A critical Second Amendment case

By Scott Tibbs, November 26, 2007

"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 Second Amendment

The Supreme Court's decision to hear the challenge to the handgun ban in Washington D.C. is a critical moment in American history, one that will likely define how Americans can exercise our Second Amendment rights. On one side, you have Paul Helmke and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. On the other side, you have Gun Owners of America and the National Rifle Association.

The name Paul Helmke should be familiar to Hoosiers. He served as mayor of Fort Wayne, the state's second largest city. He ran for U.S. Senate in 1998, losing handily to Evan Bayh despite the fact that Indiana is a "red state" that consistently votes Republican in Presidential elections. The fact that Helmke was running against Indiana's golden boy was the main reason for his defeat, but how many Republicans were truly excited about Helmke's candidacy? Helmke's open hostility to Second Amendment rights and closeness to disgraced ex-President Clinton led me to vote for the Libertarian candidate, Rebecca Sink-Burris. Helmke's involvement with the Brady Center assures me that I made the right choice.

I find it unsettling that people are looking to the Supreme Court for guidance on how the Second Amendment should be interpreted rather than looking to the actual text of the Second Amendment itself. "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" is pretty cut and dry. The fact that the handgun ban in Washington, DC has stood for as long as it has is unfortunate, given the clear words of the Second Amendment.

What about the statement about a "well-regulated militia"? I think it would be worthwhile to examine the Declaration of Independence for context:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

How exactly are the people going to abolish a government that has become destructive to our unalienable rights? Will a government that has trampled individual rights be receptive to calls for democratic change, or were the founders envisioning more radical, violent means to abolish and replace the government? How can an unarmed population replace a government, as the founding fathers did, especially if that government is not listening to calls for change in the first place?

Ultimately, I have to go back to the clear words of the Second Amendment: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" leaves very little room for interpretation. We can argue historical context for decades, but ultimately the best tool for interpreting the Constitution is the Constitution itself. President Bush has given us two Supreme Court justices (Roberts and Alito) who are much more likely to strictly interpret the actual words of the Constitution than the more "liberal" members of the Court. That should give gun owners optimism moving into 2008.

That is not the prevailing view at the New York Times, where the editorial board wrote that the Supreme Court should "responsibly confront modern-day reality. A decision that upends needed gun controls currently in place around the country would imperil the lives of Americans." Despite what the Times would like to argue, we do not have a "living" Constitution where the meanings of words and phrases change over time. The way the Constitution lives and breathes is through the amendment process. If gun-grabbers do not like the plain meaning of the Second Amendment, they should seek to pass another amendment changing it.

This case could motivate gun owners like the assault weapons ban and the Brady Law did in 1994, and Republicans would be wise to recognize that fact. Gun owners were a significant part of the coalition that gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in 40 years and can be a significant ally against Hillary Clinton in 2008, especially given her husband's track record on Second Amendment rights. In order to take advantage of this issue, though, Republicans need to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by nominating a gun-grabber like Rudy Giuliani.

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