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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/6/15

The Second Amendment: What Does It Actually Say and Mean?

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Knowing the history and actual meaning of the Second Amendment, and producing sane, reasonable laws, regulations and prevention and intervention programs would greatly reduce gun violence and mass murders in America.

That is why the premise of this article is that in order to establish needed arms control and sufficient regulation, laws and law enforcement, we need to dispel the false interpretations of the Second Amendment that have prevented us from implementing any meaningful, effective solutions to the horrible problem of gun violence and murder by people using guns.

However, arms control and regulations are not enough. We also need to establish programs that would include: helping people identify red flags in the behavior and attitudes of troubled individuals; educational prevention and intervention programs, including better and more gang prevention programs targeting at-risk youth; mandatory teacher and peer reporting of individuals with odd and suspicious behaviors; and mandatory followup of school officials and local government officials to ensure that investigations are carried out and needed psychological treatment is provided.

The problem is that there is a huge obstacle in America preventing any meaningful progress toward accomplishing these solutions. That obstacle enables mentally ill and mentally unstable people, as well as gangsters and criminals, to buy any kind of guns and arms they want. And we must deal with that obstacle with truth, facts, and reason.

The obstacle is those who oppose gun control and arms regulation, and the problem is that they justify themselves by invoking the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution even though they do not know what the Second Amendment actually says and means. They justify themselves by citing the last part of if, but they misinterpret and even distort its full meaning.

Therefore, they, and everyone else concerned, should learn that part of the reason James Madison wrote the Second Amendment of the Constitution was to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the Southern states in general, that Congress would not be able to use its new constitutional powers to disarm local state militias -- which plantation owners in the Southern states relied upon for slave control and dealing with escaped slaves.

There is a great deal of historical evidence to indicate that was the case, including debates held between James Madison and others at the Constitutional Ratifying Convention in Richmond, Virginia in mid-1788, and the First Congressional record.

That, in fact, is why the Second Amendment regarding bearing arms was ratified by the States, and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, then-Secretary of State.

The Second Amendment 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."

It expresses what it really means, that the people have the right to bear arms so that they can readily belong to or join a well regulated state militia that can act in cases of emergency. And that was confirmed by the fact that during the debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789, twelve congressmen took part but none of them mentioned a private right to bear arms for any purpose other than belonging to or joining state militias.

The idea of a "right" for individuals to bear arms for hunting and self-protection stems from prior British common law tradition that existing prior to the U.S. Constitution being written. Also influential in beliefs about bearing arms was the text of the British or English Bill of Rights of 1689 that includes language protecting the right of English subjects against disarmament by any royal monarch.

However, there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about giving individuals the right to bear arms for any other reason than so they can readily belong to or join a well regulated state militia. The common law rights established in America because of British tradition and law are not actually reflected in the American Constitution because of the qualifying beginning part of the Second Amendment.

In spite of all the facts, today many right-wing Americans claim the Second Amendment was based on English common law and the amendment is just poorly worded and easy to misinterpret. But ironically, their confusion and argument is not new and it was cleared up in 1876 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment does not establish the right to bear arms, and the assumed right was based on British common law tradition which was continued in America. And common law is not established by a legislative process, but is rather established by precedents set by the arbitrary rulings of individual judges.

Still, many right-wing Americans have misunderstood and have made the same argument before. Consequently, the U.S. Supreme Court has made many other rulings about it, most of which recognize the real meaning, while more recent rulings are clearly at odds with the real meaning and intention of the original Second Amendment..

Why the Second Amendment Is Misinterpreted and Misunderstood

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E.J. is a progressive activist serving to help promote an initiative based on Jeffersonian principles regarding government and religion -- principles which Abraham Lincoln said are "the axioms of a free society."

E.J. has closely examined (more...)

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