Tuesday, December 2, 2008

NRA not quite as influential these days

The NY Times has an editorial today about the diminishing influence of the National Rifle Association. Being a classy, sober newspaper, they do not take the opportunity to gloat at the fact that many of the people the NRA endorsed this past election season lost.

But I'm not the NY Times, so I am going to take a moment to gloat. Ha! Au revoir, gun nuts! Good luck with that severely damaged political party you're so close to!

Okay, gloating over. In all seriousness, although I mostly disagree with the NRA and don't like their hardball political tactics, I'm not an extremist on gun control. I shot rifles when I was at Boy Scout camp. I don't hunt, but my grandfather did, and I have friends back in Michigan who do. The Times disagrees with Obama's position that the Second Amendment "bestows an individual right to bear arms unrelated to raising a militia."

I agree with Obama, partially for practical reasons. I used to believe that the Second Amendment was strictly about arming a militia, but I've realized that we have a de facto individual right to bear arms in this country. Individuals have owned firearms, with a few exceptions, for our entire history. It's just not realistic to think that we will be able to ban guns on a widespread basis.

Having said that, I also agree with Obama that the Second Amendment does not mean that individuals have an absolute right to bear arms. I believe that the state has a right to pass legislation controlling, at least in part, how individuals buy, sell, and use guns in this country. And I think I've got a damn well near ironclad justification for that belief.

Just once, I would like to ask an official from the NRA, face to face, one question. First, I would recite 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."
Then I would ask them this:
"What does the phrase "well regulated" mean to you?"
It's right there! Even if the most traditionalist, fundamentalist Constitutional scholar would have to admit that the intent of the Founders is clear: the state has the right, indeed, it has the responsibility, to regulate the possession and use of firearms. That's why they used the term "well regulated." The people, who have the right to keep and bear arms, cannot regulate that right; that can only be done by the state.

There are two possible interpretations of "well regulated" in this context. It could mean "lots of laws," or it could mean "good laws." I like to think that it means "good laws."

The term "well regulated" applies to a Militia in the wording of the Amendment. So I suppose the argument could be made that the state's regulations apply only to the Militia, while the right to keep and bear arms is reserved for the people. But the people's right to bear arms is defined as being necessary for the security of a free state. Which is also the justification for a well-regulated militia. It would make no sense to suppose that the Founders intended the state to be able to regulate a militia, but not the people who make up that militia.

Hopefully, this represents a decent middle ground: there is, defined in the Second Amendment, a right for individuals to own guns. But the state has the right, and the responsibility, to regulate that right.

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