Hijacking the Second Amendment

The American Right and the gun lobby have hijacked the original intent of the Second Amendment, which was designed for a system of citizen militias to provide for domestic “security” without the need for a standing army. But the amendment is now a dangerous relic, writes Joe Lauria.

By Joe Lauria

The Second Amendment was written after a war in which a new nation without a standing army defeated the biggest standing army on the planet. To defend itself, the new country relied on citizens arming themselves in civilian militias.

Ever since Britain had permanently garrisoned troops in Massachusetts to put down the brewing rebellion in 1768, opposition to standing armies ran deep among Americans. The Revolution was nearly lost because the Continental Congress for years refused George Washington’s pleading for a standing army. Sam Adams, before he and his class of merchants had won, believed a permanent force was “forever dangerous to civil liberties.”

Logo of the National Rifle Association, the primary force in America’s powerful gun lobby.

“Soldiers are apt to consider themselves as a body distinct from the rest of the citizens,” Adams said. “They have arms always in hand.” But, “the Militia is composed of free citizens. There is, therefore, no danger of their making use of their Power to the destruction of their own rights.”

Adams amended his position as the war dragged on, realizing the necessity of a trained, disciplined force in extreme circumstances. But once the war was over, he returned to his earlier position, saying a standing army was no longer needed.

Because of this distrust of standing armies the new republic wrote into its Constitution the Second Amendment, ensuring that citizens, and not a permanent state military, would bear arms to protect the land. However, the United States today has the largest standing armed forces ever assembled. The militias are now called the standing National Guard.

Thus, the rationale for the Second Amendment is completely lost in history. It has as much relevance and moral force today as Section 2 of Article 1 that permitted slavery. The Second Amendment means nothing unless we disband the National Guard and America’s armed forces.

It is a dangerous absurdity to think it can justify the sale and possession of handguns (and even more lethal firearms). The Framers would surely be horrified by the events in Connecticut and would wonder what had become of their republic. The Second Amendment must be repealed.

Joe Lauria is a veteran foreign-affairs journalist based at the U.N. since 1990. He has written for the Boston Globe, the London Daily Telegraph, the Johannesburg Star, the Montreal Gazette, the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers. He can be reached at joelauria@gmail.com .

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21 comments on “Hijacking the Second Amendment

  1. An expert eighteenth century muskateer could get off a couple rounds a minute. Twenty-first centry, military style weapons, were beyond the comprehension of the founders. Can anyone seriously believe the founding fathers would opt for unrestricted access to today’s weaponry?

    • An expert eighteenth century typesetter could set and print a couple pages an hour. Twenty-first century, high speed printers, were beyond the comprehension of the founders. Can anyone seriously believe the founding fathers would opt for an unrestricted press?

    • I’ll bet they would love to have had today’s weaponry to fight the British. We might have gained our independence sooner.

  2. Bill Jones on said:

    The purpose of the second amendment was to ensure that the people would be able to resist a tyrannical state.
    No more, no less.

    • Bill is literally correct. The amendment was written in light of King George controlling and economically strangling the colonies. The Founders wanted to give the people of resisting their duly elected government from behaving that way. However, today, we would face a modern military w/technologically advanced weaponry that would make an armed citizenry look like an ant fighting a tyrannisaurus rex….

  3. Joe Lauria on said:

    Dear Bill,
    That is a 21st Century Libertarian view. The amendment says the militias are for the “security of a free state” not to overthrow tyrannical government. Indeed it was the uprising of Shay’s Rebellion that bolstered the Federalists to put down such rebellions. They would hardly be encouraging that in a Constitutional amendment. While we are waiting for the armed rebellion, how many children must get slaughtered?
    Joe

  4. Ralph Crown on said:

    Americans have a God-given right to buy guns and own guns and carry guns and use guns and kiss guns and caress guns and …

    Where was I?

    There’s nothing in the Bible against shooting people with guns, so obviously it’s okay with Jesus. There’s nothing wrong with shooting lots of people so long as you shoot yourself afterward. That way you avoid the embarrassment and expense of a trial.

    The real problem here is the number of children involved. If you don’t want bunches of children getting shot, you shouldn’t put them in bunches like that. Obviously the answer is to ban schools, am I right?

    • James Shoe on said:

      Ralph Crown — that was absolutely brilliant !!! A response worthy of “The Colbert Report”. Maybe they could use you as a staff writer.

  5. Leslie Babbitt on said:

    what Joel answered I am amazed that a stay at home mom can earn $4783 in 1 month on the computer. did you read this page FAB33.COM

  6. 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions concerning the Second Amendment. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia[1][2] and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. In dicta, the Court listed many longstanding prohibitions and restrictions on firearms possession as being consistent with the Second Amendment.[3] In McDonald v. Chicago, 561 U.S. 3025 (2010), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment limits state and local governments to the same extent that it limits the federal government.[4]

    so, i suppose you can say the supreme court hijacked it but they affirmed it means an individual right – not a collective right. If you want the 2nd amendment repealed, ok go ahead – atleast that is a fair way to enact gun control. Not other measures that are blatanly unconstitutional given the 2nd amendment and the US Supreme Court’s decision. Not sure why more people don’t understand that…

    • Those were very liberal decisions. Fans of ‘original intent’ abhor them. Those cases discovered a new right that the courts of the 1700s, 1800s and 1900s had never previously found. In fact a unanimous court had once said that the second amendment had no effect at all on states;it only limited the national government.

  7. This author is kidding himself. He wrote the very reason that citizens are supposed to bear arms – “Because of this distrust of standing armies the new republic wrote into its Constitution the Second Amendment, ensuring that citizens, and not a permanent state military, would bear arms to protect the land.”

    If that isn’t enough for him then I will quote the Declaration of Independence – “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,”. You can’t abolish a government without arms if they don’t want to give up power. How many times has history shown that people in power don’t want to give up power without a fight?

    • How effective are your weapons against drones?

    • Joe Lauria on said:

      Dear Gary,
      While we wait for armed rebellion children are getting slaughtered. There can be no successful armed rebellion in the US, especially after the NDAA. It would be crushed mercilessly unless the working class police and soldiers joined the rebellion. It is a fantasy that is costing lives. If Congress thought that gun ownership would threaten their power they’d never listen to the NRA.
      Joe

  8. Dennis Brown on said:

    Neither the American government nor the American military is concerned with the level of firepower it allows its common citizens to own. Anyone who thinks they can stave off our military with common weapons is just deluded. We need to pass common sense gun laws to protect ourselves from ourselves, not the government.

    • “Anyone who thinks they can stave off our military with common weapons is jsut deluded”

      Dennis, come out from under your rock. The Taliban have stymied the U.S. military for over 10 years with the very common AK-47 assault weapon and some improvised explosives. More examples? Al-Qaeda, the Viet Cong, shall I go on?

  9. “The militias are now called the standing National Guard.” Read it again, “The militias are now called the standing National Guard.” did any gun rights advocates actually read rather than glace at this totally self-contradictory article. The Constitution clearly says the right of the people to have a national guard shall not be infringed. If the freedom of the press was interpreted the way Joe Lauria wants the Second Amendment interpreted the Freedom of the Press would be interpreted as people would have to print with a old printing press not a photo copy machine.

    However there is smart technology with the solution. The militia should be phased in smart triggers that respond only to the owner’s fingerprints. That mother who was trying to have her troubled adult child committed could have easily afforded such technology. And since technology gets cheaper with time, every gun owner should realize being killed with one’s own gun is a norm not an exception. If the punishment for illegal guns was half the punishment if smart technology was used even the criminals would use it.

    Let’s get back to remembering we are the 99% that Rich Santorum and the latest tragedy made us forget, see,
    http://readersupportednews.org/pm-section/437-2nd-amendment-rights/15110-the-choice-is-between-guns-and-guns-not-guns-and-butter

    my.firedoglake.com/richardkanepa

  10. elmerfudzie on said:

    As I’ve stated previous to this article, taking guns out of the hands of psychotics is as likely as taking them out of the hands of criminals. Even if the government could make some headway into this problem with stricter gun control laws, what’s to stop some crazy person mowing down people at busy street corners with a rented truck? Or using an axe, knife? bow-and-arrow, torching an occupied building? Here in the USA the problem began with Ronald Reagan’s policy to close public mental health facilities. The mentally ill are still roaming the streets today, grey beards, worn out shoes and all. Our alleys and parks are getting increasingly filled with the mistreated sick, post traumatic disorder Vets as well as certified sickos. But Ronney Ray Guns’ class of people do not have to see them, smell them, get mugged by them or be harassed for loose change by them either. I give a hoot what Obama ET Al says, does or thinks anymore. Their endless war(s) for endless profit- albeit for the lofty few, that is, has taken it’s toll in so many subtle and not so subtle ways.

  11. VivekJain on said:

    Disarm the police [and surveillance] state first.
    - Cindy Sheehan

  12. tedbohne on said:

    there is no implication in the second amendment for free for all firearms. the gunhuggers use only the last sentence. when one reads the entire amendment it becomes clear that with no standing armed forces as we have today in excess, or National Guard, then perhaps a condition like this would warrant free unrestricted gun ownership, or at least in part. however that condition doesn’t exist, and the average american, like Dick Cheney can wander off and shoot peoples faces, however, unlike George’s dick, Cheney, repercussions would soon follow. the US has the highest murder rate with guns than any other country in the free world. and some of those are at war! finally, though, a firearm is nothing but a tool. it becomes dangerous only in the hands of untrained, uneducated, uninformed people. it seems time to investigate the NEW phenomenon of mass shootings by clearly crazed people. when one solves that mystery, perhaps the US can join other countries with people that walk upright