The issue of self-defense, police tools and the Second Amendment are again at the forefront following this week's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a ban on handguns.
Let me start with the Second Amendment. "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."
The interpretation of this seemingly simple statement is the setting of many complicated and often contradicting arguments. What are the definitions of "militia" and "Arms" as perceived by the writers and today? What did the Founding Fathers mean by "security of a free State"? Better minds than mine have pondered these questions in law schools and courts, including this week in the Supreme Court.
McDonald v. Chicago is based on a long-standing ordinance that prohibits the ownership of guns in Chicago and Oak Park, with some very restrictive exceptions. In his 214-page ruling, Justice Samuel Alito made reference to the 2008 ruling of District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court held "that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense, and we struck down a District of Columbia law that banned the possession of handguns in the home." Chicago and Oak Park had similar laws.
However, self-defense against what? Was the purpose of the Second Amendment to defend oneself from a foreign enemy invading the American homeland as a member of a state-authorized militia or from burglars and thieves invading one's home? Was the amendment meant only for members of the state militias, "the people," of which every able-bodied man was a member, or was it to include those who did not support the American cause, which today would include homegrown terrorists?
According to USConstitution.net, "Today, the state militias have evolved into the National Guard in every state. These soldiers, while part-time, are professionally trained and armed by the government." In 1789, the citizens of this new country were more concerned with a government growing tyrannical than home invasions.
The author continues: "The trick is finding that balance between freedom and reasonable regulation, between unreasonable unfettered ownership and unreasonable prior restraint. Gun ownership is indeed a right — but it is also a grand responsibility. With responsibility comes the interests of society to ensure that guns are used safely and are used by those with proper training and licensing." Neither District of Columbia v. Heller nor McDonald v. Chicago addresses this latter issue.
Then there is the definition of "Arms." Does "Arms" include Tasers, pepper spray and the full arsenal of home-defense weaponry? And if it does, can a city or state set mandatory training and/or registration requirements?
I asked members of the LinkedIn.com's legal community to address the issue of limiting or restricting the use of Tasers by police and civilians. Within four days I received more than three dozen responses equally split between regulate and don't regulate.
Even before the McDonald v. Chicago decision, there was — and will remain — no consensus.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.