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article imageOp-Ed: Most people don't really understand the Second Amendment

By Karen Graham     Feb 25, 2018 in Politics
The U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment from 1791, states: “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.” What does this amendment really mean?
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 people, the Second Amendment to the Constitution has become the focus of a national debate, with gun control advocates wanting stricter gun laws, and the National Rifle Association - afraid Americans will lose their "right to bear arms."
I don't know how much American History or Civics is being taught in our public schools anymore, but from the discussions I have heard and the comments I have read on social media, I would gather that neither courses are required anymore or most people have forgotten what they learned or slept through those classes.
At CNN's "town hall" meeting Wednesday night with members of the community of Parkland, Florida, the civilized discussion about what should be done about protecting students from school shooters instead turned into a heated debate on the Second Amendment.
A  memorial for victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland  Florida
A memorial for victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida
My ears perked up when the school’s history teacher, Diane Wolk Rogers, asked Dana Loesch, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association (NRA), “What is your definition of a ‘well-regulated militia,’ as stated in the Second Amendment?”
Rogers added, “And using supporting detail, explain to me how an 18-year-old with a military rifle is well-regulated? And the world, our country, our nation, is going to grade your answer.”
Loesch responded: “George Mason was one of the founding fathers, and he said ‘The militia is the whole of the people.’ It’s every man, it’s every woman, that is who the militia is. In the context of the time, a well-regulated militia meant an American man, an American woman, a citizen of the United States of America, who could operate and service their firearm.”
Quartz said they would have given the answer an "F," while the Chicago Tribune went even further, saying, "the Second Amendment is neither an obstacle nor a protection. It’s an irrelevance."
The NRA's executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre made his first public comments on the...
The NRA's executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre made his first public comments on the tragedy in Parkland, Florida in an address to the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland
Apparently, there is a fair amount of misunderstanding regarding the real meaning behind those 27-words that make up the Second Amendment. So for those of you who think the amendment means you have the right to own as many rifles, pistols or any other kinds of firepower, let me give you something to have a real discussion about.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution
After the December 2012 Newtown massacre, the NRA's then-president, David Keene, warned that the new White House task force on gun violence would “do everything they can to strip Americans of their right to keep and bear arms, to essentially make the Second Amendment meaningless.”
But as our country continues to grapple with gun violence, pro-gun activists have come to rely on their interpretation of the amendment, saying it "gives them the right to bear arms—a reading that was upheld by the Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia. v. Heller, when the District of Columbia tried to ban all handguns.
People might be surprised to learn this was the very first time the Supreme Court has ever ruled a gun control statute violated the Second Amendment. But even then, the court was very careful in how it worded its ruling.
Justice Antonin Scalia noted that the decision “should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” The District of Columbia still has the power to enact “some measures regulating handguns,” he added.
Justice Antonin Scalia and Jurij Toplak of European Election Law Association at the Harvard Law Scho...
Justice Antonin Scalia and Jurij Toplak of European Election Law Association at the Harvard Law School on November 30, 2006.
Actually, most judges and scholars who have debated the Second Amendment have concluded the "amendment protects gun ownership for purposes of military duty and collective security." And they are absolutely correct in this conclusion.
Second Amendment was based partially on English common law
George Mason was a Virginia politician and anti-Federalist and was one of only three delegates to the US Constitutional Convention of 1787 to refuse to sign the Constitution. He was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which later served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights.
It was at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, where many of the ideas for the Bill of Rights would be generated, that he spoke the words Loesch used in her answer. Loesch mistakenly assumed that because Mason uttered these words, it means that everyone in America has the right to own a gun. And this assumption on the part of the NRA is not exactly correct.
Portrait of George Mason (1725-1792)  American patriot  statesman  and delegate from Virginia to the...
Portrait of George Mason (1725-1792), American patriot, statesman, and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. He is called the "Father of the Bill of Rights". For all of these reasons he is considered to be one of the "Founding Fathers" of the United States. This is a a painting of copy of Mason. circa 1750.
Painted around the time of Mason’s first marriage. This is a copy of the original, which was ruine
Here is George Mason’s quote in full, as recorded in the transcripts of the Virginia Ratifying Convention: “I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor; but they may be confined to the lower and middle classes of the people, granting exclusion to the higher classes of the people.”
People in America today forget that until we won our independence from England, we were governed by British common law. Our laws evolved as the country grew, and at that particular time in our history, there were no cities, National Guards, no government except for the one across the Atlantic Ocean.
And Mason was well versed in English law and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The English Bill of Rights had two issues that were a source of conflict - the authority of the King to govern without the consent of Parliament, and the role of Catholics in a country that was becoming ever more Protestant.
This painting hangs in the U.S. Capital and depicts George Washington presiding over the signing of ...
This painting hangs in the U.S. Capital and depicts George Washington presiding over the signing of the Constitution at the Philadelphia Convention.
The Indian Reporter
Basically, the bill states that it is acting to restore "ancient rights" trampled upon by James II. Many people have argued the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms and in essence is what our Second Amendment is saying.
In the 2008 Supreme Court decision, the court wrote: "This right has long been understood to be the predecessor to our Second Amendment.... It was clearly an individual right, having nothing whatever to do with service in a militia. To be sure, it was an individual right not available to the whole population, given that it was restricted to Protestants, and like all written English rights it was held only against the Crown, not Parliament."
But as Justice Scalia pointed out in the 2008 Supreme Court decision, "As with the English law "like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
Colt AR-15 Sporter SP1 Carbine
Colt AR-15 Sporter SP1 Carbine
Rapping it all up in a sloppy package
When the NRA was first formed, the organization focused on hunters and on gun safety and training. As a teenager, I was sent to the NRA training program and had to pass the class before I was allowed to get my first hunting license.
But in 1977, at the NRA’s annual meeting, the “Revolt at Cincinnati" occurred. A group of activists pushed the leadership to install new leaders that were more intense and very focused on the Second Amendment.
So for over 30 years, the NRA has waged a legal campaign to change the way the courts and the public look at the amendment. They have support scholars and law professors, help to elect politicians, but the organization does its job best by swaying public opinion.
Basically, you could get a dozen people to read the Bill of Rights, and depending on what part of the country they live in, their educational level and political persuasion, get 12 different interpretations. But the whole point of this is that we have to have a civilized discussion, and not call each other names or threaten. That won't get anything done.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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