On December 18th, 2007, the Salt Lake Tribune published an editorial column entitled "Yes: Constitution Says Right To Bear Arms AppliesOnly to Militia", written by Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. In this column, Rand attempts to make the case that the right to bear arms, enshrined in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, is not an individual right, but a right reserved for "militias", guaranteeing states armed militias to provide for their own security. She wrote the column in defense of the District of Columbia's gun ban, which is being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here's a key excerpt of her column:
The amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms only within the context of the constitutionally mandated militia, thus guaranteeing states armed militias to provide for their own security.
There is also strong scholarship to support the argument that James Madison wrote the amendment primarily to allay southern fears that Congress would undermine the slave system by disarming the militia - thereby denying the southern states an effective means of slave control. Under this longstanding interpretation of the amendment, the district's handgun ban would survive.
O.K., fair enough. Let's review the specific text of the Second Amendment:
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.
The amendment explicitly specifies "the right of the People". This would clearly indicate it to be an INDIVIDUAL right.
So why the "militia clause", you might ask? Considering that the second half of the amendment specifies the "right of the people", this implies the "militia clause" is simply an explanatory clause rather than a conditional clause. In short, membership in a militia is NOT required as an condition of firearms ownership. But apparently, the Founders considered the militia clause important enough to insert it. Sorry, Kristen, but you lose this argument.
It is not uncommon for explanatory clauses like this to be inserted into legislation or doctrinal statements. Consider the Eighth Article of Faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.
Antis jump all over that explanatory clause "as far as it is translated correctly" and claim we confer "second-class citizenship" upon the Bible. But within the specified context, LDS believe both references are true. So the "translated" clause is simply an acknowledgement of LDS belief that many of the plain and precious truths of the Bible have been lost over the passage of time. The LDS Church considers all four books of the Standard Works to be equal in value.
Explanatory clauses are built into legislation or doctrine in order to provide additional meaning.
Returning to Kristen Rand's column, she then parades a bunch of stats to not only support her defense of the D.C. gun ban, but it's extension nationwide. However, her scholarship is shoddy and one dimensional, as I will illustrate (my responses in red):
- A troubled teenager opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle inside an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall, killing eight and wounding five. [Ed Note: Most gun owners aren't troubled teenagers.]
- A few days later, a heavily armed man used an assault rifle to kill four people at a missionary training center and a church in Colorado. Authorities said he had nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition and signaled his intention to kill more. [Ed. Note: A gun owner exercising the right to bear arms prevented that heavily armed man from killing even more people.]
- In response to a mass shooting of 16 schoolchildren and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996, Great Britain enacted a handgun ban not unlike the district's. Since the ban's implementation, Great Britain has not experienced another mass shooting. Moreover, the British Home Office reports that "there were 50 homicides involving firearms in 2005-06, down 36 percent from 78 on the previous year and the lowest recorded since 1998-99". [Ed. Note: Rand doesn't mention how many homicides not involving guns were recorded, nor how that rate changed since Britain's gun ban took effect.]
- After 112 people were killed in 11 mass shootings in a decade, Australia collected and destroyed 700,000 firearms determined to be designed to kill many people quickly. Australia has not seen another mass shooting while its firearm homicide and firearm suicide rates have declined. [Ed. Note: Rand does not mention non-firearm homicide rates.]
The failure of Kristen Rand to reveal whether or not non-firearm homicide rates have changed in the United Kingdom and Australia does not promote confidence in her arguments. Sorry, babe, four more losses.
Ironically, on the same day as the publication of this column, the Salt Lake Tribune had published a counterpoint column by Bradford Wiles, a graduate student at Virginia Tech entitled, "No: Gun Controls Allow Criminals To Run Roughshod Over Society", which defends the "individual" interpretation. Wiles shows that the Founders used the words ''the people'' not only in the Second Amendment, but also in the First, Fourth, Ninth and Tenth amendments, all showing that the enumerated rights were intended to apply to individuals.
The seductive rhetoric of people like Kristen Rand shows that threats to the right to bear arms are omnipresent. Read the Gun Owners of America's end-of-year report to familiarize yourself with the latest Second Amendment battles.