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Friday, June 10, 2022

Fun, Entertainment, and the Second Amendment

In any discussion of gun ownership, gun rights, the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is repeatedly cited. We are told that owning guns is a right, and so the question of “need” can be dismissed, since if one has a right, justification is unnecessary. Need is irrelevant. No one is compelling me to speak out on the issue of guns or any other issue; I am not a public servant or elected official being asked my opinion; therefore, I don’t need to state my views. But I have a right to do so. I am not forced by law to own and operate a business, but I have a right to do so. Etc. “Because I can” is a favorite phrase of entitled Americans. It is part of the discussion on assault weapons, as well as other expensive luxury items. I don’t need a yacht, for instance, but I can afford it, and I want it, so I have it. I don’t have to show need to justify my purchase and possession. Well, I personally cannot afford and do not have a yacht, but let’s make it simpler and more pertinent to my own life: I don’t need as many books as I own, but I want them and have a right to have them.

Is the question of need irrelevant in the case of guns? Very important question. I don’t think so. The text of the Second Amendment reads, "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.” The Amendment clearly points to need: the word “necessary” is right there, providing justification for what follows. The Constitution was signed in 1787. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. Young America had fought a revolution to throw off British rule but had good reason to be concerned for its “future security,” and so the founders saw a “well regulated Militia” as “necessary to the security of a free State.” Need was not seen by the Founders as irrelevant but as the very reason for that Amendment to the Constitution.

In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court’s decision held that, in the words of Antonin Scalia, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia [my emphasis added] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” Dick Heller had sued D.C., claiming that its ban on handguns in the home was unconstitutional, and the Court majority sided with Heller. Justice Scalia explicitly noted, however, that guns rights are not unlimited and that the right to own guns is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” I will note here that in addition to saying that “purpose” can be legally limited, he also denied that “any weapon whatsoever” was guaranteed by the Second Amendment. Just as there are limits on free speech (the usual example here is that one has no right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre), so there can be limits on kinds of weapons and the purposes for which they can be used, according to conservative originalist Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in Heller.

There was a 10-year ban on assault weapons in the U.S., during which time the number of deaths from mass shootings fell markedly. Even though the horrible Columbine shooting took place during the decade-long ban, overall numbers were lower and the chances of Americans dying in mass shooting events lowered by 70%. When the ban expired, mass shooting deaths rose immediately and sharply. The average age of mass shooters in America is 33.7 years of age; therefore, although mass shooters in schools tended to be younger, it is far from clear that raising the age for purchase of, say, an AR-15 would keep the general public safer. 

The need for self-defense, whether of the nation or the person, is still an integral part of the right guaranteed by the Second Amendment as interpreted by the conservative opinion of the Supreme Court, who also added that the right was not unlimitedIf a majority of Americans want to rewrite the Amendment to read, “Fun, amusement, and entertainment being core American values, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed or in any way limited,” let them attempt to do so. Until such time, if young men want to “play soldier," let them join the National Guard, let them join the Army, let them join the Marines, and let them learn not only gun safety but also the difference between “fun” and serious defense in dangerous circumstances not of their own making, circumstances in which they themselves are also targets.


[I cannot explain why font and background of some sentences and partial paragraphs in this post are set off differently. I did not intend it but cannot seem to fix it. The italics, however, are my own.]