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.
This is the second of the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, those collectively regarded as the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment was ratified on December 15, 1791. That’s a little more than fifteen years after the American Declaration of Independence and eight years after the Peace Treaty of Paris ended the American Revolutionary War. It became known as the “Right to Bear Arms” amendment.
Note the Constitution lacks any direct reference to individual self-defense. Instead we have a muddled Second Amendment that declares a stand for the right to bear Arms. Not swords, battle-axes, legs, or cannon, but arms as in firearms as in guns. It doesn’t proclaim a right to self-defense. Indeed, there is not any reference whatsoever to any right of self-defense. Which is interesting, isn’t it?
As a frontier society along the Atlantic seaboard, the former Thirteen British Colonies were constantly at war with Native Americans, amongst themselves, and against other European empires. The “New Americans” also relied heavily upon firearms to guard and intimidate potentially rebellious slaves and for frequent hunting for food and sport. The U.S.A. was and remains awash with firearms.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution has ever since been a combustible point of emotionally reactive and regressive yet passionate arguments between those who interpret the broken run-on sentences to grant the right to bear arms only to “a well-regulated militia” vs. those who interpret it to apply to individual citizens vs. those who say both equally or yes, both, but the militia is preeminent over individuals as it is listed first. Numerous state supreme courts as well as the Supreme Court of the United States have deliberated upon what the Second Amendment actually means from a number of different angles.
The debates rage anew today as we Americans shift from using the term “gun control” to “an epidemic of gun violence.” President Obama and Vice-President Biden seek to issue vigorous new proposals to stem gun violence in the wake of the Newtown Massacre. Today, January 16, 2013, Obama signed twenty-three executive actions addressing gun law and mental health issues that do not require the approval of the U.S. Congress. The day before, New York became the first state to pass stringent new firearms regulations in the wake of Newtown and also last month’s Christmas Eve carnage in Webster where a felon burnt down part of a small town and ambushed firefighters.
Already there is powerful pushback by the NRA and gun enthusiasts including calls to impeach President Obama for violating the Bill of Rights with some states such as Missouri determined to ignore federal laws to the point of making it a state felony for a state police officer to enforce federal law. The shouting match between the “gun nuts” and the “gun grabbers” has reached the crescendo of a bloodless civil war, but the majority of those being shot dead and maimed by bullets constitute a national slaughterhouse of blood.
I propose an immodest proposal. Amend the Second Amendment. Otherwise these fierce debates will go round and round with more and more deaths followed by more and more restrictions. The awkward and clumsily worded amendment needs revision just to fix its grammar alone. It drives my spelling and grammar checker bonkers.
The Second Amendment needs to be rewritten so it is clear and clearly understood by all who speak and read English. Debates on the matter can be quickly settled once and for all in the courts without centuries of bitter strife over what it means or doesn’t mean.
Allow me to go further in my proposal. The Second Amendment needs to express and declare the natural, human right of an individual to self-defense. It does not need to mention a single weapon at all. It is ironic that such a basic human right as self-defense is not honored or mentioned in many declarations of liberty including the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter. Many governments were apparently concerned such a right would empower oppressed people to revolt to defend themselves from state violence and regime tyranny.
Indeed many Americans claim the Second Amendment was designed for states to protect themselves from each other and the federal government and for individuals to overthrow a democratic republic taken over by tyrants and despots. While several of the Founding Fathers have indeed commented on such linkage after the fact, the Constitution, however, never mentions the right to overthrow tyranny. It does state, however, in Article I, Section 8 the U.S. Congress “shall have Power To,” among a long list of responsibilities, “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions…”
Let us amend our Second Amendment to permit the right of states and territories to raise well-regulated militias and to clearly declare an individual’s right to self-defense. The details of an individual’s right to self-defense extending to defend property, children, family, friends, neighbors, even strangers can be defined within the different legislatures and judged by the courts as appropriate. As one’s right to self-defense is established, then weapons of ALL kinds including firearms can be properly regulated. One may or may not have certain kinds of weapons under clearly defined conditions. Weapons, their uses, and their capacity for destruction also change dramatically over time. As such We the People require legal flexibility in regulating weapons.
Here is one proposed wording of an Amended Second Amendment:
Free States and Territories each has the right to raise, train, and regulate a disciplined Militia not subject to the Federal Government and in accordance with its own laws so as to defend its people. Every individual person has the right to self-defense, and the right of the people to defend themselves shall not be infringed.
What do you think? Is this clearer? Should I insert the word, “arm,” in the sentence as “…each has the right to raise, train, arm, and regulate a disciplined Militia…?” Will this help resolve what has turned into a complicated and seemingly neverending conflict? Or will this open another can of worms? Of course, this would have to pass the Congress and be ratified by the States, a daunting task. It would most likely be challenged in the Supreme Court.
My first intention here is to distinguish the States and Territories and their Militias from individual persons. My second intention is to declare our right to self-defense in writing. My third intention is to delete any and all references to weapons, specifically keeping and bearing firearms, out of the Second Amendment (so I would thus leave the word, “arm,” out of the first sentence after all). While I oppose any move to abolish the Second Amendment, I feel strongly we must reform it.
We must find a way to work together to do secure what the Declaration of Independence states that among “certain unalienable rights” are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Those gathered to hear then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, the park ranger and others at and near Mt. Rainier in Washington, all those moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado, the firefighters in Webster, New York, that rural community in Frankstown, Pennsylvania, and the twenty little children in Newtown, Connecticut, among many others, had those rights taken away from them in homicidal bloodbaths.
There is one final and significant hurdle to consider in these conversations for what’s possible. What legal actions are possible to amend an amendment that despite it’s mangled wording does end with “shall not be infringed?” Again, by reframing the amendment to focus on the States’ power to raise disciplined Militias and our individual right to our self-defense.
William Dudley Bass
16 January 2013
United States of America
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