Accept or abolish the Second Amendment?

Once again, a guy who looks like me killed those who don’t. The heart-wrenching murder of 50 Muslims at the hands of a white supremacist on March 15 played out as it has so many times in the past, with a narcissistic male high on hate wreaking carnage on innocent families engaged in prayer.

But because it happened in New Zealand, this time the response was different. And mind-bogglingly swift.

Within six days, the national government had banned “military-style semi-automatic assault rifles” (read: AR-15s) and mandated that all such weapons be surrendered. There was virtually no opposition — because, in New Zealand, there’s no legal provision affirming an individual’s right to own weapons.

With gratitude to The Enterprise for affording me the outlet, this column externalizes my inner turmoil as I try to reconcile my American identity with the social costs of my gun ownership.

This month, America recognizes the 244th anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord. At dawn on April 19, 1775, the colonists who confronted British forces on the Lexington town green did so with weapons beyond the Crown’s control; the American Revolutionary War erupted with the “shot heard round the world,” and instantly enshrined a critical ethos in the minds of our nation’s founders:

“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.”

I’m intolerant of those who endeavor to read ambiguity into the elegance of our Constitution’s Second Amendment; there just really isn’t a good-faith claim of vagueness. But for the benefit of those who profess confusion, I’ll add three words and delete a fourth:

Given that a well-regulated Militia is necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

There’s no room for misinterpretation here. With a blood-soaked rebellion against an overreaching government still fresh in their minds, our Constitution’s authors knew that you cannot have a well-regulated militia unless the people possess weapons with which to equip it.

Centralized government control of the weapon supply was the precise evil against which the Second Amendment was designed to ward. It codified the recognition that Revolution would have been impossible had the people no arms with which to marshal a militia to meet the Red Coats.

In short, the Second Amendment established as a fundamental right a last-ditch means of ensuring all the others.

Ergo, the critical question before us now is not what the Second Amendment means, but whether it must be abolished. Any debate concerning gun control that avoids this singular question is disingenuous.

The Second Amendment does not say: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of a well-regulated militia to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

A militia can only materialize (and become well-regulated) if people have the arms with which to report.  Those who claim, for example, that the National Guard is the intended “well-regulated militia” misapprehend Title 32 of the United States Code, which places state forces under the control of the president.

Nor does the Second Amendment say: “A dinner consisting of turkey and venison, being an enjoyable end to a day of sport-hunting, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

While Americans may possess a national imagination rife with hunting traditions and lore, thinning bison herds on our great Western plains was not what concerned the delegates to the 1787 Philadelphia Convention.

And, notwithstanding the preposterously-reasoned 2008 Supreme Court decision United States v. Heller (554 U.S. 570), the Second Amendment also does not say: “The ability to employ lethal force, being necessary to the security of a person’s home, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Writing for the majority in the Court’s 5-to-4 decision, the late Justice Antonin Scalia affirmed that the Second Amendment “protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia.”

However, he went on to hold that this “ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms” was in the service of another rationale, to wit, for the sake of self-defense.


While self-defense might be a beneficial byproduct of possessing firearms, the political imperative of the Second Amendment was forged in the fire of war, where patriot statesmen envisioned a citizenry’s capacity to muster their muskets and bravely stand their ground against the excesses of tyranny — as a ragtag force of irregular volunteers declaring their inalienable liberty. (And furthermore declaring their bratty unwillingness to pay their fair share for debts stemming from the French and Indian War, but who’s counting?)

In evaluating what’s “necessary to the security of a free State”, ask:  Free from what?  Secure against whom?  It wasn’t the home intruder that concerned the Founders, but rather the government oppression they’d endured as colonists, and the war their former overlords had waged against their audacious declaration of inalienable rights. 

Yet irrespective of the Heller decision’s underlying reasoning, its outcome bolsters the clear intent of the Constitution’s framers: Individuals are to be assured of their personal right to keep and bear arms.

And so we arrive at the prevailing fever-pitch political consideration: whether the lethal consequence of preserving the right to square off against the government is too dire to maintain that right. Can we justify the societal cost of 39,773 nationwide gun deaths in 2017 — the largest yearly total on records maintained by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — against the remote prospect of coercive government oppression?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that my precious niece and nephews are turning into little people who will soon roam school hallways that a sole disturbed individual might transform into a battlefield. On the other hand, I also know that, even in recent history, members of my ethnic group have been repeatedly targeted for extermination by a slew of central governments.

I know that the weapons I’m issued in the Army are designed for use against apocalyptically dangerous enemies and require significant specialized training. On the other hand, I also know that soldiers like me are the ones who tyrants unleash against a populace that would be utterly defenseless without its own source of firepower, whether in Syria today or on a colonial town green 244 years ago.

I don’t know the answer. But I do know the question: “Is it time to abolish the Second Amendment?”

The Constitution has been amended 27 times; even the amendments themselves have been amended. So don’t think you can dodge the question.

Sure, you can circumscribe the right to bear arms without infringing it, say: by requiring that firearms remain only in the home, unloaded in a locked safe; or by requiring notice to and approval by a federal agency upon receipt of any firearm, whether purchased at a store or gun show or via inheritance or transfer; or by restricting the type of firearms that citizens can possess to the point that the right itself is merely symbolic; or by installing technological mechanisms restricting a gun’s use exclusively to that of the actual owner.

But understand that merely constraining the method of gun ownership so as to preserve an inarguable Constitutional right will always enable the lone wolf, the bigot, the deranged, the vengeful, or the domestic abuser, to harm the ones we love.

The choice is nightmarishly stark: abolition, or acceptance.

In addition to 39,773 gun deaths, America in 2017 also suffered 40,231 fatal motor-vehicle accidents and over 80,000 alcohol-related deaths. Yet we accept the tragedies inflicted by both cars and alcohol as necessary evils in our society.

Are weekly shootings thus the price of freedom? Of being an American, as opposed to a Kiwi?

I just don’t know.

But it makes me cry that, for so many of my fellow Americans, this is not a hypothetical question. Until we divine an answer, may God protect us — both from the tyrants, and from ourselves.