A look at the Second Amendment

By Steve Perrin

In the turbulent wake of yet another round of mass murders by gunfire — this time in Las Vegas — it is time to reread the Second Amendment to seek assurance in our time of shock and confusion.

The amendment contains 27 words divided into four sections separated by three commas. In the first two sections, the topic is focused on the role of a well-regulated militia in providing security to a free state (namely, the United States of America), followed in the third and fourth sections by a specific course of action meant to promote that theme.

The format of the amendment follows the traditional legal structure of a “whereas” or situational clause leading to a “therefore” clause addressing that state of affairs. The action taken in the second part is meant to hinge directly on conditions cited in the first part. The actual wording of the Second Amendment reads as follows:

“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.”

That is, the right to keep and bear arms is justified by the security needs of a free state via a well-regulated militia. In that sense, then, the amendment is not really about individuals bearing arms so much as it is of providing security to the nation.

Do mass murders by gunfire render us more secure? Just the opposite: they enhance our sense of vulnerability. They point to a campaign of deliberate distortion of the Second Amendment as if it were an absolute guarantee of a right to arm ourselves as individuals, when the actual wording is intended to promote public order by means of a “well-regulated militia.”

Millions of individual gun owners do not constitute a well-regulated militia in any sense of the word. Each is on his or her own, motivated by a personal set of emotions, fears and anxieties. The arms manufacturers have it wrong, the NRA has it wrong, and many in the gun-toting public have it wrong.

Gun-control legislation is of the essence following incidents of mass murder by gunfire such as took place in Las Vegas. There were 274 mass shootings in the U.S. in 2014, 333 in 2015, 383 in 2016, and now 273 this year so far, as of Oct. 4. Let us heed the Second Amendment as it is written, not as misrepresented by lobbyists and, yes, the Supreme Court of this land.

The Second Amendment has a deep history back to 1636 when the Massachusetts General Court ruled that all able-bodied men were required to join the militia. But those fabled Minute Men are long gone, replaced by members of the National Guard, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and many other defenders of the nation’s security.

Since the personal so-called right to bear arms has been rendered obsolete by those disciplined armed forces, the wind has been sucked from its sails, leaving it as a once great idea now dead in the water. It stands as a hollow principle that has outlived any practical use it once might have had. Not only that, but as written, in today’s world, it is unenforceable and so meaningless in any practical terms, a relic of the way things used to be — and many seem to wish they still were.

The Second Amendment fails to meet the need it was intended to fill. Our armed forces have leap-frogged the service a militia used to provide. Modern assault weapons are now sold in every community; the public is armed to the teeth. Instead of solving a problem, the amendment itself has become a threat to national security.

It doesn’t work to base our laws on ancient traditions; now is the time to look ahead to where we are mindlessly heading, drifting in the doldrums of political inaction on crucial issues, letting zealots and lobbyists decide our course.

As a citizen, I declare the Second Amendment null and void; I accept no right to bear arms unless I join the military. Who will stand with me?

Steve Perrin is an author and conservationist. He lives in Bar Harbor.


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