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.”
Throughout the history of our country the intent of this amendment has been debated. Some law scholars state that the term “regulated militia” would imply that the Founding Fathers intended this amendment to apply only to a state’s right for self-defense, or in other words, to maintain a state militia. Others have interpreted the phrase “the right of the people” to pertain to individuals and the right of those individuals to bear arms.
In 1939, in the U.S. v. Miller case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government’s right to regulate interstate commerce of the sawed-off shotgun. It was called a “collective rights approach.” Because the sawed-off shotgun was easy to conceal and could kill or injure many people at once, it was made illegal except with a special taxed permit from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
In 2008 and 2010, the Supreme Court ruled against a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., and Chicago, respectively, saying the ban was a violation of an individual’s right to own a gun. The vote was 5-4 in both cases. The ban on sawed-off shotguns remained in effect.
Regardless of the fluctuations over the interpretations of this amendment, there are some important facts to consider. The Constitution of the United States was ratified in 1788. The Second Amendment was added to the Constitution in 1791.
Machine guns were introduced in the late 1800s with submachine guns being used primarily around the time of World War I. By the 1940s, the first mass-produced automatic rifle could shoot 600 bullets per minute. In the 1950s, it was discovered that a smaller bullet could be deadly and do more damage if it went faster. These discoveries were used to manufacture the present day semi-automatic assault rifles.
In the 1790s, the muskets and flintlock pistols could only fire, at most, three bullets per minute. The Founding Fathers could not have foreseen the impact of individuals owning assault rifles in America.
As technological advances are made, our Constitution must be considered a living body of law to be amended at times to protect its people. It is time we asserted “our collective rights” to keep our people safe. When the “rights” of one citizen takes away the “collective rights” of many citizens to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” it is time to stop the assault on our people.
Ban assault weapons.
Luki Hewitt lives in Penobscot. This column was written on behalf of Narramissic Valley Friends Meeting, Quakers.