I am going to draw on a couple of polls from the OpEdNews website for this piece. One concerning whether or not the Second Amendment (the right to keep and bear arms) is relevant in today's society. The other is a poll by Tony Forest on whether or not individuals choose to exercise their Second Amendment rights. In both polls, the issue of armed resistance of a tyrannical government was a frequent reason for supporting and exercising the right. The conclusion I have drawn is the Second Amendment is still viewed as a keystone of the U.S. Constitution.
In the polls cited, the vast majority (82% as of this submission) viewed the Second Amendment as still relevant to our society by the readers. While those who actively exercised the right and owned guns were fewer than those who supported the Second Amendment (58% stated they own guns), very few actively argued against the individual right to keep and bear arms. Clearly, support for the right to keep and bear arms is not a rightwing exclusive.
There is still a very real threat of the government disarming law-abiding U.S. citizens, even through supposedly innocuous laws like registration requirements that could lead to confiscation of lawfully owned weapons. There are also laws that restrict the use of weapons, or weapons technology, that are otherwise available to individual soldiers in "militias." (No, we are not talking nukes or crew served weapons like howitzers.) The net effect ensures citizens do not have the equivalent firepower of the government as the police become increasingly militarized.
Public police departments were not a part of our nation's origins and did not appear until the mid-1800s. Until the 1980s, police weaponry typically consisted of service revolvers with shotguns as backup weapons. Today's police are increasingly equipped with essentially the same weapons and technologies in use by the U.S. military as part of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) units or teams. These technologies include fully automatic rifles and pistols, body armor (vests and helmets), militarized transportation (armored vehicles and aircraft), and advanced surveillance equipment (radar, thermal vision, night vision and communication interception – listening devices and electronic monitoring). Even the "cop on the beat" now often carries a semi-automatic pistol with "high capacity" magazines (capable of holding more than ten rounds, in California).
Why the change? Unfortunately the militarization of police is largely because of the War on Drugs (and War on Crime) starting with the Reagan Administration and expanded by each subsequent president. click here This has culminated (to date) with the Bush II administration's "War on Terrorism" and the Patriot Act. Three Republican and one Democratic administration, all permitting the transfer of military technology to civilian police in order to combat crime and ensure public safety. . . and ultimately threatening personal liberty through the growing potential for government tyranny and a developing Police State.
The threat of a tyrannical government is not geographically isolated or a part of ancient history. Hitler made use of, and extended, existing gun laws in Germany to prevent Jews and non-Nazi Germans from owning guns as a precaution to armed revolution against the Nazi regime. Stalin disarmed Czarist Russians and slaughtered millions of unarmed dissidents. Zimbabwe's citizens today have been disarmed by their government and are pleading for guns to resist the genocide taking place there.
On our own soil we have seen the police state assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco. We have also seen the New Orleans police seize weapons from law-abiding citizens while they tried to defend themselves from looters after Hurricane Katrina threw the city into chaos. We watched on television while an armed government invaded an unarmed Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints sect in Texas in April of this year. It has happened here; it will happen again.
Can we afford to render the Second Amendment obsolete and completely disarm the private citizen? Our European cousins think us mad to continue to permit private gun ownership. They also thought us mad to oppose British tyranny in American colonies some 230 years ago. If we do away with the Second Amendment, or make it so restrictive through legislation as to be ineffective, we certainly would not be able to resort to armed resistance if deemed necessary.
Opponents of the Second Amendment use the argument that the Second Amendment's original purpose was to provide arms to militias. Although this need is already covered in Article 1, Section 8, of the Constitution, let's pretend our Founding Fathers forgot the Congress could legislate funding for arms for the militias. Let's pretend they said, "Ooops! Our militias need arms. Well, let's put in an amendment to the Constitution allowing the States or private citizens to buy their own weapons and keep them! It's been done before in England. Citizens need guns for hunting too. And we haven't invented police yet so they need guns for self defense." Using this logic, citizens who are a part of a militia (in the beginning of our nation, any able-bodied male) should be able to own any weapon carried by the individual soldier in the militia – read that as National Guard today. Well that ability has certainly been restricted.
The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in DC v. Heller that the Second Amendment does ensure private ownership of guns as an individual right, but subject to reasonable regulation.
"The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." (Supreme Court Of The United States, Syllabus, District of Columbia Et Al. V. Heller, Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit, No. 07–290. Argued March 18, 2008-Decided June 26, 2008.)
And ". . . when the able-bodied men of a nation are trained in arms and organized, they are better able to resist tyranny." But, "It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose."
This was in deference to the 1939 SCOTUS decision in the U.S. v. Miller that ruled a sawed-off shotgun was not a typical weapon used by militias. The private citizen can be limited to the type of weapon he/she can personally own and carry based on reasonable government regulation. The "reasonable" restrictions were only partially defined in the ruling of DC v. Heller such as: "Miller's holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those 'in common use at the time' finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."
The SCOTUS tried to play Solomon and split the baby between the individual right to keep and bear arms of the Second Amendment and the right to public safety. (Public safety is mentioned briefly in Article 1, Section 9, of the Constitution.)
Alan Dershowitz, clearly not a rightwing gun-nut, stated: "Foolish liberals who are trying to read the Second Amendment out of the Constitution by claiming it's not an individual right or that it's too much of a public safety hazard don't see the danger in the big picture. They're courting disaster by encouraging others to use the same means to eliminate portions of the Constitution they don't like." ("The Conceptual Foundations of Anglo-American Jurisprudence In Religion And Reason", Dan Gifford, Tennessee Law Review Second Amendment Symposium, vol. 62, no. 3, 1995: 759.)
We need to maintain the Second Amendment as the final defense for the rest of the Constitution. Would we offer up armed revolution if the need arises? I am not sure, but I am sure we could not if we abolish the Second Amendment. It would likely take a very egregious series of events to cause ourselves (myself included) to take up arms to resist. Let's pray we never need to exercise our Second Amendment right to its fullest intent.
Before you think I am completely crazy, I am not advocating armed revolution today. Allow me to make a sudden twist. Perhaps we must rely on our First Amendment rights (the pen is mightier than the sword) to combat government abuses. Perhaps the time has come for "we the people" to advance a 28th Amendment to protect all of our rights. Something along the lines of: