Opinion: Second Amendment debate continues
By Douglas Lyon | Special to the Courier
With reference to Mr. Merrill Ring’s opinion piece [“Second Amendment jousting continues …”] of May 19:
In both his letters, Mr. Ring repeats his standing army theme, but he employs backwards logic. He describes how our Constitution provides for no standing army, but rather a militia. Yet now that we have a standing army — and supposedly no militia — he wishes to declare the Second Amendment (herein after 2A) “null and void.” So, if I understand Mr. Ring’s rationale, because we have violated the Constitution once by creating a standing army, we should violate it a second time by nullifying our 2A.
On the contrary, assuming Mr. Ring is correct, and our Constitution permits no standing army, then that is what should be abolished, and a militia concept of defense formed again in its place in order to be in full compliance with our Constitution. Right? And, if Mr. Ring were being consistent, that is what he would be advocating. Right?
Now, to help us interpret 2A’s wording, Justice Scalia wrote in District of Columbia v. Heller, “a prefatory clause does not limit or expand the scope of the operative clause.” This is essentially what I stated in my first letter.
Justice Scalia continued, “Nowhere else in the Constitution does a ‘right’ attributed to ‘the people’ refer to anything other than an individual right,” meaning it would be improper to do so now with respect to 2A.
He continued, “We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans … [and] in no way connotes participation in a structured military organization … By the time of the founding, the right to have arms had become fundamental for English subjects … [including] the natural right of resistance and self-preservation.”
Evidence supporting that fundamental right to have arms extends back, for example, to the 1689 English Bill of Rights which declared, “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence.”
Heller also cited Congress’ 1792 understanding of a militia as consisting of every able-bodied male between the ages of 18 and 45, who “shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia,” clearly not a limited group of citizens conscripted into organized military service, but rather the whole population, a portion of whom might be gathered together during times of emergency.
The brilliant analysis in Heller contains far more elaboration on the structure, wording, and contextual meaning of 2A than I can possibly include here. Heller also specifically rejects Mr. Ring’s assertion that keeping and bearing arms relates solely to one’s time after reporting for duty in a militia.
And now let us travel back in time to the Constitutional Convention: when the subject of arming a militia arose, Madison’s notes contain this entry, “Mr. Madison observed that ‘arming’ as explained did not extend to furnishing arms.”
And why would it not extend to furnishing arms? Because, in the context of our founding era, it would have been thoroughly reasonable for any person to assume that nearly every household already had its own firearms. The presence of arms among the general populace was assumed, and so it was further assumed that each man reporting for militia service would bring his own firearms.
Unfortunately, in his latest piece Mr. Ring fails to add any substance to the debate. Rather he mostly rehashes his original points, which consist of his own supposition, surmise, and speculation, as evidenced by his lack of citations, historical or otherwise, to support any of his personal assertions.
In conclusion, based upon an examination of relevant evidence, it is clear 2A guarantees an individual right to “keep and bear arms.” Open and reasonable minds can perceive this. Minds with predetermined political agendas will not.
And now, perhaps Mr. Ring will show us all where that so-called “right” to abortion is equally clearly stated in our Constitution.
Douglas Lyon is a Constitutionalist, a former planning commissioner, one-time City Council candidate, retired pilot, and self-taught historian who has been around Claremont since 1967.