The Second Amendment Is a dangerous anachronism

Three days after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., I was astonished to read a hard-hitting editorial (“Ending Our Love Affair With Guns“) in the Sunday issue of the Plain Dealer that ended with the following:

“Any serious discussion of preventing more slaughters has to start with significant restrictions on the availability of high-power firearms and large magazines. But it also has to examine how guns are bought and sold in this country and the terms under which people can own them. It has to be far-ranging and fearless, including the possible repeal or revision of the Second Amendment if that is what it takes to regulate private arsenals and enact meaningful gun control. It’s not 1789 anymore. This is not a frontier society. It is a nation where 30,000 people a year die from gunshots.

Evidently the horror of the event was enough to shake the normally timid editorial writers into breaking from their normal posture of apologizing and providing cover for deeply held convictions of Republican extremism.

So I immediately sent off a letter, which was published along with many others addressing the issue.  My letter said:

The Plain Dealer is to be congratulated for having the courage to call for serious consideration of repeal or revision of the Second Amendment as an anachronism that today threatens the safety and security of all Americans.

But the proliferation of assault weapons and high capacity magazines is not the result of a spontaneous popular ‘love affair’ with guns. It is the result of active promotion by reckless profiteers and right-wing extremists generally holding racist views and often harboring insurrectionist fantasies.

This has nothing in common with owning hunting rifles or legitimate concerns about protecting one’s home or person from street crime, which are the only things that deserve protection under the law.

Anyone with the stomach to listen to right-wing talk radio and their frequent discussions about whether the U.S. Army will remain loyal to the government or “take the side of the people when the time comes” will understand exactly what these crazies have in mind. 

On Jan. 7 Alex Jones, a well-known talk show hate monger, appeared on the Piers Morgan show to discuss his national petition to have Morgan, a British citizen, deported for questioning the Second Amendment.

Jones immediately launched into a belligerent diatribe stating that “the Second Amendment isn’t there for duck hunting. It’s there to protect us from tyrannical government and street thugs.”  From this Jones went on to denounce “globalism” and “megabanks that control the planet” and charged that Morgan was “a hatchetman for the New World Order.”

Finally, shouting at the top of his lungs, Jones said, “1776 will commence again if you try to take our firearms.”

It’s not just lunatic talk show hosts.  Who can forget Sharron Angle, Republican candidate in Nevada against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid?

“The Second Amendment is the right to keep and bear arms for our citizenry,” she said on one occasion. “This is for us when our government becomes tyrannical.”

“I hope that’s not where we’re going,” she told talk show host Lars Larson, “but you know if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

The fact is, the Second Amendment was hardly enacted to guarantee the right to rebel against the government.  Just the opposite is the case.  The new nation in 1787 had no standing army and the propertied gentlemen who wrote the Bill of Rights feared the uprisings of citizens, such as had occurred in the Shays’ Rebellion the previous year, and wished to give the states power to mobilize citizens to crush them. 

George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention, was particularly alarmed at Shays’ Rebellion and immediately after its suppression wrote that if the government “shrinks, or is unable to enforce its laws…anarchy and confusion must prevail.”

Washington and the Framers were also concerned that domestic turmoil could tempt a return of the British and obviously also wanted to be able to mobilize armed citizens against slave uprisings and frontier conflicts with Native Americans.

That’s why the 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.”

Under his presidency in 1794 Washington used the combined militia of several states to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in Western Pennsylvania.

The concerns that motivated the Framers have long ago disappeared and never in their wildest imaginations did they think the Second Amendment would be the basis for promoting a firearms industry and private arsenals of anti-government fanatics.

We can no longer afford to let Congress be bullied by gun merchants and right-wing insurrectionists hiding behind a fraudulent interpretation of a long outdated provision in the Constitution.  We need an aggressive overhaul of national gun laws shaped entirely by the safety and security needs of the American people and, if the Second Amendment as written is in the way, it needs to be revised or repealed.

Photo: Kevin Dooley // CC 2.0


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.