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Notes and Quotes- March 28, 2021

The Second Amendment: Not So Easily Changed

By Tom Morrow

For those of you who are easily bored or only slightly interested, as U.S. citizens, here’s a quick primer you should know on the basics of gun ownership rights — in less than 800 words.

For the latter part of the 20th century, and all 21 years of this century there has been much heated rhetoric and debate tossed around about doing away with or changing the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a passage which gives us our right to keep and bear arms. There’s little chance of that happening because there have been more than 10,000 attempts to change or alter the Constitution. Only 27 attempts at have been successful.

How many of you have bothered to dissect and digest what those few words of our “Bill of Rights” really mean?

The Bill of Rights are the first 10 Amendments to our Constitution – the second of which is the “bear arms” passage. The 10 Amendments guarantees us our individual civil rights and liberties such as freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, the right to fair legal procedure and to bear arms. The Bill of Rights sets rules for due process of law and reserves all powers not delegated to the Federal Government to the people or the states. They also give us freedom from excessive bail, cruel and unusual punishments.

Regarding the right to keep and bear arms, the following pretty much sums up the situation: The Second (of the 10) Bill of Rights Amendments protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. It has been the law since ratification on Dec. 15, 1791, along with the other nine articles of the Bill of Rights. In the decision of the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court affirmed for the first time the right to keep and bear arms belongs to individuals for self-defense in the home. The court concluded that right is not unlimited and does not preclude the existence of certain long-standing prohibitions such as those forbidding “the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” or restrictions on “… the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons,” (assault rifles?)

In the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision of “McDonald v. City of Chicago,” the court ruled state and local governments are limited to the same extent as the federal government from infringing upon this right. In other words, no city or state can go off on its own and adopt a law superseding the Second Amendment.

The premise on the right to keep and bear arms goes back to the 17th century. Our Second Amendment is based partially on the right to keep and bear arms in English common law and was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689.

The most influential framer of the Constitution was James Madison. In Federalist paper No. 46, he contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms of that time, which Madison described as “afraid to trust the people with arms,” and assured “the existence of subordinate governments … forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition.”

In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court ruled “The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence.” The Second Amendment means no more than it shall not be infringed by Congress, and has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the federal government.”

In 2016, the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that “the Second Amendment extends, ‘prima facie,’ (accepted as correct until proven otherwise) all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those not in existence at the time of the founding” and that its protection is not limited to “only those weapons useful in warfare.”

Within the last 20 years the Second Amendment has been subjected to renewed academic inquiry and judicial interest. The Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that held the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to keep a gun for self-defense. This was the first time the Court ruled the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to “own” a gun. The key word here is “own.” Nothing in the Second Amendment prohibits the government from putting a tax or license fee on said weapon(s).

Consider this: not all of the millions of gun owners across our nation are conservative “right-wingers.” There are more than a few so-called liberal “left-wingers” who possess a gun for myriad of reasons, hence there will be no end to the argument between individuals and various organizations regarding gun control and gun rights – Congress included. It is a passionate debate that probably will never be solved or agreed upon.