Second Amendment jousting continues …

by Merrill Ring | Special to the Courier

Douglas Lyon and I disagree [“SCOTUS misses the point of the Second Amendment,” May 5, and “The Second Amendment is clear, obvious, and directly stated,” May 12] about what the Second Amendment means because we disagree about the function of its first clause: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, …” I call those words a “preamble” because they are crucial to understanding the Second while Lyon thinks they are minor “prefatory” verbiage.

The particular labels are irrelevant. Is the clause important or not? Let me use something Lyon himself says to start showing its function. He correctly points out the clause is grammatically incomplete and so cannot be asserted on its own. “A … militia being necessary to …” must have a second clause to make a complete assertion. In logical form the whole is like, “Being tired, he went to bed,” “Being tired” is not an assertion on its own. However, we all know the whole means “Because he was tired, he went to bed.” “Being tired” is the explanation of what he did.

So too, the first clause of the Second Amendment means “Because a Militia is necessary to the security of a free state, …” That is, the first clause explains why a right to arms is given in the second clause. An explanation is not a trivial preface, as Lyon calls the first clause. Rather, it gives the justification for a Constitutional grant to the American people of a right to arms.

Lyon further tries to trivialize the first clause by saying it merely gives “examples”; for him the reference to a militia is made simply as an example of what guns can be used for. But did Madison just accidentally single out militias as an example of the many uses of guns? Come on. The clause mentions militias because that is what the entire amendment is about. Madison in framing the Second did not just happen to refer to a military entity an example. The amendment sets out the connection between militia service and a right to privately own a gun.

Hurrying to dispense with the first clause and its reference to a militia, Lyon pays no attention to what it says about militias: “… being necessary to the security of a free State.” Whoa! Is that true? We today do not have a militia, yet we are a “free state.” Despite the Second Amendment’s claim, a militia is not necessary to our national security.

Why is that false thesis in our Constitution?

The problem is solved by noticing that the Constitution rejects the idea of a permanent army, or “a standing army” (Article 1, Section 8). Given that we originally did not have a government organization to ensure our security, what then would be necessary for the military defense of the country? Militias! (Like those who harassed the British at Lexington and Concord.) The Second Amendment is in the Bill of Rights to make sure private citizens have the right to what they need, namely privately owned guns, to enable them to join in the defense of their country.

There is, however, a massively important consequence of having the Constitution attach a citizen’s right to keep a weapon to their service in a militia. We now have a permanent army to meet our military needs. With that, the necessity of having militias to provide military security has vanished. Without militias, the Second Amendment’s right to keep a weapon has become null and void. Thus, the Second Amendment has lost its reason for existence (just as has its companion, the Third Amendment). Yet, though irrelevant to the contemporary American way of life, it remains there in our Constitution (just as the human appendix remains in our bodies), a reminder of how the world used to be, a matter of historical interest only.

I would remind Lyon and friends that a right to own a gun can in all likelihood be developed by relying on the Ninth Amendment. They need to get to work on that: forget the Second Amendment.

Merrill Ring, a Claremont community activist for more than 40 years, is a retired professor of philosophy and dedicated Courier letter writer.


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