Decades before James Madison’s Bill of Rights was being debated in 1789, it had long been accepted wisdom that the 3.5 million people living in the original 13 colonies depended upon firearms to secure wild game for food, as well as for their defense against hostile forces during the French and Indian War.
And even after the successful American Revolution against the British Empire, it was generally understood that each able-bodied man had a duty to defend his individual state against the potential danger of a standing army, either domestic or foreign, and thus, the Second Amendment of the Constitution was promulgated to codify both this right and this responsibility in the following language: “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.”
In the years since then, the United States has created, maintained, and expanded a standing national army, while still maintaining a “militia” by way of the National Guard, which can be swiftly integrated into the national defense force when necessary.
Today, however, many Americans cite the Second Amendment as guaranteeing their unrestricted right to own any type of firearm to use for any reason whatsoever, carefully disregarding the first two phrases of the amendment, while loudly emphasizing the second two. And while nobody denies any citizen the right to defend their home, or to keep sporting guns for hunting game or for recreational purposes, even the most conservative judicial minds question the validity of the notion that gun ownership is a fundamental, non-contestable, God-given right.
Indeed, in 1990, Warren Burger, a former conservative Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, wrote the following: “The gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
In 2008, in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, another conservative jurist, wrote that “there is nothing in the Second Amendment to construe the right to own and carry weapons is unrestricted.”
America has more guns than any other nation in the world and that number continues to grow each year. Today, more than 81.4 million Americans own over 393 million firearms. And each year, some 40,000 citizens die as a result of gun violence – some by suicide, some by murder, and some by accident. In 2021, there were 693 mass shootings in the country, which left 703 people dead and 2,842 injured.
And while a majority (roughly 53%) of Americans favors stricter gun laws, Congress continues to reject any additional legislation that would help keep us safer, even though the Preamble to the Constitution cites the necessity of our national government to “insure domestic tranquility,” and “promote the general welfare.”
Rational approaches to gun control is not a plot to deny Americans their freedom – it is a sane response to a national epidemic of gun violence which continues to leave a legacy of pain and trauma in communities across our country every single day.
We can’t wait for more innocent people to die. Now’s the time!