Gun enthusiasts use the second amendment to end arguments about gun regulation. The constitution says I can own a gun. So I want one. To protect my family. Against terrorists and immigrants. And the government. Or just because. And with all those enemies, I want lots of guns. Big guns. And I don't want or need anybody getting in my way when I shop.
Their second amendment backstop is an incoherent single sentence, very possibly the worst piece of legislation in US history:
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 is the version that was ratified by the states in 1791. The version passed by Congress has two additional commas:
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.
Some say the commas change its meaning. I'm sure that's so but with or without commas the amendment remains incomprehensible. I'm not a linguist so I can't tell you why it makes no sense. But I've read enough to know something nonsensical when I see it. And I see it here.
So what were its authors thinking? Were they really envisioning unfettered access by every American to unlimited arsenals of guns and military rifles? The New Yorker takes a fun look at this with a fictional correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison.
To those that believe they need assault weapons to protect themselves from a government intent on taking their guns away, first, stop reading those comic books. Second, if the video game dystopia that you fear were to happen and the government moved to suppress your rights, do you really believe your Berettas and Bushmasters would stop their tanks and planes? Perhaps the NRA should get to work so that good citizens can buy artillery pieces from General Dynamics.
Fortunately, the vast majority of Americans are not so unhinged. A CBS/New York Times poll in October found that 92% of all Americans--including 87% of Republicans--support background checks for all gun buyers. Yet we have an NRA-owned congress shouting tyranny because President Obama proposed just that earlier this week.
The Supreme Court hasn't helped. They have debated no less than six cases related to the second amendment. Most recently, in 2008, they argued whether the word "militia" implied gun rights for the military versus individuals. In the end, they chose the more liberal (not Liberal) meaning by the smallest of margins.
I'm puzzled by the hysterical opposition to universal background checks. How can something so innocuous cause so much fury? I wonder if it's that same crazy convoluted second amendment. The one that remains open to interpretation, that a single justice could have swayed to a vastly narrower interpretation in 2008.
It seems that as long as second amendment ambiguity remains, any change to gun regulations, no matter how trivial, will be resisted. Gun advocates fear the slippery slope and their uncertainty over purportedly enshrined rights will stoke further fear and irrationality. Perhaps a clearer statement of gun rights would calm the waters.
So we need a second amendment amendment. But that's even less likely than common sense legislation from the current Congress. Maybe we'll see some change in the next election. More likely, we'll see more carnage.