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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

It’s time to revisit the second amendment

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The debate on gun rights continues to tear across the nation. Politicians and individuals on the left talk about restricting unfettered access to firearms, while those on the right opine that liberals are attempting to eliminate one of the most basic liberties accorded to the American people. This rift isn’t new, yet what people fail to realize is that it truly is quite simple.

There is no unequivocal right to bear arms. The second amendment is often misquoted and manipulated, leaving out the important beginning clause. In its entirety, the second amendment reads:

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Despite being difficult to interpret at face value, nowhere does this statement provide that every citizen has an iron-clad right to the possession of firearms. The current argument for unrestricted gun rights breaks down on multiple levels.

Under strict textualism, it’s clear that there can’t be an unrestricted right to firearms for private citizens. The entire purpose of the second amendment is for the purpose of a well regulated militia. At the inception of the nation there was no standing army, and there was no plan to create one. The Revolutionary army was a confederation of troops from the colonies, and the Founders intended to keep that system. Central to the arguments heard at the myriad Constitutional Conventions was federalism, or the idea of state’s rights taking precedent over a large central government. In fact, the entire root cause of the Revolutionary War was an overbearing British government, so it comes as no surprise that the Founders were wary of a large and powerful federal government. Because of this, the Founders conceptualized a militia made up of private citizens beholden to the state. In order for this militia to work, the citizens needed access to firearms. Without private access to firearms, there would be no militia, and thus no defense mechanism to protect the fledgling state.

Nowadays, however, the concept of a “well regulated militia” is completely anachronistic, and indeed laughable. The United States long ago abandoned the idea of a militia fighting force. Today, we have the first, second, and fourth largest militaries in the world. American military supremacy is recognized and established all throughout the globe. Private citizens no longer have the onerous task of defending the nation, but rather get to reap the benefits of hard-fought freedom, liberty, and security. As such, a militia no longer becomes necessary.

As a corollary, private access to guns no longer becomes necessary. Unburdened of the task of securing the free state, private citizens no longer hold any reason to own guns. The second amendment, stripped of its defining clause, no longer holds any merit. As such, gun laws must be reformed.

Another popular theory of constitutional interpretation is originalism, which aims to interpret the Constitution as the Founding Fathers would have understood it. It argues that, if the Constitution is law, then our modern interpretation must adhere solely to what the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote it. By this theory, unfettered access to modern firearms again breaks down.

Even the most cursory examination illuminates that modern firearms are vastly different from those of the 18th century. Back then, muzzle-loading rifles were the technological cream of the crop. In order to fire one, the user would have to cram a lead bullet down a barrel of the same diameter, an arduous and time-consuming process. Once loaded, the rifle fired with much less velocity and accuracy than modern firearms, making it much less efficient than its modern compatriots. In comparison, an AR-15, one of the leading semi-automatic rifles on the market today, has a firing range of 547 yards (about 5 and a half foot-ball fields), a muzzle velocity of 3,200 ft/s, and has the capacity to fire 13.3 rounds per second. These two weapons aren’t even in the same stratosphere when it comes to effectiveness.

This rapid and immense growth in firearm technology was unforeseeable to the Founding Fathers. When they wrote the Constitution, including the second amendment, the idea of a semi-automatic rifle was unimaginable. The danger posed by a muzzle-loading rifle was negligible in comparison to the imperative of having a well regulated militia, not only for external threats but also to secure the interior of the nation.

Nowadays, however, neither of those threats exist. Instead, the widespread access to firearms that Americans enjoy today only serves to threaten the very security that the second amendment was designed to safeguard.

Of course, it is now impossible to completely eradicate gun ownership from American society. After two centuries of misinterpretation, guns are too ingrained into our culture to ever even posit such a radical change. Reforms can, however, be made. First and foremost, the rhetoric accompanying gun ownership needs to change. It is not a right, but rather a privilege. We, collectively, need to recognize this and understand the immense responsibility that comes with gun ownership. The process to procure a firearm must become significantly more difficult, with greater attention paid to mental stability and experience with guns. Furthermore, assault weapons and military-grade technology must be banned from private ownership. There is simply no reason why a citizen requires or deserves access to such a dangerous weapon.

Now is the time to bring these issues up once again, albeit in this new light. With a national stage already set, major gun reforms must become a focal point for American society. Only with a shift in the gun paradigm can the endemic violence begin to be solved.

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