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DAVID ROSMAN: Second Amendment calls into question Columbia's Prop 2

Monday, October 25, 2010 | 5:39 p.m. CDT; updated 5:58 p.m. CDT, Monday, October 25, 2010

* CORRECTION: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Proposition 2 would prevent Columbia residents from owning a Taser.

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 Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

This is about Tasers, the Second Amendment and your vote on Nov. 2. Proposition 2 would ban the use of a Taser, stun gun or other electrical device by anyone, including the police. An offender would be charged with a misdemeanor. Dan Claxton’s recent report asked, in part, if the Taser is an “arm” as defined by the Second Amendment. The answer made our “right to bear arms” a more complicated argument than most contemplate.

I will be voting “no” on Proposition 2. I see the Taser as a tool that has reduced injuries to police officers and suspects. Yes, the Taser has been associated with injury and death, but so have batons. And for that matter, so have butter knives.

In my mind, the Second Amendment argument may be an English 101 problem, a question of definitions and grammar.

“Militia” – citizen soldiers. In the late 1700s, the militia was the citizen army sanctioned by the state and included all free men, or the “people.” Today our volunteer civilian Army is the National Guard. Militia does not mean the wackos deep in the forests, hiding their activities, and working contrary to the interests of the state.

“Arms” – Weapons. The Founders had single-shot pistols, hunting rifles and shotguns, the standard issue of the day to bring food to the table. Today, we have redefined “Arms” to include semi- and full-automatic firearms as well as the Taser. Proposition 2 would prevent a civilian from using a Taser for self-protection but would allow that person to use a pistol.* What is wrong with this picture?

Further complicating the discussion it appears that people on both sides of the argument forget one small section, “being necessary to the security of a free State.” The Second Amendment allows for the citizen soldiers, “the public,” to “keep and bear Arms” to protect the state and its citizens. In 1774 through 1787, the citizen soldier brought his own rifle. Today, though you can buy a civilian version of the M-14, the citizen soldier’s arms are supplied by the state.

Note, the amendment does not say “own Arms,” something today’s proponents and opponents fail to mention in their collective discussions. My argument is that if the arms are distributed by the military or sanctioned paramilitary organization, its members should be able to keep and bear those weapons for the defense of the country and citizens. Did the Founders mean “own, keep and bear arms"? If they did, why didn’t they write that?

Let’s get back to Proposition 2. Prop 2 would make it a “Class A misdemeanor for individuals, including police officers, to use or threaten to use Tasers, stun guns or any other conducted electrical device against any person within the City.” The proposal includes civilians who want a Taser or stun-gun for self-protection and extends sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.

We generally agree that a Taser is a weapon. If we also agree that police and other government-sanctioned paramilitary and public-safety organizations provide this weapon to its members in the name of public safety, then the banning of the use of Tasers would appear to be contrary to the Second Amendment.

This issue will not stop with the Nov. 2 vote. The NRA and the ACLU, along with Taser-Free Columbia, will continue to battle, filling the airways and cyberspace with their sometimes zealot messages. “Chaos will take over the world if we …” One side screams, “Ban Tasers,” while the other screams, “Allow Tasers.”

We should never allow the NRA, the ACLU or any other group to put fear in our hearts when it comes to making a moral and legal decision like our vote on Proposition 2.

For me, “No” on Prop 2 is the right call, with all due respect to the fears and anxieties raised by the folks with Taser-Free Columbia. In this case, fears do not outweigh the Constitution.

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.

 


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Comments

Gregg Bush October 26, 2010 | 9:29 a.m.

Pitiful.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith October 26, 2010 | 10:35 a.m.

First, this is an historic occasion: David Rosman and Ellis Smith agree on something.

This situation (tasers) I see as part of a broader situation which seems to have begun in the 1960s: that everything must and can be made "safe."
Firearms (and let's include tasers) can injure or kill people, so let's ban them. Kitchen knives can cause bodily harm (either accidentally or intentionally), so let's ban them. People are killed or injured in stairway accidents, so let's do away with stairs. And automobiles? Well, obviously they have to go!

In homes, accidents occur in bathrooms. No problem, we'll just do away with bathrooms. If the "little house on the prairie," aka outhouse, was good enough for our ancestors it should be good enough for us. Take care not to fall down that hole. Accidents in the bedroom? Yes, there too, but let's leave those issues alone!

Making things safer is a worthwhile and necessary goal, but total safety is an abstraction.

Use of tasers should be based on a risk/benefit analysis, not a vote. I too will vote "NO" on this issue.

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 26, 2010 | 11:10 a.m.

Phony equivalence is pathetic. TASERs are not bathrooms, autos or stairs. Law enforcers don't use bathrooms, autos or stairs to immobilize suspects during arrests for non-criminal infractions.
Pitiful redux.

(Report Comment)
David Rosman October 27, 2010 | 1:32 p.m.

Mr. Ellis - I shall raise my arms in unabashed wild enthusiasm knowing that you and I agreed on something. Thank you for your comments.

Mr. Bush - You seem to have missed the two points. 1) This is a constitutional problem and one, if the proposed ban is passed, will be fought tooth and nail as a violation of the Second Amendment. 2) This is a 'slippery slope' argument. Yes, Mr. Bush took it to the absurd, however he is not incorrect in the assessment.

BTW - Over my 30-years involved with local and state politics, I know of incidents where law enforcement have used their cars to stop "bad guys," where the "bad guy" "accidently" fell down stairs, and where bathrooms have been used an "interrogation rooms." And, no, these are not scenes from "Law and Order" or "NCIS."

(Report Comment)
Gregg Bush October 27, 2010 | 3:29 p.m.

Mr. Rosman,
"Keep and bear arms" are not infringed with a ban on the USE of CEDs. They may still keep and bear them - they may simply not be used. It's a bit nit-picky but that's why we have the courts.
You are the only commentator that has even addressed the "well regulated militia" clause. For that, you are to be commended.
Nevertheless - the fact is: no auto nor bathroom nor stairway does the same thing as a Thomas A Smith Electric Rifle. Again, it is a fake equivalence - no matter how many anecdotes you've amassed in 30 years - and it's only use is deception.

(Report Comment)

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