A radical idea? Yes. Beyond reason and logic? No. And not unprecedented.
But first a disclaimer. Those who drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights were bright, thoughtful and creative. It is a document that has served our nation well for more than 200 years. But, having said that, it is not without flaws and weaknesses — and the Second Amendment, in particular, is the subject of numerous interpretations and challenges.
But beyond the confusion of the amendment, there are several other excellent reasons to repeal it. Among those are the enormous changes in America since Colonial time, changes in the American character the past 200-plus years, and weapon development. All are worthy of consideration. But, first 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.
While simple and succinct in it drafting, its brevity is also the subject of a wide range of interpretations. Those who support strong gun control claim the amendment has strict limitations. As recently noted in a New York Times editorial: “The Supreme Court has made clear that the right to bear arms is not absolute and is subject to regulations and controls. Yet the NRA clings to its groundless arguments that tough regulations violate the Second Amendment. Many of those arguments serve no purpose other than to increase the sales of guns and bullets.” The NRA, of course, claims there are no limitations as to ownership, type of weapon, or purpose of use.
But the fact is the Second Amendment is subject to vague interpretation. Indeed, since it was adopted in 1791, it has been the subject of more than 31 federal court cases of various kinds: six in U.S. District Courts; 19 in U.S. Courts of Appeals; and six that ended up in the Supreme Court. To describe the outcomes of these cases alone proves the confusion surrounding the Second Amendment — but suffice it to say, it presents a situation that will never be fully decided, and will probably remain a source of confrontation forever. Unless it is repealed.
While the confusion of the amendment is reason alone to suggest its repeal and/or amendment, the better reason is the enormous change in our nation since the “right to bear arms” was first adopted.
A rural populace
America in 1789 (when the Second was first drafted) had a population of about 2.5 million, not including slaves or Native Americans. Less than 1 percent of our population today. It was a rural country — the largest city was Philadelphia, with 40,000 inhabitants. The rural inhabitants, while mostly farmers, also used their arms to shoot game — not as today’s sportsmen do, but to put food on the table. And the reference to a “well regulated militia” clearly was related to the fact that we had just fought a brutal war of independence, with a tiny standing army, and a dependence on multiple state militias.
Admittedly, repeal itself would not stop the bloodshed of recent mass murders, but that still does not address its relevance today. Our forefathers could never have imagined, back then, densely packed cities with many times the entire population of 18th-century America. How could they imagine an area like the south and west sides of Chicago, where most of the city’s 506 homicides occured last year?
They never foresaw the push westward, the multiple frontiers, the effect on the American character as it developed from the homogeneity of the Colonists. They never had an opportunity to consider the molding of the ”new” American character as the early settlers pushed into frontiers that were wild, untamed and without established laws. And obviously they did not ever imagine the development of individual weapons capable of killing dozens in barely a moment .
An anachronism in today’s world
All these factors — the massive increase in population, the urbanization of our country, the changing character of our citizens over the centuries, and the increasing devastation of weaponry — have also changed the dynamics of an amendment written for the conditions of the 1700s, but still in play today. It is clear that the Second Amendment as written is an anachronism in today’s world, a part of our constitutional rights that has outlived itself.
Further, our Founding Fathers would almost certainly not object to modification or even repeal of the Second. Indeed, they made provisions for just such a possibility. Since 1791, when the Amendment was adopted, there have been a total of 27 amendments to that great constitutional document. Moreover, repeal itself is not unique or precedent-breaking. In 1933, the 21st Amendment did repeal the 18th.
While we try to believe the Constitution is sacrosanct, it is in fact a ”work in process” — and repealing the Second Amendment would serve our country well in the 21st century. Such repeal/amendment could also include retention of those types of weapons we would all likely agree on: such things as rifles for hunting, pistols for target shooting, certain approved security reasons for owning weapons, etc. But it would end forever the argument that virtually anyone can own any weapon of any devastation, for any reason, because of some vaguely defined “right” granted two centuries ago.
Myles Spicer of Minnetonka has spent his business career as a professional writer and owned several successful ad agencies over the past 45 years.