The Second Amendment: Do You Really Have a Personal Right to Bear Arms?
Partisanship aside, the greater part of that question was answered in 2008.
“Partisanship aside.” In disclosure to those of you who may be new to my writing, I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, a former school teacher, and in favor of gun control.
Read on, however. I do not want to take away your guns, surreptitiously or otherwise, and other than an explanation as to that partisanship my personal perspectives will have little to do with this article.
The Second Amendment is worded as follows: 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.
That wording, which was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights and ratified by Congress on December 15, 1791, has long been problematic and remains a top-tier issue that both defines and divides our two main political parties.
Two questions: First, what is a “well-regulated Militia,” exactly? And second, is the concept of such a well-regulated Militia even pertinent in 2019, over 200 years following its formal definition?
In the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men tasked to protect their communities, towns, and colonies. Armies, as it were. Men, not women, notably, as considered back in that more casually misogynistic era. Once the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, such protections extended to the individual states.
Research tends to agree on the intent of the Framers of our country in drafting the Constitution: They intended to separate an individual’s rights from those reserved for the state, and provide measures to do so.
My Perspective, and Why
I was a former school teacher who, about a decade ago, executive produced a film about the Columbine High School tragedy. My reasons for getting involved in this film, with a company I used to co-own, are personal.
Since my film’s initial release in 2009, however, there have been nearly 250 more school shootings in the United States alone:
List of school shootings in the United States
This article lists in chronology and provides additional details of incidents in which a firearm was discharged at a…
As that number continued to increase, I took “April Showers” — written and directed by Columbine survivor Andrew Robinson — completely out of circulation. It is no longer legally available for viewing anywhere, save for some prior global platforms that we sold to early in the process.
My reasons for getting uninvolved are equally personal but I’ll share the following: Part of that decision stemmed from an uncertainty as to what exactly to do with the film while these nightmares were playing out over and again in real life. Also, I believe that I do not own the project. I’ve felt that as someone who has, thankfully, neither been involved in a school shooting nor lost a personal relation to school violence, continuing to allow distribution of the film at my behest would be exploitive, money-motivated, and irresponsible.
“April Showers” remains unavailable to mass audiences, and the master sits on a shelf in my office.
Subsequently, following months of endless new incidents and ongoing debates about gun control, 17 high school students and adults were shot and killed, and many more injured, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. Similar to the high-profile Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 14, 2012, in which 26 people were killed and numerous more injured, this incident evoked a national outrage that continues to this day. And yet, though the Parkland shooter had attained 10 firearms, on a government level — though some have tried (and they have been effectively blocked) — little has been done.
On February 21, 2018, following a White House meeting with survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump said about his considered proposal to arm teachers: “It only works when you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many.”
As a former special education teacher once physically attacked by a student, I fiercely disagreed, and wrote about it in the following article for Medium:
Masturbation, Gun Culture, and the Fantasy of the Armed Teacher
Regardless of license and experience, arming classroom teachers is a recipe for disaster.
I maintain that such an action would be considerably more dangerous than not arming teachers at all.
Tragedies such as the above continue to impact my political leanings, which have led me to become a strong proponent of common sense gun laws.
The U.S. Supreme Court
My political disclosures aside, once again the purpose of this article is to derive and share, in nonpartisan fashion, a better understanding of our oft-misunderstood Second Amendment.
To date, there remains no written imperative or definitive resolution as to a singular interpretation of the Second Amendment. In that regard, and perhaps not so ironically, perspectives thereof are somewhat akin to “The Bible” in that no two entities can seem to fully agree on its meaning.
In this case those entities are, of course, Democrats and the GOP.
Sure, the Right will largely insist that the right to bear arms is personal and unequivocal, while the Left will say that limitations are indeed definitively in place.
Both are somewhat right, one slightly more so than the other.
Over the course of the last 200+ years, U.S. courts have argued about the true meaning of “the right to bear Arms.” In its 16th Century context, American revolutionaries and settlers were ensured they could grab their muskets and either join with or fight against the military establishment if necessary.
As we no longer use muskets, we need to consider the question as to whether the Second Amendment guarantees modern-day citizens (of all bearings) the right to bear arms ... whatever arms they choose in their sole and exclusive judgement.
In the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that all citizens comprise a de facto militia. Therefore, the Second Amendment indeed expresses a protected individual right that allows for any lawful claim of bearing arms for self-defense, and both open and concealed carry are generally viewed as equal individual rights within those states that formally allow them both.
Where some falter in their defense of the Second Amendment rests in an insistence that their right to bear arms cannot be taken away, an idea that is simply not based on fact. States have their own laws on the books, and many former gun owners do, in fact, lose their right of possession. If one is convicted of a felony, for example, they risk permanent termination. Though some states do provide opportunities for a felon to regain his or her right of possession, most states make that possibility immensely difficult if not impossible.
For example, in California only a governor’s pardon can reverse that order, and only if the felon’s crime did not involve the use of a dangerous weapon.
Others who risk gun prohibition include fugitives, convicted drug dealers, drug users and addicts, illegal or undocumented aliens, those convicted of domestic abuse, dishonorably discharged military veterans and minors.
Gun ownership loopholes thrive, at gun shows and elsewhere, and whether one purchases a weapon through a show, at a shop or on the street, though certain states maintain stricter gun laws than others, in the U.S. it remains relatively easy to purchase a firearm.
Though not just any kind of firearm, which is an issue regulated by state and federal laws. One cannot legally own bombs, grenades or missiles, which most would consider acceptable as law. However, other illegal weapons — though only in certain jurisdictions — include various sawed-off rifles, and semi-automatic assault weapons (bans effective in California — since the Department of Justice typically only issues Dangerous Weapons Permits to highly-trained professionals, state laws for the average citizen effectively amount to a ban — Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York).
On repeat: privately-owned semi-automatic assault weapons, seemingly the gun group of choice for mass shooters, are considered in several states (not all, not most) to be unlawful.
And, such as with California, one does not always require a permit before lawfully purchasing a gun for protection, though any purchase or transfer must be made through a state-licensed dealer followed by a 10-day waiting period. The extent of background checks vary state-to-state.
In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of a responsible, law-abiding citizen to carry a firearm in public for purposes of self-defense (Peruta v. County of San Diego).
More grist for the mill of Second Amendment advocates who believe anything less than free carry for self-defense is a crime in and of itself, but then there’s this: Do we have in place a fool-proof system to determine who is “responsible,” and “law-abiding?”
No, we do not, and I for one am tired of hearing about those who committ atrocities with their weapons … only to hear from their friends and neighbors that the shooter caught them totally by surprise. “He was so nice and quiet,” is a common refrain.
Well, not so nice and quiet to plan a mass shooting, apparently.
A general statement, meant as food for thought.
Those who argue that their “Second Amendment rights” would be violated if confronted with an increase in common sense gun laws nonetheless will not lose their guns ... unless they commit a crime. The Supreme Court has seen to that.
In that regard, they win, as long as they are “responsible.”
So why the fuss? Why the paranoia? If one is a “law-abiding” and “responsible” citizen, what is wrong with tougher gun restrictions (primarily on the purchase level for those who do not yet own)? Is this preventive measure not a better alternative than ultimately doing nothing following another shooting?
And if a crime is committed and a weapon is seized, why should the convicted felon regain possession of a firearm? If that measure is part and parcel of a collective of stronger laws, so be it.
And yes, a “good guy with a gun” can still be overtaken by “a bad guy with a gun.” That argument of “arming the good guys” falls flat because we cannot ever know who’s who. As in, who are the “good guys,” exactly, when so many are surprised by the perpetrator of the latest mass shooting? You remember, the nice, quiet guy …
In conclusion I was, as stated, a special education teacher of at-risk children and adults. I assumed this role for 10 years. Some have overcome their demons. Others have gotten worse.
I for one would not want those weapons to fall into the wrong hands.
Those wrong hands.
If you have found this story of value, feel free to recommend, share and follow me here on Medium (and I will follow you back), where I publish new articles daily on a variety of topics.