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Is It Time to Tweak the Second Amendment?


Whenever someone of note suggests any alteration of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, you can expect a firestorm. So why would a retired judge even suggest such a thing?

In an article written for The Washington Post, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, suggested a five-word change to the second amendment. The article is an excerpt from Stevens’ new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.

Those five words, Stephens says, would remove any doubt about the “true” intent of the amendment and remove the misinterpretation he feels the Supreme Court made in two landmark cases in 2008 and 2010, for which he offered dissenting opinions.

He says, in part:

“As a result of [Supreme Court] rulings, the Second Amendment, which was adopted to protect the states from federal interference with their power to ensure that their militias were ‘well regulated,’ has given federal judges the ultimate power to determine the validity of state regulations of both civilian and militia-related uses of arms. That anomalous result can be avoided by adding five words to the text of the Second Amendment to make ti unambiguously conform to the original intent of the draftsmen. As so amended, it would read: ‘A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed.’”

The suggestion is likely, naturally enough, to incite pure ire of gun owners. And that’s understandable.

Unfortunately for responsible gun owners, however, they are outnumbered by a very vocal minority of “maverick” gun owners who walk around spouting off ridiculous sayings like, “they can take my guns when they pry them from the hands of my dead body.”

Let’s use a little common sense here, folks: if you’re dead, you’ve lost the right you’re fighting so hard not to lose — and a whole lot more, for that matter. Why even put that option on the table? You can’t reason with people who embrace the idea of dying to keep something they’d then lose anyway.

As Yahoo reports, two landmark court cases, District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008 and McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010, the high court ruled that the Second Amendment as written applied to the right of personal gun ownership on the federal level, then on the state and local level respectively. Both cases had the court split as far “down the middle” as a nine-person court can be split: a 5-4 decision both times.

The Second Amendment, as written, says this:

“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.”

To me, it is beyond clear that our Founding Fathers were talking about an organized entity designed to protect national security, such as the Armed Forces. A single gun owner is not a “militia.” A group of gun owners who aren’t part of an organized body who are charged with protecting that free State aren’t a “militia,” either.

Think Army, Navy, Marines and the other armed services. Think National Guard.

Not the angry guy neighbors worry about who lives in what he refers to as a “compound” and thinks everyone who disagrees with him is a “tyrant” worthy of having his head blown off.

The rub here seems to be that there are responsible gun owners out there who’d happily spring to action to defend the country from any foreign threat using their personal gun. That’s something to be admired. Unfortunately, there are irresponsible gun owners who seem to believe that having a gun makes them their own militia, and as long as they outnumber, in terms of armament — whomever they disagree with — they should have everything their way, no matter what any other law happens to say.

The Yahoo article points out that Stephens’ five-word alteration is almost certainly never going to happen because it would be viewed as an attempt to limit gun ownership rather than an effort to correctly and reasonably apply what the writers of the Constitution surely had in mind.

I’m not at all for taking away the right of private citizens to arm themselves for their own protection and the protection of their family. I can’t imagine why anyone would be against that.

But I think too broad an interpretation of the Second Amendment puts more people in danger from a minority of people who no longer want public discourse and due process so much as martial law that happens to define their own unique set of beliefs and desires. There’s something wrong with that, and that’s what should scare us all.

I’d be fine with the tweak Stephens suggests, but then this would also have to accompany more detailed, more clear legislation on the federal, state and local levels to define more specifically what is and isn’t legal.

It seems, given the track record of Congress, that this would be entirely too much work to pull off.

Your Turn:

Do you think the Second Amendment has been too broadly interpreted or that it needs clarification? If so, how would you change it?

1 Comment

  1. I think Connecticut’s law is a step in the right direction. I would only add that you have to register your firearms and if they are lost or stolen you have to report it or you could be held liable for them.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.