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 Second Amendment of the United States Constitution
The issue of what, if any, gun control laws are appropriate in a civilized society once again is in the forefront of the news after the tragic shooting in Orlando two weeks ago.
There is no question that among all of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment is the most archaic, both in terms of its language and its intent.
The amendment appears contradictory on its face. It contains the phrase “well-regulated,” implying that the government has the right to make rules and regulations, but then concludes with the verb phrase, “shall not be infringed,” which suggests that there should not be any governmental rules or regulations.
In terms of the substance of the Second Amendment, the notion of a militia has no practical meaning today relative to what that term meant in the late 18th century. We are long past the days when farmers left the fields to become de facto soldiers, or when posses were rounded up to chase outlaws, or when settlers were on their own in a hostile environment.
But some pretend that a lifestyle that no longer exists still has meaning in the America of the 21st century.
However, it was only a few years ago that a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court resolved some of the ambiguity in the Second Amendment when the court declared that the right to bear arms applied to individual citizens, not merely to a government-organized militia.
But tellingly, the same majority acknowledged that the local, state, and federal governments have the authority to make regulations pertaining to that right. As is the case with all of our rights as Americans, none of them, including freedom of speech, is absolute, and the right to bear arms is no exception.
Some, led chiefly by the National Rifle Association, are opposed to gun regulation and registration laws of any kind because of their belief that even the mildest regulations will lead us down the proverbial slippery slope and ultimately will result in confiscatory gun laws.
However, that position of absolutism, while convenient for the NRA, simply is not the way our country works.
Henry Clay said it best, “Politics is the art of compromise.” Compromise is what our American system of government is all about. The Founders created a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government to ensure that compromise must take place.
No gun law will be a silver bullet (no pun intended) that forever will prevent every shooting, of which there are tens of thousands every year in this country that murder and maim us in numbers of epidemic proportions. Although ISIS-inspired terrorism has grabbed the focus of our attention, more Americans are killed and wounded every few days by our own citizenry in incidents of gun-related violence than have been killed by terrorists in all of the past 15 years combined.