'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.’
--Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
Authors note: I cannot possibly cover everything about the Second Amendment and its implications in this small space. It is an issue, however, that is of no small interest to hunters and outdoorsmen. Today I will simply try to identify a few of the defining questions and lay out some of the arguments on both sides. I welcome your ideas and opinions on the matter and if you like, feel free to send them to my e-mail address. If there is enough feedback I’ll address it again at a later date.
After studying the thorny topic of Second Amendment rights I have come to one conclusion — neither you nor I have an answer that solves every problem and answers every question. Most of those who debate this subject have strong opinions and very little tolerance for the middle ground. I suppose that both ends of the political spectrum are worried that if the courts drift in one direction that their position will be chipped away until it vanishes.
Here are the two major positions written as succinctly as possible.
The pro-gun ownership side believes that the Constitution protects against federal interference of citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms for personal defense. They oppose all step-by-step reductions in Second Amendment rights. They feel individuals should not have to seek government permission to exercise this constitutional right.
At the other end of the spectrum, the anti-gun ownership side believes that the rights of gun ownership should be strictly limited because of the adverse effects guns have in crimes such as murder, assault, robbery, etc. Their contention is that the amendment is only intended to protect the rights of states to maintain a militia. They are against unrestricted individual rights to bear arms, particularly hand guns and assault weapons.
Historically, very few Second Amendment cases have reached the Supreme Court. The most recent was earlier this year in McDonald v. Chicago in which the court struck down a ban on handguns put in place by the city of Chicago. The ruling, however, was written in such a way as to leave the door open for carefully worded legislation that restricts gun ownership. An interesting part of the opinion conveyed by the court said in part, “…the right to keep and bear arms is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any matter whatsoever and for whatever purpose”.
The bottom line is that the high court has said that city, state and the federal government have the right to legislate and limit guns.
One thing that strikes me is that when our beautifully crafted Constitution was written, the Founding Fathers recognized that it might need tweaking from time to time as the country grew and changed. My reasoning for this statement is that those men saw the need for an entire branch of government whose most essential job would be to interpret the document. To me, that shows they possessed great modesty and insight. They weren’t vain enough to think that their work was perfect and they knew questions would arise.
With that in mind, does one try to interpret the document literally or should we be flexible enough to modify it as conditions change? There is a problem with both these paths.
To interpret it literally leaves us open to situations in which common sense is taken out of the equation. For example, one portion of the amendment says plainly that the right of citizens to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Does that mean that I can walk around with a hand grenade concealed in my pocket? Conversely the danger with an attempt to interpret the language of the Second Amendment might lead us in a direction that could ultimately result in the loss of rights such as gun ownership.
I believe we will see modifications in Second Amendment interpretation from time to time and from place to place partly because of ongoing changes in society and partly because there will always be alterations in the makeup of the Supreme Court. I also say that because we see it in other amendments. Freedom of speech and conditions of searches and seizures (First and Fourth Amendments) are prime examples of the high court’s propensity to adjust to changing conditions in our country.
To sum all this up, I think what I’ve learned is that those who hunt with traditional shotguns and rifles have little to fear. Those weapons don’t seem to be a primary target of legislation or the anti-gun lobby. Handguns are certainly a target because of their high profile role in crime. Assault weapons are on the chopping block as well but that’s another area where interpretation comes into play. How do you define an assault weapon? Those who participate in target shooting with various types of guns that have a high rate of fire are a big part of this debate and gun collectors could be affected by legislative changes.
The Second Amendment debate over personal safety versus criminal activity, constitutional interpretation philosophy, loss of rights, and how all these issues affect the hunter are ongoing and vitally need your input.
Articles and columns by Alvin Richardson about hunting, fishing and other outdoor sports will appear weekly in the Statesboro Herald. Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.