The 2nd Amendment and Killing Kids

From the Archive: The comedy team Key and Peele cut through the Right’s Second Amendment madness best in a bit in which Peele travels back in time with Uzis to confront its authors over their careless wording. But there is nothing funny about piles of dead kids, victims of bad history, as Robert Parry wrote a year ago.

By Robert Parry (Originally published on Dec. 15, 2012, a day after the Newtown massacre)

The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their “original intent” in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now an elementary school.

Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.

President James Madison, a principal author of the Bill of Rights..

President James Madison, a principal author of the Bill of Rights..

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.” Thus, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure “security,” not undermine it.

The massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, which followed other gun massacres in towns and cities across the country, represents the opposite of “security.” And it is time that Americans of all political persuasions recognize that protecting this kind of mass killing was not what the Founders had in mind.

However, over the past several decades, self-interested right-wing “scholarship” has sought to reinvent the Framers as free-market, government-hating ideologues, though the key authors of the U.S. Constitution people like James Madison and George Washington could best be described as pragmatic nationalists who favored effective governance.

In 1787, led by Madison and Washington, the Constitutional Convention scrapped the Articles of Confederation, which had enshrined the states as “sovereign” and had made the federal government a “league of friendship” with few powers.

What happened behind closed doors in Philadelphia was a reversal of the system that governed the United States from 1777 to 1787. The laws of the federal government were made supreme and its powers were dramatically strengthened, so much so that a movement of Anti-Federalists fought bitterly to block ratification.

In the political maneuvering to assure approval of the new system, Madison and other Federalists agreed to add a Bill of Rights to ease some of the fears about what Anti-Federalists regarded as the unbridled powers of the central government. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Madison had considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary because the Constitution, like all constitutions, set limits on the government’s power and it contained no provisions allowing the government to infringe on basic liberties of the people. But he assented to spell out those rights in the first 10 amendments, which were passed by the First Congress and ratified in 1791.

The intent of the Second Amendment was clarified during the Second Congress when the U.S. government enacted the Militia Acts, which mandated that all white males of military age obtain a musket, shot and other equipment for service in militias.

The idea was to enable the young country to resist aggression from European powers, to confront Native American tribes on the frontier and to put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts. There was nothing particularly idealistic in this provision; the goal was the “security” of the young nation.

However, the modern American Right and today’s arms industry have devoted enormous resources to twisting the Framers into extremist ideologues who put “liberties” like individual gun ownership ahead of all practical concerns about “security.”

This propaganda has proved so successful that many politicians who favor common-sense gun control are deemed violators of the Framers’ original intent, as essentially un-American, and face defeat in elections. The current right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has even overturned longstanding precedents and reinterpreted the Second Amendment as granting rights of individual gun ownership.

But does anyone really believe that Madison and like-minded Framers would have stood by and let deranged killers mow down civilians, including children, by using guns vastly more lethal than any that existed in the Revolutionary era? If someone had wielded a single-shot musket or pistol in 1791, the person might get off one volley but would then have to reload. No one had repeat-firing revolvers, let alone assault rifles with large magazines of bullets.

Any serious scholarship on the Framers would conclude that they were, first and foremost, pragmatists determined to protect the hard-won independence of the United States. When the states’-rights Articles of Confederation wasn’t doing the job, they scrapped it. When compromises were needed even on the vile practice of slavery the Framers cut the deals.

While the Framers cared about liberty (at least for white men), they focused in the Constitution on practicality, creating a flexible system that would advance the “general Welfare” of “We the People.”

It is madness to think that the Framers would have mutely accepted the slaughter of six- and seven-year-olds (or the thousands of other American victims of gun violence). Such bloody insecurity was definitely not their “original intent.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

To watch the Key and Peele comedy segment, click here:

8 comments for “The 2nd Amendment and Killing Kids

    December 16, 2013 at 21:12

    It is also worth remembering that in that long-gone America, firearms and ammunition were kept in locked, common storehouses, not in individuals’ homes. Every old American town has its “Magazine Street” or “Powderhouse Road” that memorializes this ancient tradition.

  2. Boiled Frog
    December 16, 2013 at 15:05

    Fantasies about rebelling against the current police state with AR15 and Kalashnikov popguns might work in a country with generations of war hardened relatives who do not know what 24/7 electricity is, but in a nation of war hardened video game players, one special forces operative can take out a town full of bubbas and their semi-automatic rifles.

    The Second was meant to support the nascent Federal State, not overthrow it when some POTUS with the wrong skin color is elected.

  3. Morton Kurzweil
    December 16, 2013 at 11:01

    The men who agreed to a Bill of Rights were practical amateurs who had to overcome personal bigotry to create a common defense for their personal survival.
    They understood that a national government could not pay for a national defense. They understood that their national government could not control the minds, beliefs and ideologies of the people who would become citizens.
    Their practical genius produces the first and second amendments.
    Better to guarantee freedom of thought and religious prejudice than attempt to establish a national religion. Better to permit every man to supply his own firearm than pay for a national defense that they could not afford.
    The problems we face today are caused by the fact that the national government can afford to pay for national defense and national ideology. We have forgotten that our individual difference guarantee our civil liberties, not a governments idea of ethics or morality.

  4. Robin
    December 15, 2013 at 18:07

    The article sums it up well. To condense the idea behind it…

    Who cares what a bunch of men thought 200 years ago? Why is their opinion more valid than smart men (in office) currently alive? They were but mere men, not Gods.

  5. Broken Sailor
    December 15, 2013 at 16:06

    The logic of this article is very far from the truth.
    New Hampshire’s proposal for amendment was, “Congress shall never disarm any citizen unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.”
    New York proposed, “… a well regulated militia, including the body of the people capable of bearing arms, is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State.”

    The final 2nd Amendment in full 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 view on this was to enable THE PEOPLE to keep and bear arms to form protective groups, militias or even act as individuals. This would enable school districts to form a militia to protect their students, at the very basics allow parents and teachers to arm themselves and protect students. The problem with school massacres is that they are GUN FREE ZONES and criminals and the mentally ill take advantage of this and target these zones because they know there will be little to no resistance before they can accomplish some damage.

    Stated by the author {Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.} is a misquoted and not full reading of the 2nd Amendment. Clearly this rearrangement of the words in the amendment is used to bastardize the real meaning of the amendment and then support it with the following article. This is a injustice. It does not include the views of the other constitutional representatives in attendance, and certainly not all of the State’s view as demonstrated above by New Hampshire’s very clear definition: “Congress shall never disarm any citizen”.

    The above article is nothing but a bastardized manipulation of the founders view to try and support a misguided interpretation of the real meaning of the second amendment.

  6. Eddie
    December 15, 2013 at 09:05

    Exactly right Mr. Parry! The court’s historical rendering of the 2nd Amendment as protecting the states’ right to a national guard type of organization was coherent and believable, but the current Scalia-based interpretation is merely right-wing pandering-to and energizing-of their political base, for crass electoral reasons, nothing more. Your articles on this website as well as numerous others make that abundantly clear to any intellectually reflective person.

    What I wonder is whether we will soon see a return to any sort of sanity in gun laws? It’s easy to get very pessimistic about that when one sees all the right-winger politicians climbing over each other to introduce anti-gun control legislation, the crazier the better it seems, and the sad statistics about the increase in mass shootings. But as a person (like yourself) in his 60s, I’ve lived through major political swings in this country and that gives one a slight ray of hope that things CAN change for the slightly better. To me, an example of that is what we’ve seen FINALLY happen with cigarette smoking, a complete reversal from the 1940s-70s cultural climate where smoking was allowed virtually everywhere to the current laws where it is allowed in only very limited places. And there was the big corporate entity (i.e.; big tobacco) doing the same things that the NRA (long since co-opted by the gun manufacturers) is doing now, but eventually truth prevailed, though many 100s of thousands of people had to die in the process.

  7. Phillip
    December 15, 2013 at 09:01

    A stupid article, full of drivel and false logic, designed to promote an anti-freedom political agenda. No, the framers would not have “mutely accepted the slaughter of six and seven year olds”. They would have demanded that the murderer be punished, most likely by public hanging. None of their actions recorded in history would lead any objective thinker to conclude that they would have called for gutting the liberties, including the Second Amendment, that they had recently struggled to achieve.

    • angelonthesidelines
      December 16, 2013 at 14:59

      Gutting their liberties?

      What about the liberty of schoolchildren to pursue THEIR happiness?

      You sir, like the NRA kneejerkers defend the right to easy access to arms for mentally unstable disaffected losers who desire infamy at the expense of the innocent.

      The LEAST we can do is force these loser cowards to the hazards and uncertainty of the black market to gain hardware for their malevalent agenda.

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