COLUMN: Gun Control: Amend the Second Amendment?
The heinous killing of 20 schoolchildren and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. has the nation in mourning. And it has riveted attention on the controversial issue of gun control.
Finally, this week, let’s ask the big question: Is it time to amend the Second Amendment?
Following the Sandy Hook tragedy, this week we’ve discussed the call for stricter gun control, as well as erroneous claims made by gun advocates, Harvard’s finding that more guns = more homicides, and public opinion about various approaches to reduce mass killings like Sandy Hook.
We’ve also tracked the counter on the user-initiated online petition at SignOn.org in support of gun control. Yesterday evening, it had grown to over 410,000 signatures.
Today, we consider the meaning of the Second Amendment. Apparently, there were two versions, one passed by Congress, and the other ratified by the States. (Here’s a summary of the history.) The Congressional version read: “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.” And the state-ratified version: “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.”
I’m not a constitutional scholar, but it seems to me that both texts are ambiguous. They’re certainly not well written. Did the framers of the Constitution intend that bearing arms was necessary only for a militia (remember that the British tried to disarm the colonists) or does it also include the right for individuals to bear arms who have nothing to do with a militia?
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court in close decisions concluded that “the right of the people” means that individuals can buy and own guns. The minority, however, argued that the text restricts the bearing of arms to the militia. It is not an individual right. So, if gun control advocates want to restrict the individual right to keep and bear arms, it might take a Constitutional amendment.
Is the Second Amendment out of date?
Would you support an amendment to restrict the bearing of arms to a militia?
Do we need to protect the individual right to bear arms?