GUEST OPINION: Ask 'who' on 2nd Amendment to know 'why'
With the Supreme Court's decision to examine the constitutionality of D.C.'s gun ban, the nation once again turns to an intense examination of the wording of the Second Amendment. One way to understand an amendment whose words have confused generations is to study its somewhat confusing text. But another way is to examine at whose request the amendment was written.
For example, if 200 years from now constitutional scholars are trying to determine whether the Smith Tax Act of 2008 increased or decreased the taxes Social Security recipients paid on their retirement income, knowing that the act came into being as the result of pressure from AARP would pretty much end that debate.
This, then, is a vital question when seeking to understand the Second Amendment. For if you know the context in which the Amendment was written, if you know for whom it was written, if you know who was clamoring for it and what were their concerns, then that can help settle any argument of individual rights versus collective rights.
The Bill of Rights was written by Congressman James Madison to fulfill a promise made to the Anti-Federalists after pressure from that group had cost him a Senate seat -- pressure brought to bear because of his opposition to amending the Constitution with a bill of rights. The Bill of Rights, then, as any history book will confirm, came into being to satisfy the single most suspicious, vociferous, and relentless foes of the new federal government.
That is the all-important context in which the Bill of Rights was created. The Anti-Federalists, men filled to varying degrees with fear, mistrust, and loathing of the new federal government, insisted on a bill of rights as additional shackles imposed on that new government. Knowing that alone -- knowing that the famous Bill came into existence only to please those most apprehensive of the new government -- definitively ends any confusion or debate surrounding the meaning of the Second Amendment.
There is simply no way on Earth the Anti-Federalists would have surrendered to the new and mistrusted government the right to own any gun they wanted at any time they wanted in any number they wanted.
To believe differently, to believe that the Second Amendment actually gives the federal government the authority to regulate firearms, one must believe the absolutely unbelievable. One must believe that the Anti-Federalists, fearing and loathing federal power, compelled Madison to compose this laundry list of rights, this list of things over which the government was to have no authority, and, very near the very top of the list, these people in fear of the federal government desired a clause that reads, "Despite the fact that Article I, Section 8 does not empower you federal government people to infringe our firearms rights, we hereby correct that mistake and surrender to you a right which we previously held, but wish now to give away."
We must further believe that James Madison was such a monumentally incompetent and abysmal writer that, when trying to give the federal government this new authority to regulate the private ownership of firearms, the last fourteen words of the Amendment read, "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
We must also believe that revolutionary American history conceals some hitherto unknown and utterly undocumented groundswell of public desire for gun control. Picture in your mind for a moment the rough-and-tumble individualist who gave birth to this nation, a man who had tamed a wilderness, fought Indian wars on and off for 180 years, and successfully faced down the world's mightiest empire. Hold a picture of that man in your head for a moment and then try to imagine his being told that this new federal government would have the power to regulate his ownership of firearms in any manner it saw fit, including imprisoning him for possession of any firearm for any reason at any time.
No honest or serious person could ever claim to believe that any part of the American electorate in the 1700s desired federal gun control, let alone the Anti-Federalists who forced the creation of the Bill of Rights.
â€¢ Rick Lynch is a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation.