Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Supreme Court Rules on the Second Amendment

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, in a 5-4 decision that Americans have a constitutional right to keep guns in their homes for self-defense. This is the first major ruling on the Second Amendment in our Nation's history. In the case before the court, the Court overturned a 32-year-old, Washington D.C. ban concerning the keeping of handguns in the home.

I am pleased the way the court ruled, but I am not a gun nut. I don’t think we need to be an armed society. This is not the old west. We do not need an armed populace; I believe the readily availability of guns causes more people to be killed. I know “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” but guns sure do make it easier to kill people. If teen gang members do not have guns they may throw rock at rival gang members instead. With guns, however, they kill rival gang members. Without guns, a bar room brawl may end up with someone having a broken nose. With guns, however, it ends with someone dead on the floor. Without guns, an altercation with your neighbor, or a domestic dispute, or road rage, may simply result in a "cussing out." With one or both of the parties armed, however, it may end with a fatal gunshot. For example, in the city of Nashville, Tennessee, more people die from gun-related deaths in a single year, than all the gun-related deaths in all the European nations combined in a year.

America is a very violent nation. If you look at a country-by-country comparison of gun deaths, America is one of the most deadly countries in the world. Of course, there are probably other factors than just guns alone, which make us such a violent nation. We have an underclass with a high crime rate; we are a more mobile society; people are not as grounded in their communities as they are in many other nations. In America, we are autonomous individuals, more so than any other place in the world. That is both a blessing and a curse. It is difficult to hold other variables constant, but the fact remains, we are a very violent society. Certainly our homicide rate, our accidental gun-death rate and our suicide rate has something to do with the availability of guns.

So, my pleasure in the Supreme Court's ruling is not because I love guns. I don't love guns, but I do love our Constitution. It is for this love, that I am so pleased with the ruling. I believe we will remain a free and great country if we honor the Constitution and thus, take our liberties seriously.

Admittedly the Second Amendment is awkwardly worded. It 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."

What does that mean? I am not a legal scholar or an expert on Constitutional law, but it seems there are two ways to interpret that. One interpretation is that states have the right to a National Guard. Putting the text into context of what was meant by the meaning of words at the time however, it appears to mean something like this: “A group of citizens who are eligible for military service and who are capable of performing military service are essential to keeping our country free. Therefore, the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

If the latter interpretation is what the founders intended to convey, then should not the people have the right to military weapons? Should they not have the right to bazookas, and machine guns, and flamethrowers? I think so. If the reason we have the right to have firearms is for a military purpose, then it stands to reason we should have the right to have military weapons.

Thursday's ruling was limited and invites further litigation, but if the court should follow the logical trail of interpreting the Second Amendment to mean what I think it means, then what? Then, I think that we are stuck with the Second Amendment until we change it. And, that is the answer: Change it!

The meaning of the Constitution should be respected, but if we no longer like parts of it or find that a provision is outdated, we have it within our power to amend it. Those who see the courts as just another arena to change policies they don’t like, scare me. Actually, they scare me more than guns scare me. Ideally, I would like to see America have fewer guns in circulation rather than more guns. I would like to see reasonable gun control, but I fear allowing the Constitution to mean anything we want it to mean, more than I fear guns. It's a delicate balance.

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