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The Second Amendment

Posted: October 5, 2017 4:29 p.m.
Updated: October 6, 2017 1:00 a.m.

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.

These are the words our country adopted during its infancy as the Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, to the U.S. Constitution.

There has been an incredible amount of debate during our nation’s history as to exactly our Founding Fathers’ intentions.

One of the things I think is very interesting is the Second Amendment’s very first words: “A well regulated Militia...”

According to Merriam-Webster, the word “militia” has two meanings: a) a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency; and b) a body of citizens organized for military service.

Which definition would those who drafted the Second Amendment follow? The first definition sounds like the National Guard and Reserve. The second, however, could mean any group that feels it has to organize as a military-style unit.

But then there’s “well regulated.” That seems to relate more to the first definition: a part of the armed forces called up only for emergencies.

It’s only after establishing that a militia is necessary to the “security of a free State” -- which I will presume to mean the nation as a whole -- that the Second Amendment talks about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms...”

But who are “the people?” Did those who crafted the Constitution literally mean this to cover every single individual citizen? Or were they thinking more along the lines of “We the People” from the Declaration of Independence -- the country’s collective population?

In other words, were our forefathers saying that our country, made up of “the people,” had a right to form “a well regulated militia” for its protection?

The amendment ends with “...shall not be infringed.” For those of us for whom writing is a profession, the punctuation used in the Second Amendment virtually places “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” apart from the rest of the sentence.

The amendment could just have easily read “A well regulated Militia (i.e., the right of the people to keep and bear arms) being necessary to the security of a free State, shall not be infringed.”

My personal interpretation has always been that the Second Amendment guarantees our country the right to defend itself -- with firearms -- through the armed forces, police departments and sheriff’s offices. Those armed forces and law enforcement agencies are, of course, populated by the people -- citizens, who answer the call to service. In this interpretation, take away the Second Amendment and any despot who happened to be elected to office could disband the military and police forces.

Even if I’m wrong, and our forefathers meant for every individual to have the right to a firearm, what type of “arms” did they intend for us to keep and bear?

The U.S. Supreme Court has wrestled with all of this for hundreds of years.

In 1876, the Court limited the scope of the amendment’s protections to the federal government. In 1939, the Court ruled that the amendment didn’t extend to weapons that didn’t have a “reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia” (U.S. v. Miller).

In 2008, the Court handed down a ruling saying the amendment does protect every individual’s right to possess and carry firearms. Just last year, Justices ruled that the amendment’s protections extend to “all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the Founding.”

I’ve never been a strict Constitutionalist. After all, the amendment process, along with our three-legged Legislative, Judicial and Executive branches of government, was crafted with the idea that times change.

However, I am a strong believer that with every precious right enshrined in the Constitution, it is just as important for our nation to carry those rights responsibly.

Sunday night, one man managed to kill 50 people and injure about 500 more. We are still trying to figure out why he did this, and there’s a chance we never will.

What we can do is focus on the how and take the necessary steps to keep this from happening again. The debates have already taken place, the arguments made. What we need now is action.

I don’t think our rights were ever meant to be completely unfettered. We the people must decide to balance our right to bear arms with the responsibility of regulating exactly how many and what types of firearms to which we have access.

Gun violence, and not just mass murder, is rampant in America. It needs to stop. It can be stopped and, I think, without infringing on the Second Amendment’s basic right.

We just have to have the collective will and courage to make it happen.

We have to say, “Enough.”

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