The Second Amendment's Second Coming, Part 1

“Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life…”
— John F. Kennedy, Roosevelt Day commemoration, Jan. 29, 1961

“If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun.”
— The Dalai Lama, in The Seattle Times, May 15, 2001

Even the least political among us realize that, overwhelmingly, pressure to regulate firearms in America comes from the left side of the aisle. And naturally, the Democrat sweep of Congress in 2006 has given many firearms enthusiasts, hunters, sport shooters, militia members, gun collectors, constitutionalists, weapons dealers and responsible gun owners who live in transitional neighborhoods (they’re often the driving force behind positive transitions) a moment of unease.

But surrealistically enough, so far in 2007, you’d never know that the country’s political pendulum had swung far to the left from some of the developments on the Second Amendment front. And I – along with the Dalai Lama – am very glad of it. …

D.C. = Disarmed Capital No Longer?

Most notably, Washington, D.C.’s ban on home handgun possession fell on March 9 to a 2-1 vote in a five-year-old case brought by six plaintiffs before the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Their finding in a nutshell: That the restriction represents a violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. This utterly reverses a lower court’s 2004 finding in the same case that gun possession rights under the Second Amendment apply only to organized militias, not to individuals.

The decision, which still doesn’t prohibit states from regulating guns, is considered by many to be the most significant firearms-related court decision in seven decades, and it marks the first time in federal appeals court history that an existing gun control law was struck down as unconstitutional on Second Amendment grounds. Many feel that the ruling could become the touchstone case that finally forces a Supreme Court clarification on the wording of the Second Amendment – phraseology that many who are ignorant or in denial of the historical context and intent of the Constitution like to portray as open to wide interpretation.

Personally, I think it’s high time we got some clarification on this. The anti-gun crowd has made political hay out of this constitutional ambiguity for far too long. But whether the recent D.C. Circuit Court decision is enough, or whether the Supreme Court needs to echo it before the gun haters get their comeuppance, remains to be seen.

Either way, the utterly ridiculous notion (regardless of any activist court’s finding) that the Second Amendment somehow only refers to a collective right of organized, state-sanctioned militias is unfathomable. EVERY OTHER AMENDMENT in the Bill of Rights is written to protect individuals against an overreaching government. Do these leftist bozos – the same folks who will champion the individual import of every other Amendment, specifically the First, Fourth and Eighth – really believe that the Second is some exception to this irrevocable pillar of Americanism?

If this latest D.C. decision stands (there are no guarantees when it comes to federal courts), the Brady people and all the bleeding-heart soccer moms that view guns as ugly and archaic, rather than necessary, will be forced to deal with the fact that just because they don’t find certain fundamental American freedoms warm and fuzzy doesn’t mean they’re unconstitutional. …

And this recent constitutional smackdown in our nation’s capital isn’t the only good news for freedom lovers of late. In ultraliberal Maryland – where newly elected Democrat Gov. Martin O’Malley passes the time occupying what many analysts consider a steppingstone post in preparation for a future presidential run – a proposed ban on 45 kinds of “assault” weapons was voted down in the state’s largely Democrat legislature. This happened despite O’Malley’s aggressive support.

Of course, this may not be the end of the matter. Bans on semiautomatic weapons of a militaristic configuration are introduced with regularity in the Old Line State – and others, as well. It may only be a matter of time before young lion O’Malley’s sway over the legislature is fully realized and the measure passes. But for at least another year or so, the rights of safety-, defense-, and recreation-minded Marylanders are safe.

Inaccurate Perceptions

To many non-gun owners – or those not up to speed on their firearms esoterica – bans on “assault weapons” seem reasonable.

That’s because they perceive these “black rifles” as being somehow materially different than the hunting and sporting guns they’re used to seeing. Maybe it’s from seeing them in full auto mode in the movies, or maybe it’s just that they look super-menacing. This isn’t really true, however. The vast bulk of long guns with military configurations commonly available to civilians are identical in caliber (.223 and .308, mostly) and performance to their hunting counterparts.

And just for the information of those who don’t know, a lot of popular North American hunting rounds – like the venerable .30-06, 7mm Remington Magnum, .300 Winchester Magnum, .338 Win. Mag and numerous others are harder hitting and longer range than any round commonly chambered in an assault weapon. …

Aside from this, numerous hunting weapons are sold in semiautomatic configurations, and have been for decades. The Remington 740, 742 and 7400 series; the Browning BARs; the new Benelli R1; various Rugers and others remain popular choices of hunters in the field. They fire EXACTLY like assault weapons – one discharge per squeeze of the trigger, with recoil (or firing gas) cycling a bolt that flings the spent shell out and rams a new round into the chamber from the clip. …

Then why all the hubbub about assault weapons, you’re asking?

Two things play into it, one of them a minor mechanical distinction inherent to the guns’ designs, the other a perceived difference that has taken hold in the nonshooting public’s (as well as in ignorant legislators’) collective consciousness. First thing: The only substantive difference between semiautomatic weapons of sporting and assault configurations is their magazine capacities. Not accuracy, not power, not rate of fire — only how many rounds they can hold. This is a distinction that many gun control laws have based their restrictions around, with dubious, if any, effect other than to decrease freedom and retard commerce, that is.

Second, what many people think of when they hear “assault guns” is “machine guns.” These are fully automatic versions of the same weapons currently legal for sale (in most states) to the public in semiautomatic trim. “Fully automatic” means these guns fire continuously or in bursts with a single depression of the trigger. They are designed for military and law enforcement use. Civilians can only obtain machine guns from BATF Class III dealers — and only a minute fraction of gun dealers hold Class 3 certifications. Actually, buying a machine gun is an expensive, time-consuming, and ridiculously involved process. Few do it.

Nevertheless, the perception among rank-and-file John Q. Publics is that without laws and regulations banning assault guns, there’d be a full auto machine gun under every long coat, in every house and corner store – and that any loose screw with an axe to grind could simply stroll into the local gun shop and walk out with the means to spray hundreds of rounds into whatever he (or she) wants to.

This simply isn’t the case, yet it’s one the media and politicians perpetuate intentionally. Assault guns in general, and machine guns in particular, are so absurdly expensive (and rightly so – they’re high quality and extremely heavy-duty) that those who can afford them don’t NEED to commit crimes with them. The vast bulk of U.S. gun crimes are committed with cheap, simple, small, stolen, often aged firearms – whatever can be obtained on the street for as little money as possible. This rules out assault guns.

Here’s what I’m getting at with all of this: Despite what a lot of anti-gun factions would have you believe, there’s very little difference between the “assault guns” a lot of states (end even the feds) have tried to prohibit you from owning and the hunting rifles most any lawful American citizen can walk into a corner sporting goods store and buy right now. Further, legally owned assault-style weapons are used in only a micro-fraction of the crimes committed with guns, while legally-owned machine guns are hardly ever used to commit crimes.

Seriously, look it up, and you’ll rightly conclude that banning lawful citizens’ ownership of machine guns or weapons of “assault” configurations would have a negligible, if even measurable (and perhaps even a NEGATIVE), effect on crime. Beyond this, statistics show time and again, from every corner of this country and in nations far from our own, that the more guns there are in the hands of law-abiding citizens, the LESS violent crime there is. That’s a fact.

Politicians of both parties damn well know this, too. But they won’t tell YOU, because they don’t want to lose the all-emotion soccer mom vote (guns of any type don’t sit well with most of this demographic), and they want more power to expand the reach of government – specifically, police and law enforcement. They couldn’t do this if there were LESS crime, which is exactly what would happen if more guns were allowed or if concealed carry laws were liberalized.

But now, in the wake of this latest D.C. Circuit Court decision and other occurrences, it appears likely that the U.S. Supreme Court may soon get the chance to reaffirm your constitutional right to more guns – no matter what they look like – and less crime. …

Whether they WOULD or not is far from fait accompli, but it’s looking more likely now.

Coming Down from the Political Hills

I have always thought that the Second Amendment’s position was becoming increasingly precarious. I’ve believed this because of two things: One, the modern shift away from the long-prevailing American ethos of “rugged individualism” and toward the Media Age’s more urbane and genteel sensibilities – especially in metropolitan areas (although this makes no sense, since higher-crime urban zones are where lawfully owned guns are needed most).

And two, because the amendment’s wording (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”) opens the door for freedom haters to pervert its obvious individual intent into an endorsement of more invasive government among millions of Americans whose PC public-school grasp of the Constitution’s historical context gets fuzzier by the generation.

When you add to this the natural, yet tragically ironic, tendency of firearm advocates to “head for the political hills” when attacked, instead of sticking and fighting for their rights (mostly because they feel they shouldn’t have to), you’ve got a recipe for the slow erosion and ultimate extinction of one of our most important freedoms – one that ensures our continued freedom perhaps more so than any other.

But yet again, the “gun karma” in the good old U.S. of A. has surprised me in 2007.

I’ll tell you all about what I mean in Part 2 of this series – plus, offer you some perspectives on the Second Amendment, the guns it safeguards, and the freedom you may not have pondered before. Stay tuned.

Feeling great and shooting you straight,

Jim Amrhein,
Contributing editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

April 6, 2007