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The True Story of the Second Amendment

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Offline Phil

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The True Story of the Second Amendment
« August 07, 2020, 03:26:22 PM »
A humorous look at the issue

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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
   — First Amendment to the US Constitution


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.
   — Second Amendment to the US Constitution


No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
   — Third Amendment to the US Constitution

The Second and Third Amendments were originally intended as adjuncts to the First Amendment. This one (the First) was the cornerstone of the whole Bill of Rights, and the framers gave thought to how the Federal government might effectively sidestep the First, without actually having to go through the unpopular step of repealing it.

To dispose of the Third Amendment first, it states that soldiers were not to be quartered in civilian homes in peacetime. Most of a national army's soldiers in those days would have been foreign mercenaries, such as the Hessians that the young country had so recently had such unpleasant experiences with. Imagine trying to hold a freewheeling political discussion around the dinner table with Fritz und Wilhelm, down at the end of the table, glowering at you. You just know they're going to report you to the authorities. Thus, it was made harder to plant spies among the populace to ensure compliance with the official line.

The other Amendment (Second) is trickier. The thought was that the Federal government would simply use the Army (again, mostly foreigners) to suppress the desire for unbridled Freedom of Speech, whenever it inconvenienced those in power (in other words, always). Unlike American citizens in the Army, foreign mercenaries could always be counted on to put down any civilian uprisings, protests, or disturbances, as they had no skin in the game. Rather than banning foreign mercenaries (probably a good idea in itself, but the need for competent soldiers overrode such concerns), the framers decided to ensure that each State had a strong militia. Note that this is, as the Amendment itself states, a well-founded and properly regulated militia. It's what today we would call the National Guard. Angry white guys wearing red caps, with an assault rifle in one hand and a beer in the other, are not what they had in mind. That's a mob, not a militia.

In those days, a militia member (Guardsman) would not draw their on-duty weaponry from an armory. They would supply their own muskets and related gear, the same ones they would use for hunting and self defense. The militia members owned their own weapons, in other words, so it was considered important that they could not be disarmed. Note that the Second Amendment does not explicitly limit which level(s) of government may not infringe upon this right to own ("bear") arms. It does not explicitly limit this to the Federal government, but implies that it also applies to State and lower levels. See the Ninth and Tenth Amendments and the distribution of powers. Perhaps the fear was that a State, county, or city might act on the behest of the Federal government to disarm its militias. Anyway, the courts have tended to side with the prohibition on any level of government unreasonably restricting gun rights. The main concern appears to have been the Federal government trying to suppress Free Speech via the Army, so whether the omission of specification of which levels of government was an oversight, or they really thought that it was a good idea for a State or city to not have the power to ban arms, is an open question.

It probably helped that State militias would be mostly volunteer citizens, and ready to fight for their rights. In those days, the US was envisioned as more of a confederation of powerful semi-autonomous states, with a relatively weak central government, than what we have today, with a powerful central (Federal) government. The State militias could act as a powerful balance to the Federal Army if anyone tried to take away citizen rights. Being as the Federal Army would be rather small, State militias could also be useful as an adjunct to the Federal Army in defending against an invasion.

So, the original intent of the Second and Third Amendments was to safeguard the First Amendment, preserving freedom of speech (important in a democracy). One can argue that state Militias are no longer necessary for that specific purpose (a counterweight to the Federal Army)? Being that the Federal Army is almost entirely made up of U.S. citizens (and would-be citizens), in a way that armies of 250 years ago were not, could they be used to suppress individual rights in a general manner? One would hope not, but stranger things have happened. Certainly, state Militias are still useful adjuncts to the Federal Army, particularly in major wars and both natural and man-made disasters, but it is questionable what kind of fight a state Militia could put up against the Federal Army. They would probably not fare much better than self-proclaimed "militias" of angry white men, if it came down to an all-out fight.

Any sane observer would state that private American citizens are vastly over-armed. The arsenals they own go far beyond the legitimate needs of hunting (whether for food or for sport) or self-defense against criminals. Gun supporters state that they are needed to prevent citizen rights from being trampled, but the fact is that they are the ones doing the trampling. Forget for the moment about public massacres; observe heavily armed men threatening governors and other public officials who are simply doing their jobs. These guys proudly proclaim that they would be in the front line defending our rights, but they wouldn't last long against an Army (or National Guard) unit ordered to clean them out.

Clearly, the Second Amendment has outlived its intended purpose (to protect the existence of proper state militias) and is obsolete. No one in their right mind is calling for abolition of private gun ownership for legitimate purposes (hunting and self defense), just to limit it to reasonable weaponry suited for such purposes, and not useful for mass murder. If no court is going to exercise common sense in such matters, perhaps it's time to repeal the Second Amendment.

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The NRA is mistaken. If we strictly interpret the Second Amendment it would mean the only citizens that could bear arms would be those serving in the National Guard.
   — Ronald Reagan, 1988

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Offline Phil

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Re: The True Story of the Second Amendment
« Reply #1: September 17, 2020, 10:34:44 AM »
Some good additional commentary from Letters to the Editor for a Mike Luckovich editorial comic on the Second Amendment (https://www.gocomics.com/mikeluckovich/2020/09/17):

[in reply to an earlier claim that "the first clause of the Second Amendment isn’t operable, it’s just tune-up words to prepare you for the real amendment, which starts with “The right of the people…”] I do understand that there are some extremist gun nuts who do believe that the first clause is inoperable; it is called cherry-picking. No clause is inoperable. It is not a “tune up”; it is the statement of the reason for the second clause. [emphasis added]

   — DD Wiz

The framers of the Constitution were MUCH more adept in proper use of language. They put the phrase “A well regulated militia” in the primary position to show that the rest of the amendment was limited, something beyond the understanding of far too many of today’s chest pounding, gun waving problem children of all ages.

So many of them cannot understand that “rights” entail “responsibilities”

   — RAGs

Given the laws they had controlling guns and in fact MANDATING persons to be in the militia in many cities and MANDATING those persons to show up for drills, be accountable for their presence and MANDATING they maintain a firearm of specified type, bought at their own expense and maintained at their own expense, and MANDATING they present that firearm for inspection on request and MANDATING fines or jail time for noncompliance – they obviously believed they had the right to pass laws regarding personal behavior with firearms. And they did.

To a right winger, the above is somehow “proof” they didn’t “control” firearms.

   — OldCoal

The constitution wasn’t written to cover assault rifles. Jefferson’s idea of well armed would have been a gun that a very well trained soldier could [reload] and fire about 4 times a minute. That gives you and whatever you are firing at 15 seconds to decide [if] another bullet is appropriate to the situation.

   — Diane Lee