard. Pro-gun people say it gives the right to keep and bear arms to everybody. Where did we get the Second Amendment? How did it come to be a part of the United States Constitution? What was the general attitude toward guns in this country at the time it was ratified? What does it really say?

Gun ownership was a tradition and an understood right we inherited from England. Its origins are rooted in antiquity. Conditions in America helped to strengthen the tradition. The 13 colonies were founded on the edge of a vast wilderness and guns were a part of every household. Nearly all of the population was rural and widely scattered. A horse, a plow, an axe, a flint and steel, and a gun were all necessities for the colonist.

We were a nation of farmers, hunters and Indian fighters. Above all we were a nation of gun owners. The general overall national attitude toward guns was positive. Shooting was the national pastime, a good shot was a respected person and hunting was an honored sport. People were independent and relied on themselves for nearly everything--food, shelter and personal protection. The wilderness was only a few miles away, and the threat of attack from savages was a very real possibility. In those days there was about as much serious thought about gun control as there was about Pac-Man.

Times have changed. We are now predominately urban, and we depend on others for nearly everything. Liberals insist that no one needs the wherewithal to defend oneself. Most of the wilderness is gone, but the savages are still with us. They roam our streets, and an attack is still a very real possibility. Strange, isn't it? At a time when the need to be able to defend one's life and property is as important as it ever was, or even more so, there is a movement to disarm the honest taxpayer.

Many of the colonies had statutes similar to the one passed in Kennesaw, Georgia. People in those days were realistic about guns. They were not narrow-minded liberals living in a fantasy world. They realized that all men are not filled with the spirit of brotherly love, and a gun offers very efficient protection and peace of mind.

From the latter 1600s until just prior to the American Revolution, France and England were involved in one conflict after another. These feuds carried over into the French and English colonies in the New World. So, for roughly 150 years there were significant hostilities, mostly in the North, of one kind or another going on in America. That served to battle-harden the Americans.

We were a nation of strong-willed, independent gun owners, and we knew how to use them. It helped when we took on the British and won our independence.

In the midst of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress formed a new government under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles were better than no government at all. It dawned on the powers that be during this time that things were just not working out, and a convention was called in Philadelphia to work out a new government.

During the long, hot Philadelphia summer of 1787, the United States Constitution was drafted. At the time it did not have a Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson was Minister to France during the Constitutional convention. After getting a chance to read the Constitution, Jefferson pointed out in a letter to his friend, James Madison (later to be known as the "Father of the Constitution") that the one big, glaring fault he could see was that it lacked a "Bill of Rights."

Madison and Jefferson were both scholars and aristocrats, and they were both blessed with unusual common sense, and a deep concern for the rights of the individual. Wouldn't it be grand to have politicians like that today; men of substance, who could think beyond the end of their noses and who were genuinely concerned about the welfare of the people and the country!

Several states saw, as Jefferson did, that the Constitution lacked a Bill of Rights, andd they balked at ratifying it. Those old boys had just fought a war to gain their independence and individual freedom; they wanted some sort of a guarantee that the things they fought for and held dear were not going to be snatched away.

James Madison was instrumental in putting together a Bill of Rights patterned after the Virginia Bill of Rights. Thank goodness the Bill of Rights is written in plain, straightforward English, not legalese; that wordy, archaic, pompous gobble-dygook used by lawyers today. Portions of the Constitution are a bit involved and can be hard to understand, but not the Bill of Rights.

The first ten Amendments, or the Bill of Rights, became a permanent part of the United States Constitution in 1791. To say the Founding Fathers did not have individual gun ownership in mind when they drafted the Second Amendment is preposterous. To use the word "militia" as the basis of an argument to disarm the individual is ridiculous, since in those days "militia" meant anyone who owned and was physically capable of using a gun.

The Constitution itself spelled out the powers, responsibilities, andd limitations of the branches of the new government, whereas the Bill of Rights established and guaranteed the rights of the individual. So, if the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to keep and bear arms to the individual, what is it doing in the Bill of Rights? If the Second Amendment did not guarantee the right to keep and bear arms to everyone, why weren't all the guns confiscated that didn't belong to the militia, just as soon as the Bill of Rights was ratified? It was over 100 years before any significant gun control laws were passed. To say that the Second Amendment only permits the militia to keep and bear arms, is akin to saying a person has freedom of the press only if he owns a printing press. I don't mean a mimeograph machine either--it would be considered a "Saturday Night Special"--but a full size web-fed press. The "militia only" argument won't hold water no matter how you define "militia." The 27-word sentence that makes up the Second Amendment is divided into two parts. All the first part does is state a condition made possible by the second part. It does not restrict, limit or define eligibility; it simply states a fact. Read it: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State..."

The heart of the Second Amendment is the second part. It contains the guaranteed right that makes the condition stated in the first part possible. This is an individual right that applies to everybody, a right spelled out in very clear language--no restrictions, conditions or limitations. It says "...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Clear, isn't it? No limitations. That word "people" means everybody--you, me, the butcher, the baker, the candlemaker, the secretary, the housewife and the guy down the street.

The Second Amendment has 27 plain, simple, unambiguous words, not open to or in need or interpretation. They stand on their own and they guarantee every citizen of the United States the right to keep and bear arms. Yes, Senator Baker, the Second Amendment means just what it says.
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Author:Crookshanks, Ben
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Article Type:column
Date:Jul 1, 1984
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