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The Second Amendment & Modern Gun Laws

Updated on January 2, 2016
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Evolution of Language

Language in our country has drastically evolved in the United States’ since the Constitution was originally crafted in 1787. One of the more complex issues that have plagued our government is how to interpret texts appropriately for the modern era. Though it is the job of the Supreme Court to interpret the rules set forth in the Constitution, there are many laws that have recently come under scrutiny from the American public. In light of recent events, citizens have become especially concerned with the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment states, “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”. Diverse interpretations have spawned rich conversations about what that means in this day and age to the citizens of the United States. Since misinterpretation of the Second Amendment is so common, it must be reworked to protect gun rights while promoting public safety.

Encyclopedia of the American Constitution

Original Concepts

The original premise of the law was to provide a method of protection for the young nation against a tyrannically governing body. This concept was crafted in reverence to the fledgling country’s humble beginnings as a British colony and the revolutions that took place in order to secede from Great Britain’s rule. The Encyclopedia of the American Constitution explains that James Madison guaranteed the American public that they should never fear the national government since they have “the advantage of being armed, which you possess over the people of almost every other nation” (2346). Having a militia was an instrumental facet in the United States becoming its own country, so naturally it was only fitting that the drafters of the Constitution provided the same advantages to the country’s inhabitants. This Amendment provides for a check of federal power, allows the existence of militias to “thwart and oppose the general government” and endorses the ancient Roman principle that makes “every citizen a soldier and every soldier a citizen” (“Second Amendment”, Encyclopædia Britannica 1).

West's Encyclopedia of American Law

Civil Liberties, Phrasing and Commas... Oh My!

The American people are concerned that they are at risk for losing certain civil liberties that they believe they are entitled to. However, upon closer examination there are many interpretations as to what the Second Amendment actually entitles citizens to. The Amendment must be addressed in its entirety, not solely picking out elements that are of interest. The first significant detail to understand is that the version of the Second Amendment that is listed in the Bill of Rights was altered twice before finally being approved by congress (“Second Amendment”, West’s 49). This indicates that a great deal of thought and deliberation went into the specific drafting of the wording and punctuation.

Ever since its inception, the Amendment has initiated concern with the specific phrasing and where the punctuation marks lay within the clause, because it is the only amendment that has an opening clause to state its intention. In having an opening clause, the rest of the Amendment is subjective to meeting the qualifications of the clause. There are some legal scholars who debate about the “defective punctuation” (49) of the Amendment since the punctuation accents where the emphasis is placed in a phrase. It is argued that the comma placed after the word militia makes the focus of the statement “militia”. However, opponents of that theory argue that the comma was added in error and if it were not located there, the operative words would highlight “the right of the people…to bear arms…shall not be infringed” (49). The controversy of the comma is important to the discussion regarding the Amendment because the punctuation and grammar rules affect the various ways in which it can be interpreted in contemporary times.

Given all of these theories, it is imperative to establish what the Amendment means for modern America. In colloquial American English, the first clause of the Amendment refers to the militia, or a private “armed military group” (50) and their right to “self-defense and for rebellion against a tyrannical government” (50). In better understanding the first half of the Amendment, giving people the right to bear arms made more sense for the early American mediation style, however is not applicable or appropriate in regards to modern day diplomacy in this country. However, should that situation of modern day diplomacy suddenly change, the American people should absolutely have the right to protect their privilege to a free country.

Goals Achieved?

In order to actually achieve the goal of citizens being able to have a firearm in order to protect their rights to having a free country, it is imperative that the law be reworked in order to address the concern for public safety. The New York Times reports, “Under federal law, people with felony convictions forfeit their right to bear arms. Yet every year, thousands of felons across the country have those rights reinstated, often with little or no review.” (Luo 1) The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 eased up on federal gun laws that were enacted in the 1960s after the assassinations of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, giving the individual states control of felons gun rights (4). Even the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms released an internal memo at the time expressing it’s concern over the imminent dangers of allowing the states to have control of reinstating guns for criminals and felons (4).

As a result of the Amendment being not being viewed in its entirety, it can be misconstrued so that criminals can gain their privileges back easily. It could be argued that criminals and felons act in their own best interest and therefore would not care enough to protect their countries’ freedoms since they have already abused its laws; thus, they do not deserve to have their rights reinstated. There have been countless incidences in recent months and years that provide the testimony to the laws surrounding gun control being too lenient. As the National Rifle Association often claims, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” (Worsnop, 3) and they have many followers who harbor the same feelings. Firearm aficionados argue that an arsenal in the home can help prevent crime in the home; however, there is much debate about the actuality of these claims. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine has indicated that “a gun kept in the home is far more likely to ne involved in the death of a member of the household than it is to be used to kill in self-defense” (4). Given this data, much more caution and attentiveness should be afforded to which individuals are allowed to own and operate guns.

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Modern Rewording Would Alleviate Crude Misinterpretation

The overall phrasing of the Second Amendment should be updated to reflect a more accurate representation of the precise goals stated in the phrase’s entirety. Since the constitution contains the definitive list of federal laws, the modification would provide a conclusive response to the national concern over gun control. A modern rewording could be similar to: In order to establish a Militia if necessary to protect the securities and freedoms of the American people, qualified citizens who do not have a history of any criminal activity have the right to responsibly own and maintain firearms. In rewording the Amendment it would provide a more definitive answer to the question of who is allowed to have guns and for what reasons. The mention of qualified citizens would refer to being the proper age, having the mental faculties to use a firearm properly and having the correct training in owning, operating and storing a firearm. The redrafting of the Second Amendment would defend gun rights for law-abiding people who choose to have guns, while protecting innocent citizens from firearms getting into the wrong hands.

Works Cited:

Worsnop, Richard. “Gun Control: Will it help control violent crime in the U.S.?” CQ Researcher Online 4 (1994): 505-528. CQ Press. ASU Libs., Arizona State U. 25 Nov. 2012 <http://library.cqpress.com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu>.

Examining the Second Amendment

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    • Ken Burgess profile image

      Ken Burgess 15 months ago from Florida

      Take away the people's right to bear arms, and you take away their ability to defend themselves, and their ability to oppose a corrupt tyrannical government.

      These horrible acts occur almost always in places of the country where there are no guns allowed, or in places like a school where there is no protection, and no precaution to keep the young safe from such an attack.

      Do you know why when such criminals try to act out their murderous plots in places like Arizona fail? Because citizens of Arizona can, and many do, walk around armed and capable of stopping such horrors from happening as soon as they begin.

      Those that cannot defend themselves will become victims to those who are willing to do them harm, the biggest deterrent to such crimes is the criminal knowing that his targeted victim(s) are protected and/or can defend themselves.

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