The social impact of the Second Amendment

The state should be permitted to disarm its citizens to the extent it judges necessary to protect its own strength to protect its society.


The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution 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.”  In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court held that the “Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”  This decision bolstered the American tendency to bring guns into society, a propensity which has caused the United States to be a world leader in the ownership of guns, killings due to guns, and shootings by policemen.  These factors have led indirectly to the high number of deaths of colored people by guns.  Blacks represent only 13% of the population yet are 51% of homicide victims, of which 85% are killed by guns.

Despite these facts, some people question whether stricter gun control would protect African Americans or make them more susceptible to racism and police brutality.  These concerns seem to miss the point: fewer guns in society means that police need fewer weapons, and the existence of large numbers of guns means that police are in greater fear of being shot, which means that they are more likely to shoot first and ask questions later.  If guns were not permitted on the street, and violation of that law were heavily punished, police would not need to draw their guns if they had them.

Americans have had an insane love of weapons since their nation’s start.  “As the cultural historian Richard Slotkin has argued, the American national narrative is the frontier myth. Beginning with the Puritans, “the Myth of the Frontier emphasizes the necessary linkage between two themes as the basis for spiritual and secular regeneration, taking up the ‘free’ or ‘virgin land’ of the wilderness, and defeating the savage natives in a war of races,” he wrote in “Gunfighter Nation,” the last volume of his frontier trilogy.”

The first major piece of national gun regulation passed Congress in 1934.  “In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court heard the case United States v. Miller, ruling that through the National Firearms Act of 1934, Congress could regulate the interstate selling of a short barrel shotgun. The court stated that there was no evidence that a sawed off shotgun “has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia,” and thus “we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”  The Supreme Court changed its mind 70 years later.  “District of Columbia v. Heller essentially changed a nearly 70-year precedent set by Miller in 1939. While the Miller ruling focused on the “well regulated militia” portion of the Second Amendment (known as the “collective rights theory” and referring to a state’s right to defend itself), Heller focused on the “individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.”

Heller met with considerable criticism, but the result of the decision has been a real limitation on legislation which could have made America less subject to the control of the NRA and gun violence.  Yet the decision is truly flawed and is one of the worst decisions the Court has ever made.  Retired Justice John Paul Stevens (a liberal Republican) called the decision the worst made in his 35 years on the Court.   And others have argued, “There is much to question in Justice Scalia’s majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller.  To begin, of course, there is his insistence on a rigid originalist interpretation of the Second Amendment. To make matters worse, his lengthy exposition of the Second Amendment is bad history—simplistic “law-office” history that ignores the complexities of historical research. Moreover, his refusal to examine any policy considerations regarding the Second Amendment renders its application a desultory matter, haphazard in function and cabined by outmoded notions. “   Two years later, by the same 5-4 majority, the Court applied Heller to the states.

Even if Justice Scalia wished to focus on individual rights that than states’ interests in Heller, the interests of the states cannot be ignored because they are part of the Second Amendment.  The right of the people to keep and bear arms cannot override the right of a well-regulated militia.  If the people have an unfettered right to keep and bear arms, this will inevitably collide with the states’ interest in its own security.  The well-regulated militia cannot keep the state secure if every citizen can carry a gun and use it any way he wants.  For example, in 1841-42, middle class resident tried to force a broader democracy against the small rural elite in control of the State of Rhode Island.  The interpretation in Heller would mean that the state could not disarm its own citizens in order to make its society secure.  But if the state can totally disarm its citizens, then why can’t it forbid them from carrying weapons in the street? In effect, Heller enhances the latter part of the Second Amendment by totally ignoring the first part.  The state should be permitted to disarm its citizens to the extent it judges necessary to protect its own strength to protect its society.  The Supreme Court was wrong in depriving the state of that right.  And as a result, we have a country in which the private ownership of guns has taken over the ability to have peace and justice.


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