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New Book on the Second Amendment

Thomas Whitley

The Second Amendment Doesn't Say What You Think It Does | MotherJones: But when you actually go back and look at the debate that went into drafting of the amendment, you can squint and look really hard, but there's simply no evidence of it being about individual gun ownership for self-protection or for hunting.

This has long been clear to those who are willing to sit down and do the research or, heck, even just read the text of the 2nd Amendment.

I'll admit that I'm getting closer to supporting a repeal of all gun rights. Many will claim that to be "un-American," but if "American" is synonymous with the rights of some (to own a gun for protection or to hunt) being more important than the rights of others (to live) or if "American" is synonymous with simply accepting the tens of thousands of gun-related deaths per year in our country, then I don't want to be "American."

One's desire to hunt (it is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution) should not trump the right of every other citizen to not be shot. As President Obama said recently of our now-regular shootings,

The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It's not the only country that has psychosis. And yet we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anyone else. Well, what's the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses, and that's sort of par for the course. . . . There's no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.

Except for us, of course, because some people have engaged in revisionist history and willful ignorance when it comes to the Second Amendment and because some people honestly believe that their right to own a gun should be more important than someone else's dead kids, especially when these dead kids are black and brown.

As Michael Waldman's new book, The Second Amendment: A Biography, points out Justice Scalia's argument that he is an "originalist" - basing his decisions on the original intent of the framers of the Constitution - is fundamentally flawed. For it is impossible to know the original intent of an author. In my field, this question comes up time and again with reference to ancient texts, especially the Bible. Many argue for "authorial intent," and base interpretations on what the author meant, but as has been made clear for centuries now, this is not something we can know, even when we are confident that we have gotten very close. In reality, it is our current circumstances, world-views, and various social and political leanings that most influence how we read old texts, the Constitution notwithstanding. This is why, for instance, Waldman is able to show how interpretations of the Second Amendment have changed so much over time.

This should be reason enough to abandon the fantasy that we can interpret the Constitution for today based on what it meant when it was first written. But I think that we should go beyond even this. We simply do not live in the same world as those who wrote this Amendment in 1791 lived in. We have no need of militia's, we have no recent memory of a foreign power ruling over us. Since we are already interpreting the Constitution based on our place and circumstances, why not be honest about it and maybe try to do some good. It is not unheard of for us to realize that things needed to be changed. The Thirteenth Amendment did this, turning over the then-Constitutional Three-Fifths Compromise.

After George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin February 26, 2012 I heard a lot of people echoing the comment of NRA President Wayne LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." (This is a myth, by the way) But I wonder why, if we have so many "good guys" in this country, they don't care enough about those around them who are getting killed every day to do something about it. Maybe we could start by making it tougher to buy a gun than to vote or drive a car or purchase antihistamines.