Editor: When I started reading Mr. Leonard’s letter to the editor on “Gun Control,” I was undecided about writing a reply. I read his response to previous letters on the subject, I was struck by the extent to which Second Amendment absolutists, such as Mr. Leonard, too often disparage and assail the motives of strawmen, constructed by their fevered imaginations, rather than engage in a substantive argument regarding the issues actually raised by those with a different viewpoint.
Accompanying his admonishment to “be serious about the intent of the Second Amendment free from all attempts to re-interpret it,” is his claim that it had “one purpose only and that is to enable people to mount an effective resistance—to enable the people to fight back.” However, the source of this assertion is clearly not the Second Amendment.
It might be useful to quote the actual language of the Amendment: “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.” First, there are four words that stand out in the preamble of the Amendment—“A well-regulated Militia”—that seem to refer to something far different from what Mr. Leonard claims. It clearly refers to the right to bear arms in a public, collective—as opposed to an individual—in the context of a well-trained Militia, a creature of the local government.
The Second Amendment reflects the concerns of many of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention raised during the debates over whether the new government would establish and maintain a standing army. Against their recent experience with the standing army of the British, they associated it with armed oppression and denial of their natural rights and freedom. Note the Framers’ precise use of words. There is no mention of “an effective resistance,” or fighting back. Rather than using the words of the Framers to convey their “one purpose,” he offers us his personal interpretation, not what they actually wrote. It would seem that their actual words are more reliable than Mr. Leonard’s fanciful interpretation. He is not, as he admonishes, being “serious about the intent of the Second Amendment free from all attempts to re-interpret it.”
We can look to the Declaration of Independence for assistance in understanding the context of Amendment. Among the offenses Jefferson enumerated as the justification for independence, was George III had “kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.” Moreover, the offense was compounded by using “large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation, and tyranny.”
As stated in the plain language of the Framers, the purpose of the Amendment was to charge a “well-Regulated [i.e., well-trained] Militia” with the responsibility of ensuring “the security of a free state.” Mr. Leonard, then accuses the author to whom he is responding of a “clear attempt to limit your rights.” The actual words used by his protagonist were, “we aren’t limiting your rights, we just want to make sure your rights aren’t unlimited.” Yet Mr. Leonard makes precisely that claim, that the Second Amendment is unlimited. He ascribes sinister motives for his interlocutor’s suggestion that it is not, rather than offering any basis for his claim. In a remarkable perversion of the actual words of his antagonist, he ascribes a “clear attempt to limit your rights.”
Finally, he offers a view that many “gun advocates” share about the Second Amendment: That it enshrines an absolute “right.” Were that the case, it would be the only such right in our Constitution. It is an understanding at odds with the amendment’s background, historical context and facts, and the principles of legal and logical reasoning. In rebuttal, I’ll simply offer the authority of the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, the principal author of the Court’s ruling in Heller:
“Like most rights, the Second Amendmentright is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. … The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places … or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
If Mr. Leonard disputes the plain words of the Framers and the authority of the Supreme Court, it is incumbent on him to state the bases upon which his understanding relies. Instead, he deploys the Trumpian tactic of non-sequiturs, misdirection and distraction. We must strive to do better.
Randy Ihara, South Riding