Misreading the Second Amendment

You know, I could swear that the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, the second of the so-called Bill of Rights, doesn’t mention anything about skeet shooting:

“Up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” Obama said in the interview with The New Republic. He was responding to a question about whether he had ever fired a gun.

While his teenage daughters haven’t partaken in skeet shooting – a sport where participants fire shotguns to break airborne clay disks – he has brought guests with him, he said in the interview.

“I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations,” he said. “And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.”

It’s all well and good that he has a profound respect for the traditions of hunting. But it’s irrelevant to the discussion.

The Second Amendment reads:

As passed by the Congress:

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.

As ratified by the States and authenticated by Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of State:

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.

Parse the meaning with and without extra comma all you want, the point remains that the right to keep and bear arms has everything to do with a well regulated militia, nothing to do with shooting pigeons, clay or blood-and-feathers. We can quibble over what a militia is, and how much regulation is well regulated. But the Second Amendment is silent on blowing Bambi’s head off (and the other traditions of hunting).

So why does he insert hunting and his profound respect for its traditions into the discussion? Because if you can bamboozle the people into believing the debate is about hunters’ rights and not about “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” in order to maintain “a well regulated militia”, for the “security of a free state”, a whole different realm of regulations is possible. Here in Mass., a state legislator is trying to pass a bill which makes it illegal to keep a rifle in the home (a change from previous laws which permitted rifles as long as they were stored in a specially built—and costly—safe). You would have to house it a shooting club, and access it there only during their hours. You would no longer be able to keep it in your home for any purpose, no matter how safe and legal it had been before or how law-abiding you had been.

But we don’t permit mental health background checks.

There are many countries that do not have a Second Amendment, and they may be happy without one. But we are no such country. Every right in the Bill of Rights is for the protection of the citizen against the power and potential tyranny of government—from “the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”, to “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”, to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms”.

All the protections irk us from time to time—arguments over free speech still take up a large part of the Supreme Court’s time. But the Bill of Rights is not an a la carte menu. It says what it means and means what it says.

1 Comment »

  1. Bloodthirsty Liberal said,

    January 28, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

    I go shooting all the time, too, BTL. Ever shoot pool? How about taking a shot (of alcohol)? Is that shooting? Once I even shot the rapids while canoeing. And I’ve shot the moon playing hearts more times that I can count.

    So fear not. Whether we have guns or not, we can still “shoot”.

    Shoot, where did I put my cup of coffee?

    - Aggie

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