Witcover: Should we rewrite the 2nd Amendment?

Here we go again. Yet another school shooting has triggered a new round of prayer meetings, hand-wringing by public officials and standard NRA defenses of the Second Amendment's "right of the people to keep and bear Arms."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick rushed to the microphones and television cameras to extend their condolences to the dead and wounded victims. Mr. Abbott benignly reminded his citizens of their responsibility to lock the guns in their homes so the kids can't get their hands on them.

Mr. Patrick chimed in, reiterating the call to arm teachers in accordance with the NRA argument that the best response to a classroom shooter is a classroom teacher also packing heat.

He added that there are "too many entrances (and) too many exits to our over 8,000 campuses. There aren't enough people to put a guard on every entrance and exit," he said, suggesting that the schools may have to be redesigned to have fewer of them.

On ABC News, Mr. Patrick waxed philosophical, observing that Americans have devalued life, whether it's the breakdown of families, abortions, violent movies or the various violent videogames played by 85 percent of teenagers.

Guns, he said, "are part of who we are as a nation," he said, "It is our Second Amendment -- you know, it talks about a well-run militia ... our teachers are part of that well-run militia."

Speaking of that, the NRA and other critics of gun control legislation often slough off the other language in the amendment, which begins with "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State," as the justification for declaring that the right to bear arms "shall not be infringed."

The reference is a clear reference to the condition that existed at the time of its authorship. Then, the defense of the young nation was in the hands of everyday citizens in the absence of the strong and muscular military and police forces later developed and maintained.

That now antiquated language has continued to be used by the wealthy and politically powerful gun lobby to justify the free flow of arms, including mass assault weapons designed and intended for combat by military and police forces.

A more justifiable wording in today's world would be something like this: "The right of citizens to keep and bear arms in their homes for domestic security, and for hunting, target shooting and other recreational purposes under strict safeguards for the general good, shall not be infringed."

But such a rewriting, rather than a flat repeal as unrealistically proposed by retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, is also unrealistic in today's climate, even with so many Americans marching in protest of the unregulated access to assault weapons.

But Justice Stevens has said he shares the outrage of those thousands of students who turned out after the previous school shooting. He has cited former Chief Justice Warren Burger in calling the language of the Second Amendment "a relic of the 18th century' and "one of the greatest pieces of fraud ... on the American public ... in my lifetime."

When, 24 years ago, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California got her legislation enacted banning the sale and purchase of such military weapons, the NRA and other gun-lobby partners rose up, squeezed members of Congress in their control, and repealed it in 2004. They remain ready and poised again to throw their billions of dollars to beat back any such legislative effort to restore it.

The most realistic undertakings in Congress are the half-a-loaf proposals for more limited protections such as stricter background checks on purchases of all firearms, raising the age limit on prospective buyers, and the like. But even these will be fiercely contested by the NRA's new spokesman, former Marine firebrand Oliver North.

With a public newly aroused by the school shootings epidemic, as well as by the #MeToo movement demanding action against sexual harassment in the workplace, there may be no better time for the war against guns to take a stand. But, alas, don't bet the rent money on it, or even the violent movie or videogame money.

Jules Witcover's latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power," published by Smithsonian Books. His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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