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.
That is the full text of the 2nd amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
If anyone tells you they KNOW! definitively what it means, they are actually giving you their opinion rather than an objective fact. They can’t possibly know, because it’s inherently ambiguous, as much as some people would like to believe otherwise.
Some people say it means that the government has no constitutional authority to limit a citizen’s right to own semi-automatic handguns or an AR-15, or even a Barrett M82 50 caliber rifle. Others, however, say it means that anyone in an official “well-regulated” militia, like the National Guard, has the right to bear arms. But, the response to this goes, the “militia” really means everyone, because when the constitution was drafted, everyone was subject to being activated to repel invaders.
Many historians think evidence points to the conclusion that the 2nd Amendment was ratified *not* to guarantee an individual right to be continually armed, but because there was widespread opposition to a standing army, so state militias were necessary and should not be disarmed. Or, probably more commonly, constitutional historians accept that the right is an individual right, but is conditioned upon the assumption of participation in a militia, and since militias no longer exist, the individual right to keep and bear arms consequently no longer exists.
One example may be found in a brief submitted to the Supreme Court (page 36) in 2008:
“…the authors of the Second Amendment would be flabbergasted to learn that in endorsing the republican principle of a well-regulated militia, they were also precluding restrictions on such potentially dangerous property as firearms, which governments had always regulated when there was “real danger of public injury from individuals.”
Other people may have other interpretations of the 2nd amendment. So when your great uncle Norman (I hope no one actually has a great uncle Norman!) tells you the 2nd amendment gives him a constitutionally guaranteed right to have that AR-15, or even a machine gun, the truth is…. maybe, maybe not.
As it happens, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals held in an opinion issued on June 9, 2016, that the Second Amendment does not ensure an individual right to bear arms in public. At that link you can download the opinion and also listen to, or even watch video of, the oral argument that led to it.
The Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that the Constitution protects and individual right to own a handgun in the home for self-protection. In contrast, this 9th Circuit opinion (Peruta v. County of San Diego) bears on weapons outside the home. Here is one of many news stories about Peruta. And here is the case page for the Heller decision.
According to Peruta, individuals are not constitutionally barred from carrying weapons, but states or other political subdivisions do not violate constitutional rights by requiring individuals to demonstrate a strong need to have a firearm before issuing a license.
That decision was appealed, but the Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal, leaving the decision’s restriction on public carrying of firearms in place.
This is important because it demonstrates that some people’s broad view of the meaning of 2nd Amendment rights isn’t necessarily justified.
What do you think? Should there be stricter limits on gun ownership and carrying?
Whatever your opinion of gun ownership, carrying and regulation, you should remember that, as documented by the Gun Violence Archive, there were 346 mass shootings in the US in 2017 and 340 in 2018. There have been 12 so far in 2019, and 28 children aged 0-11 killed or injured by gun violence as of January 19, 2019.
I’m including more text and some more links below, in case you’d find it helpful.
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Lots of folks say they want to have guns to protect themselves. We know, though, that having a gun makes someone much, much more likely to die from guns than to protect themselves with guns.
Despite the widely held belief that guns are effective for protection, our results suggest that they actually pose a substantial threat to members of the household. People who keep guns in their homes appear to be at greater risk of homicide in the home than people who do not. Most of this risk is due to a substantially greater risk of homicide at the hands of a family member or intimate acquaintance. We did not find evidence of a protective effect of keeping a gun in the home, even in the small subgroup of cases that involved forced entry.
So, statistically, people who have guns are actually far more likely to die from guns. People who do not have guns are actually far safer from guns than people who have them. Especially for women, who are many times more likely to be shot by a member of her household than by an intruder.
It is certainly true that sometimes a person does actually protect themselves with a gun. It is also true that sometimes someone is trapped in a car by a seatbelt when they would otherwise be able to escape.
A popularly-cited factoid among defenders of the 2nd amendment is that guns are used over 2 million times per year in self-defense. This factoid has been strongly challenged, or here, however, as it is plagued by self-reporting error and faulty statistical methods.
In fact, it is entirely clear, beyond any real debate, that not having a gun, wearing a seatbelt, and getting your vaccinations are vastly more likely to result in positive outcomes for individuals.
But what about the point raised by those opposing restrictions on gun ownership and possession that “mass shooters look for gun free zones?” Actually, there’s quite a bit of research indicating that it’s not true. Some researchers argue that the vast majority of mass shootings occur in “gun allowing” zones.
According to the National Rifle Association, the most prominent group advocating for 2nd amendment rights, the answer to gun violence is for more people to have guns. “An armed society is a polite society.” Try telling that to the Sheriffs of Dodge City and Tombstone in the Wild West era. Essentially everyone owned handguns then, but carrying them in town – at least the part of town where the locals lived – was strictly prohibited. Or here.
And America is certainly a leader in gun violence.
Using the most recent CDC estimates for yearly deaths by guns in the United States, it is likely that as of 1/25/2014, roughly 37,569 people had died from guns in the U.S. since the Newtown shootings. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html)
Yes, it’s true that nearly two thirds of those deaths are suicides. But that doesn’t seem to be an effective argument. If people didn’t have guns they would not be nearly so successful at killing themselves. People are “successful” at suicide by gun over 90% of the time, but with drug overdoses perhaps as little as 6% of the time. It may be that drug overdoses and slashing wrists are as much a cry for help as a real suicide attempt. But with a gun, no help is possible. Add this to the fact that the presence of guns makes people more aggressive, and there doesn’t seem to be a sensible reason to exclude suicides from gun violence totals.
Over 37,000 gun deaths in a year. And the solution is more guns?
Of course, it’s hard to know the full truth about gun violence, because a 1996 amendment (the “Dickey Amendment”) to an appropriations bill effectively ended most scientific inquiry into gun violence.
So what do you think? Should we have more rules about gun ownership, such as closing the “gun-show loophole?” (Some people object to this description, but it seems reasonably accurate and it’s in wide usage.) Should we require gun manufacturers to make guns safer? Or would those things violate our inalienable rights?
Yes, I know I’ve painted a very one-sided picture of this debate. As usual, I’m not trying to fool anyone or brainwash anyone. I’m just providing a starting point. Anyone wanting information on “the other side” can check out the NRA or Gun Owners of America or the National Association of Gun Rights or the John Birch Society or a bunch of others.
There is a whole library of writing and probably a gazillion hours of YouTube on this issue. I encourage you to further research the issue before posting. I warn you as you are researching that much of what you see will be more politically motivated than scientifically researched. As always on any topic: Be Careful!