Making Sense of the Gun Control Debate

Twenty-seven words.

13 don’t count.

“A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state…”

Those opening words of the Second Amendment are completely ignored by the NRA and largely ignored by the Supreme Court.

14 words, “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” count and those 14 words kill tens of thousands of people every year.

From 1776 to 1783 the Continental Army, a ragtag citizens’ army of 17,000, fought our Revolutionary War. The army was rounded up by the Paul Reveres who rode through towns marshalling the forces. Citizens arose from their beds, grabbed their guns – because the army didn’t own any – and went to war. When the war ended in 1783, the Continental Congress did not want a permanent army like the British had, so it was disbanded. Soldiers went home with their guns.

Eight years later, when the Second Amendment was passed, an army of private citizens on call was the only military. Hence, the first 13 words. Some argue that those 13 words were intended to allow citizens to rise up and declare war against a “bad” government.

Poppycock! The idea of citizens rising up against the U.S. government is laughable. A member of the Tea Party recently asked me, “Don’t you believe that the Holocaust would have been avoided if the Jews had been allowed to have guns?” Jews with guns could no more have held back the Nazi army than could the citizens of a city hold back the U.S. Army.

No government gives the governed the right to overthrow it violently. In fact, the United States Constitution specifically dis- allows that possibility. Section 3 of Article III of the Constitution says that ”levying War” against the government is Treason, and Section 4 of Article IV says that the federal government shall protect the states “against domestic Violence.”

Instead, the founders gave us the First Amendment and the ballot box so that citizens could criticize and overthrow the government peacefully. What purpose is a Constitution that gives citizens the right to wage war against – that is, to destroy – the government they create?

Conservatives theorist and judges argue that courts should apply the original intent of the Constitution and that the Constitution does not change with the times. At the time of the Revolution, muskets could only shoot one bullet at a time. While one soldier shot a musket, a second soldier loaded another gun with another bullet. Not until ten years after the Second Amendment was passed, did Eli Whitney – of cotton gin fame – invent the concept of standardized parts which allowed thousands of guns to be manufactured from similar interchangeable parts. His only cus- tomer was the federal government.

Ironically, when guns are involved, conservatives become liberals and embrace the “times change” attitudes. True conservatives would not be debating clips that hold thirty bullets or automatic weapons that can fire hundreds of rounds a minute. They would be debating one-shot muskets.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the deceased philosophic US Senator, quipped that because the Constitution failed to mention bullets, Congress should simply outlaw bullets. After all, he said, bullets, not guns, kill people.

Whatever gun laws emerge from Congress in the next few months will pale in comparison to the next Supreme Court decision on the Second Amendment. The NRA and its ilk point to DC v. Heller, the 2008 Supreme Court decision, believing it prohibited all gun control. Heller merely held that DC’s ban on handguns was too restrictive, but the Supreme Court left open many questions, including acceptable “limits” on gun laws and “dangerous and unusual weapons.”

The gun debate is about patience. Over the next eight years, four Supreme Court justices over age 74 – two liberal and two conservative – will likely retire and be replaced. The winner of the 2016 presidential election will likely re-shape the Supreme Court – and gun rights – for decades to come.

Until then, the first 13 words of the Second Amendment will be ignored. Pray for the quarter million people in the U.S. who between now and then will die from bullets.

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