Sunday, April 27, 2008

Random observation on the 2nd Amendment

As the US Supreme Court mulls over the legality of a DC law that bans the personal ownership of a firearm, which is claimed to violate the 2nd Amendment, one should necessarily look at what the 2nd Amendment actually says.

"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."

The first half of the amendment is written in the ablative absolute, a grammatical tense that would have been very familiar to the Framers who were mostly schooled in Latin. While the tense is still perfectly acceptable nowadays, it is rarely used except by the most profound of geeks. In today's language the amendment would be written as "The security of a free state requires a well regulated militia; therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

In that context, there are legitimate arguments for both sides on the issue. On the one side supported by the NRA, that the first part of the amendment protects the independence of the state National Guards and when separated from the rest of the amendment individual gun ownership is absolute. On the other, that since the people themselves form the militia and not just reservists, the people require regulation (i.e. gun control) to ensure that rogue elements don't get out of hand and undermine the security of the free state that law abiding people are entitled to.

Since Canada views gun ownership as a privilege and not a right, we tend to see it through those blinders. However even with them removed, common sense dictates the latter view should apply.

My sense is when SCOTUS rules later this year in DC v Heller, it will have it both ways. It will strike down the absolute ban of the DC law but also make clear that states do have the right to make reasonable regulations to keep the domestic peace while imposing the duty to protect the right to have a gun.

Vote for this post at Progressive Bloggers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I tend to agree with your assessment.

The only correction I would make is that you have bought totally into the NRA and media's framing of the DC issue in particular.

DC does not have an "ABSOLUTE BAN" on personal guns as is so widely reported as to seem beyond question.

There are a number of reasons people within DC are allowed to have personal handguns (job-related, etc) and hunting guns are permitted by all. Strangely 38-specials and the like, and automatic rifles weren't judged to fit under those provisions.

My favorite point in the entire hearing before the Supreme Court was when the young, articulate female chief of police explained to those present that she was required to surrender her gun before entering the court because, alas, the supreme court building also enforces reasonable gun control upon its visitors.