Supreme Court should recognize Second Amendment

Tuesday, April 1, 2008 | 10:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:48 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear, for the first time since 1939, a Second Amendment case, this time to arbitrate the constitutionality of individual rights to keep guns in their homes. By agreeing to review the District of Columbia’s Federal Appeals Court ruling the right to keep and bear arms is an individual one, thereby declaring unconstitutional the District of Columbia’s ban on hand guns, the court may shed light on the long standing controversy over the amendment’s meaning.

The anti-gun faction insists quite vocally that the clause “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” references a state militia. The original version of this clause contained but one comma after the word “State” — the later addition of the first and third placed commas would not have survived the red pencil of my high school English teacher.

Grammatical faux pas aside, I am not a constitutional scholar but, I have mastered sufficiently not only the ability to read but also to comprehend the meaning of the written word without reading into it that which is not the author’s intent. Accordingly, I am inclined to view “the people” described in the Second Amendment to be the same as those in the First and Fourth and to whom those rights and powers are reserved in the Ninth and Tenth. To assume the framers assigned a meaning to the Second other than as stated defies logic.

Those who would restrict firearms to military or police use along with those would ban selected or blanket manufacture and sale of handguns in particular are victims of fear, misinformation and illogic and, of course the already armed thugs. Admittedly, firearms in the wrong hands or handled carelessly are a danger; however, gun ownership by law abiding citizens, whether for self protection, recreational shooting, hunting or collecting is protected.

Opponents of basic gun rights assert that banning firearms in general and handguns in particular is the panacea to end all gun crimes, citing biased studies and statistics as evidence. In deaths involving children for example, the gun control lobby uses Center for Disease Control data which include those 19 and under, willfully ignoring that 80 percent of these are homicides committed by criminals 15 to 19 years of age. Of accidental deaths during 2000, children 14 and under were ten times more likely to die from drowning than by gunshot.

Other ploys implemented by the anti-gun lobby are demonizing the National Rifle Association along with attacks on ownership of “assault weapons.” The former is a classic fear-mongering smear tactic as the objectives of the NRA are firearms education and training, gun safety, certifying instructors and recommending mandatory prison terms for those who commit crimes while in possession of firearms. Where is the demon?

The anti-assault rifle crowd, most of whom have not the foggiest notion of what comprises such a weapon, declare them both unsafe and unnecessary, as legitimate hunters would shun their use. In that, I agree inasmuch as hunters are too knowledgeable of shooting commensurate with the game being sought to carry a rifle exceeding the firepower and weight required.

To those adamantly opposed to private ownership of firearms, I must respectfully disagree. In addition to the hunter, the home protector, the recreational shooter, the collector and the investor all have a legitimate right to be protected by the Second Amendment. The much maligned “assault rifle” owner may shoot at targets or tin cans as desired. Education and safety training are a better answer.

Any notion that outlawing private gun ownership would cause us to be safer in our homes or person is foolish to the point of inanity. The only persons who would obey such an edict are the law abiding among us who are at the most risk. One who assumes the armed criminal who is already carrying in defiance of the law to conform is, to put it succinctly, a Twilight Zone reject. The last time I looked, crimes of murder, robbery, assault, drive-by shooting and rape were all violations of established law with no portent of stoppage.

The Second Amendment is not broken — the Supreme Court should recognize it.

J. Karl Miller retired as colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at

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Bob Smith April 2, 2008 | 7:22 a.m.

You obviously don't "respectfully" disagree with people who disagree with your view. You call us uninformed, illogical and victims of fear. As for defending the NRA, go through legislation that has been proposed and you will see the NRA fights every measure, including just ones that one to enforce current law. And you might want to go back and study history so that you can understand how the term "well-regulated" was used back in the 18th century. But that would force you to open your mind to something besides the typical right-wing garbage you spout in each of your articles. Probably not within your ability.

(Report Comment)
Victor Marbury April 2, 2008 | 9:51 p.m.

If you remember your high school Latin, then you know the introductory phrase of the 2nd Amendment is an ablative absolute.
Ablative absolutes are Latin phrases based on a word in the ablative case and in a way detached or set off or loosened from the rest of the sentence. (This means that they do not grammatically interrelate very closely with the other words of the sentence. They have a certain independence.) It is used as a form introduction.
"A well-regulated militia being necessary ... or having been necessary..." THAT is the ablative absolute phrase.
A(the)subsequent declarative phrase exists independant of the ablative absolute. The declarative phrase here is "the right shall not be infringed."
An identical construction, (we'll just change the names - to protect the innocent) could be as follows. Suppose the Principal walks into morning study hall and announces:
"Your teacher having called in sick today, class is now cancelled for the rest of the day."
Well, "The teaching having called in sick" is an ablative absolute phrase. And whether that statement is true or false, makes no difference. The subsequent, declarative phrase "class is now cancelled for the rest of the day." remains. (yippee)
BUT WAIT. Suppose the teacher really isn't sick and she's just playing hookey? Well, that doesn't change the declarative sentence: "class is now cancelled for the rest of the day."
Suppose the principal lied? The teacher only had a flat tire and will actually be here, albeit a few minutes late? Well, again, that doesn't make any difference, "class is now cancelled for the rest of the day."
Familiarity with the language that was used, or knowledge of the influence of Greek and Latin in colonial America, is helpful. This language for, the ablative absolute among others, was common to the founders and the drafters. The use of this Latin form was common, is easy to spot and undertstand, and its purpose is rather obvious.

vita brevis, ars longa.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble April 13, 2008 | 3:19 a.m.

What do hunting, recreational shooting, collecting, and investing have to do with a militia whose purpose is the defense of the State?

Nothing at all, of course. And it raises a concept which is more logical than any of the shallow thought espoused in this column:

That citizens have the right to *own* firearms, but to only *use* them in the context of a State-defending militia. None of the recreational activities, or personal-self-defense activities, or concealed-weapon activities mentioned in this column have anything to do with the purpose of the 2nd Amendment. They are cultural norms and customs based on tradition, entirely separate from State-guaranteed rights.

The Constitution doesn't say we have the right to hunt or target-shoot or to own guns for decorative, financial, or any other such reasons. It says that we have the right to own guns in the context of a militia--that's it. By that standard, we should never see or hear a gun in society unless a collective militia action--and a regulated one, at that--is needed.

The Constitution also doesn't say that we *don't* have the right to own guns for those purposes--it completely avoids that topic, thus leaving it open to ongoing public debate, regulation by newer laws, and changes with the times. If gun advocates want to keep guns and also use them for whatever purpose amuses them, they inherently lose the protection of the 2nd Amendment. If they truly have a good cultural and legal case, then they have nothing to fear by leaving this amendment behind.

That they're so unwilling to go without it says volumes about the true nature and motives of most gun ownership.

(Report Comment)

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