Bowing to Second Amendment Myths

Even as Democratic leaders propose gun-safety laws after the slaughter of 20 first-graders in Newtown they try to sound “reasonable” by genuflecting to the myth of Second Amendment “rights.” But this acceptance of right-wing propaganda is dooming these life-saving initiatives, says Beverly Bandler.

By Beverly Bandler

I sent a message to Vice President Joe Biden after reading an article by Josh Lederman in the Huffington Post, which quoted the Vice President as saying that: “the notion of registering guns crosses a cultural line, noting that unlike cars, which must be registered, guns are explicitly protected by the Constitution.”

But guns are not“explicitly protected by the Constitution.”

Vice President Joe Biden.

I am an ardent Democrat, but frankly, being an active member of the Democratic Party is increasingly frustrating in the extreme. We have so many intelligent, decent and hardworking progressives (real Democrats) in the party, but too frequently the impression left by prominent leaders is that either they are insufficiently educated about the Constitution and U.S. history (and Democratic principles). Or perhaps they have momentary lapses of memory and/or disconnects between brain and lip so typical of politicians with superficial “convictions.” Or maybe they are spinelessly intimidated by the National Rifle Association.

As Mark Twain once said:  “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” That the Second Amendment lie perpetrated by the NRA and others has been costly is an understatement. It is time to correct it.

It is comforting to see that at least one major U.S. newspaper is trying to set the record straight: The Newark, New Jersey, Star-Ledger interviewed law professor and author Adam Winkler last December. The Star-Ledger quotes Winkler:

“We think of gun control as a modern 20th century invention, but in fact we’ve had gun control since the beginning of America. The Founding Fathers had gun laws so restrictive that the leaders of today’s NRA wouldn’t support them.

“The Founding Fathers did not view the Second Amendment as a libertarian license for anyone to have any gun, anywhere he wanted. They restricted large portions of the population who they thought to be untrustworthy from possessing firearms.

“Not only were slaves and free blacks barred from having guns, but at times even law-abiding white men. If you weren’t willing to swear an oath of loyalty to the revolution, you were subject to disarmament. We’re not talking about traitors here. We’re talking about Americans who were exercising their freedom of conscience to oppose the war.

“The Founding Fathers also had very strict militia laws that required gun owners to appear at mandatory musters with their firearms in tow. The militiamen’s guns would be inspected and even registered on public rolls.”

A similar reality regarding gun control existed in Wild West towns, Winkler noted: “When you went into a frontier town where the civilized people lived, you had to check your guns at the marshal’s office. The famous gun havens of Dodge City, Kan.; Tombstone, Ariz.; and Deadwood, S.D., had the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. They all banned carrying any firearms in public.” [See Why the NRA once led the fight for gun control.”]

Here is my letter to Vice President Biden:

A key reason the Assault Weapons Ban bill failed and the nation continues to face an uphill battle for gun control as a means to help combat the crisis of gun violence is the mindless repetition of the falsehoods that: “guns are explicitly protected by the Constitution” and gun laws infringe on “rights” provided by the Second Amendment.

Conservatives in both political parties believe they have “gun rights” that they do not have.  Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution and the Second Amendment do not give them the right to own and maintain personal firearms and arsenals of military design or any other kind. The Framers were clear:

Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution: “The Congress shall have Power…To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;” (1787)

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.” (1789)

The right “to keep and bear Arms” is in the context of a “well regulated Militia.” A “well regulated Militia” is defined by Congress in Article 1, Section 8. Today’s “Militia” is in effect the National Guard. The language is not ambiguous, neither is the historical record.

We appreciate your personal efforts and those of the President in the gun violence fight. But with all due respect, the President’s plan to reduce gun violence and all gun control efforts are undermined when the deliberate propaganda disseminated by the National Rifle Association and other radical, right-wing operatives is reinforced by Democratic leaders.

Beverly Bandler’s public affairs career spans some 40 years. Her credentials include serving as president of the state-level League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands and extensive public education efforts in the Washington, D.C. area for 16 years. She writes from Mexico.

Bogus, Carl T.  ed.  The Second Amendment in Law and History: Historians and Constitutional Scholars on the Right to Bear Arms. (2001)
Stone, Geoffrey R. “Understanding the Second Amendment.” The Huffington Post, 2012-01-09.
Wills, Garry.  “To Keep and Bear Arms.” The New York Review of Books, 1995-09-21.
Winkler, Adam. Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. (2011)

19 comments for “Bowing to Second Amendment Myths

  1. PeaceWarrior
    March 22, 2013 at 06:27

    Dear Beverly Bandler,

    I understand your position as to what you personally believe the Second Amendment is “all about,” but please allow me to quote our VPOTUS, Joe Biden, concerning the legislation currently being presented in lieu of both The Constitution and Second Amendment, quote, “”Nothing we’re gonna do is going to fundamentally alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that [our gun ban legislation] will bring gun deaths down…”

    Ms. Bandler, all of this newly proposed legislation really has nothing to do with either bringing down crime rates, or to prevent the shootings like the one that occurred in Sandy Hook back in December, and even our Vice President admits this much. So, if this is not the reason for such legislation, then what is the reason?

    It has nothing to with crime, and you know what, in a sense, it really has nothing to with guns either. No, what this legislation concerns is the rights of WE the People, or more properly, taking the rights of We the People.

    The Constitution and Bill of Rights NEVER awarded rights to Americans, but rather, these documents plainly codified the unalienable rights given to we Americans by our Creator.

  2. Norm
    March 22, 2013 at 02:11

    It’s worth the additional time to leave you with this and wish you well.

    Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. As Mr. Snyder so aptly puts it; “The world is still full of people who would enslave us and compel us to do their bidding if they could.” You need to do a much better job of delving into the other writings of our Founding Fathers. You’re falling into the trap set by so-called progressives and neo-liberals. I hope you learn that you are on a path that leads nowhere good.

    Read more:

  3. Norm
    March 22, 2013 at 01:52

    Ms. Bandler, you are dangerous. Throughout time people like you have engineered societies firmly built upon controlling the masses. You would decide what is good for all, because you feel you know what is best.

    Again, you are dangerous. It is time to correct people like you. You will not gain power. Instead, you and those like you will suffer a chronic, severe angina caused by the spread of freedom and liberty. You see, we do have unalienable rights, and we will now more vigorously than ever, protect those rights, because you’re loudly broadcasting a call to arms, so to speak. We’re on the right side of the battle. You’re on the losing side. Freedom always wins out.

  4. Evan
    March 21, 2013 at 21:58

    You may want to consider that your lineage and experiences don’t reflect American lineage and experiences. It may be nice to examine an issue from the outside but to think you fundamentally understand it is laughable. Your interpretation is flawed on many levels.

  5. Duki
    March 21, 2013 at 21:56

    SCOTUS ruled already that the government (yes, the FED) has the right to restrict arms it deems are not suited for civilian use. The second amendment is not an unlimited right and never has been. (See District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). You cannot own a tank or f-16 for the same reason. Other restrictions such as those for felons, mentally ill and such have been upheld. If the government deems that assault rifles are military equipment then that is constitutional. The only right you have is to own a gun for personal hunting and self-defense or other REASONABLE civilian use. The government decides what is reasonable.

    • Evan
      March 21, 2013 at 22:02

      Those regulations were designed for the States to enact. The entire BOR’s is a restriction on what the Federal government is restricted from doing to us. It’s merely a perversion. You are an absolute idiot if you feel that the government gets to alter the BOR’s on a whim. You demonstrate a complete lack of understanding when it comes to inalienable rights. Rights are not handed out by the government.

  6. scott
    March 21, 2013 at 21:02

    This author’s position is that the authors of the constitution enshrined along with freedom of religion and speech, and due process, thát the government can’t take it’s own guns away ?

    Any collectivist interpretation makes no sense, even if you ignore all the other evidence that it is an individual right.

  7. frank graham
    March 21, 2013 at 20:52

    I understand that you think you understand the constitution better than the supreme court justices of the united states.
    The founding fathers wrote the 2nd amendment after overthrowing their own government with their own guns. And you have to work pretty hard to not see their intentions in their writings.

  8. Cletus
    March 21, 2013 at 20:02

    I think you need to go back and re-read history and not the revisionist version that the liberal left espouses. There are numerous records written by the founding fathers clearly stating what the 2nd Amendment was and why it exists. The Federalist Papers are a good place to start.

    Next you actually bring up a great point about blacks and guns. It was Democrats that enacted the Jim Crowe laws that forbade Negroes the possession of firearms. The very first restrictions were on blacks. And it was YOUR party that created those laws. Still feel cocksure and proud?

  9. rosemerry
    March 21, 2013 at 17:41

    I am so glad not to live in a nation where all the the members are considered as enemies to be defended against; defence means shoot first and ask questions afterwards; having a gun is more important than having rights to live in peace and freedom. All the ballyhoo about what a wonderful country it is, when its whole history is plunder and destruction.
    Lots of words and discussion, but never any suggestion that the country itself gives the example from the top. Half of the world’s arms are held by the USA, huge amounts of arms are sold to dictators and “rebels”,support is constant for the illegal actions of Israel while Muslims are demonised and destroyed. No wonder so many people find the USA the greatest threat to the globe.

  10. Ginny
    March 21, 2013 at 15:38

    John, I don’t like or trust Tench Coxe. He was a Tory until he saw the writing on the wall. Then and only then did he switch to join the Rev. and that was after
    1780. He was a business man first and foremost.
    He was not part of the founding fathers although he did write some papers.

    • HELEN
      April 1, 2013 at 20:12

      You, Madame, are an idiot who lives in denial of the reality that populations which are in control of their fates by virtue of being armed enjoy much greater safety than those in Chicago, New York,L.A. The modern histories of cities that have laws of your utopian beliefs prove my point. I have twice used a firearm to hold a felon for the police arrival. The first time was a blatant attempt at a break-in while the criminal watched the homeowner as he pried a patio door open. You would have me phone the police instead my rushing to my neighbor’s rescue with my World War II collectors (semi-automatic)rifle. ASK MY OLDER NEIGHBORS AND FAMILIES IF I SHOULD HAVE WAITED FOR THE POLICE–OR PERHAPS YOU?? YOU COWARD=TO ARRIVE.

  11. John
    March 21, 2013 at 13:30

    I find it remarkable that the author would attempt to buttress her case against the Second Amendment with “Not only were slaves and free blacks barred from having guns…”

    In addition to Stephencj’s comments, particularly #2, the US Supreme Court, to resolve the squabbling resulting from the grammatical oddity of the militia clause seeming to be unconnected to the main body of the Second Amendment, has ruled repeatedly, most recently in 2008 and 2010, that the Second Amendment applies to individuals.

    For more, one need only examine the relevant writings of those who participated in drafting the US Constitution. Here’s four excerpts:

    “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”
    GEORGE MASON, 3 Elliot, Debates at 425-426.

    “Have we the means of resisting disciplined armies, when our only defence, the militia, is put in the hands of Congress?”
    PATRICK HENRY, 3 Elliot Debates at 48.

    “Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
    PATRICK HENRY, 3 Elliot Debates 168-169.

    “Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American… [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
    TENCH COXE, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

  12. Ginny
    March 21, 2013 at 12:54

    I find your letter and article interesting but there is an aspect that needs to
    be addressed. It’s called Heller v. DC. The finding was that Scalia, who by the way loves the Constitution and feels it should NEVER be altered , altered the 2nd amendment. I would love to see military type weapons not be sold to non-military Americans, but with this admin, I don’t see that happening. Neither party has the backbone to stand up to the NRA and it’s lies. Now, I have heard that some guns were not included in that decision, but I’ve not heard which ones.

    • steve
      March 24, 2013 at 03:22

      Stephencj and John– there is no “grammatical oddity” in the 2nd amendment. The framers’ intent is clear to anyone who takes the time understand basic English, and specifically the way it was written and spoken in the 18th century. And the quotes you use to support your contention that these rights were intended for individuals, do just the opposite. In each passage you cite, the author refers to “the people”. The word ‘people’ is derived from the word populum, which refers to a group of group of persons sharing a culture or social environment. Had the framers intended these to be individual rights rather than a collective right, they instead would have refered to “persons”, which derives from the word persona, and refers to an individual. If you accept that words have specific meanings, then it’s clear that gun ownership was intended to be a collective right, as in the right of the state to maintain a militia for its defense. And even if this were not the case, what about all the laws restricting the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech and assembly? Last time I checked every state in the union can tell you when and where you can protest, all in the name of “public safety”. Why then can’t they pass laws to control guns?

      • Jan Civil
        March 24, 2013 at 06:02

        The SCOTUS ruled for the first time in Heller that the 2nd applied per se to individuals. Landmark ruling, some say. People assume a lot, but until Heller, no, there was no particular right for an individual to bear arms per the Constitution.

      • Jan Civil
        March 24, 2013 at 06:06

        “If you accept that words have specific meanings, then it’s clear that gun ownership was intended to be a collective right…”

        That’s right. Additionally, the phrase ‘to bear arms’ had a distinctly military meaning; put that alongside ‘well-regulated militia’ and it ought to dawn on one that this was talking about the people as a body. Also in terms of grammar, that ‘militia’ clause modifies ‘the right of the people’.

  13. Stephencj
    March 21, 2013 at 12:42

    Two major issues I take with this article.
    1. The cases you cite as gun control through our history either: take place before the constitution was ratified, or are put in place by the localities (states, cities, etc.) which could be considered Constitutional. The issue with your push for gun control, is the use of the Federal Government to do it, which is blatantly unconstitutional and leads me to my next point.
    2. You misrepresent the Second Amendment, as so many who take your position do. If the founders meant for the right of the Militia to keep and bear arms to not be infringed, they would have said so. Instead it clearly states “…the right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms…” The “A well regulated Militia, being necessary for the security of a free State,…” explains the purpose of it. That is why the first proposed draft of the amendment read, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.” Your argument is based on the misunderstanding, or purposeful manipulation, of the English language to fit your agenda.

  14. ben
    March 21, 2013 at 12:33


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