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What the 2nd Amendment really says

No one should ever die because someone feels entitled to pull a trigger. However, it seems that every day on the streets of Baltimore someone exercises his entitlement (if you own a gun you are entitled to operate it which includes pulling its trigger). An entitlement many say is granted by the Second Amendment. But did it really?

The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms should not be infringed.”

When the first 10 amendments (the Bill of Rights) were ratified, it was clearly understood that the Second Amendment meant exactly what it said: that militias were vital to the national security and therefore people could keep and bear arms for that specific purpose, as members of the militia.

For 218 years federal judges, who spoke the same English language as the Founders, held that the Second Amendment allowed states to form militias, now known as National Guards, and arms could be acquired for that unique and limited purpose. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointee who replaced liberal Earl Warren, called the National Rifle Association’s idea of individual gun rights a “preposterous fraud.”

The NRA building’s façade is emblazoned with its trimmed version of the Second Amendment which includes only these words, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” By omitting the vital words, “A well-organized militia, being necessary for the security of a free state,” the organization sought and bought justification of gun ownership. The NRA contributes millions to politicians to maintain this deadly diminution of the true meaning of the Second Amendment.

That venerable understanding of more than two centuries was shattered, when stare decisis (the doctrine to stand by things previously settled by the court) was shattered by a radical 5-4 majority decision written by Justice Antonin Scalia in the District of Columbia v. Heller case. There the court found a new constitutional right to own a gun for self-defense in the home, despite the fact there were no written guarantees in the Constitution to an individual right to a gun for self-defense, nor were there references to such a right in the Bill of Rights debates.

Justice Scalia, who staunchly believed that court decisions should be based on a strict reading of the Constitution or the “original thinking” of the Founding Fathers, swung 180 degrees in composing the court’s opinion. It reads like the work of someone beset with obsessive-compulsive behavior as it picks and nit-picks to support this diversion from his norm. It has also been said that his diversion from that norm was influenced by the writings of scholars and scholars who were paid by the NRA Foundation to construe arguments for individual gun ownership.

Many legal scholars deride Mr. Scalia’s regressive judicial philosophy. Ironically, they say any objective study of the Founding Fathers’ thinking indicates they understood why guns were needed and why their use should be strictly limited to “well-armed militias.” Guns were not to be owned by every male. If you had a gun, you were a member of the militia.

Justice John Paul Stevens’ strong dissent in Heller concluded that basis for the Second Amendment was to address, “fears of the national government disarming the state militias … an intolerable threat to state sovereignty.” Justice Stevens argued proponents hadn’t the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. He concluded, “There is no indication that the Framers … intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”

Heller has made America less safe as it inhibits cities and states from enacting sensible laws that can better regulate gun ownership. People who vehemently staunchly support unrestricted entitlement should remember that the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights before pulling the trigger, “A well-organized militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right to keep (not own) and bear arms shall not be infringed.” It may be too late to put the genie back in the bottle but Congress can pass laws that offset the bloody mayhem that blots our streets.

Albert Bedell, Baltimore

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