Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Gunfight at the Golden Corral

In today's highly charged rhetorical political world, the Second Amendment probably gets the most lip service.  Although the "debate" is relatively new, both sides like to root their arguments in history, cutting and pasting from the Founding Fathers or simply inventing passages to suit their purposes.  The "quote" in the political cartoon came from a draft by Jefferson for the Virginia Constitution in 1776, and is often cited by gun advocates.   However, the passage was not adopted.

James Madison is generally credited for the second amendment, which makes it pretty clear that the main purpose was to ensure the means to form a militia.  In reading Pauline Maier's book, Ratification, the amendments were an afterthought, used to win the favor of crucial states like New York and Virginia, which the Federalists felt would turn the other states.  Madison initially felt there was no need for amendments at all.  All though, I don't remember her spending too much time on the Second 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.

Michael Waldman tries to cut through the debate by offering a "biography" of the constitutional amendment, but Garrett Epps argues in his review that Waldman presents an opinion more so than a biography, castigating pro-gun advocates for their ridiculous views, including some well-noted scholars.  Epps feels that Adam Winkler's 2011 book, Gunfight: The Battle Over the Rights to Bear Arms, is more even-handed.

However, there appears to be no middle ground in this debate.  Whenever the issue is raised, hackles rise on pro-gun advocates who fear the government will come take their guns away.  Any legislation regarding gun control is seen as the "first step" in a total repeal of gun rights.  Among the many conservative advocates is David Barton, who himself wrote a book on the Second Amendment, vociferously arguing that the Founding Fathers intended everyone to have access to firearms.

Otis McDonald
Probably one of the most emotional attempts to support gun rights was Clarence Thomas's opinion on the McDonald v. Chicago case, where a 74-year-old black man had been denied the right to purchase a firearm for protection.  Thomas cited Jim Crow Laws which limited a black man's right to bear arms in the past and evoked the 14th amendment as the basis for a black man's defense.  One doesn't quite know what to make of this opinion.  Was the justice simply playing on emotions as so many gun rights advocates do, or was he making a heart-felt argument?

Unfortunately, blacks still seem to be more often the victims of gun violence than the perpetrators.  What made the McDonald v. Chicago case particularly hard to swallow is that the 5-4 decision essentially said the US Constitution trumps state laws on the matter of gun control and that it is an inalienable right for a US citizen to arm himself or herself.  It seems that McDonald and other Chicago residents represented in the case were little more than a Trojan horse pushed into the Supreme Court by the Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association to get their desired outcome.

Apparently they thought there was discount
for firearms at Chipotle that day
Still, states to one degree or another place regulations on the distribution of fire arms and ammunition.  However, in recent months we have seen several states enact open carry laws that allow persons to brandish firearms in public places, which Jon Stewart noted is at odds with Stand Your Ground laws in the same states.  Wouldn't carrying an AR-15 into a public place represent a reasonable threat, especially given the number of mass shootings we have seen since Sandy Hook?

It is not likely that Waldman's book will make any impact on this debate.  Instead, these competing gun laws appear to have created a veritable "Gunfight at the Golden Corral," as Stewart not so comically pointed out.

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