The NRA?is the threat, not the government

The gun safety debate is off the boil apparently, but it has produced predictable responses such as the claim that gun ownership is a right in order to protect the Republic from tyrannical government as if the USA is Syria. The National Rifle Association, the public face of the firearms industry, argues for putting more guns into schools. If I were a member of the NRA, I would be offended by that organization’s shrill and panicky response to the recent gun-facilitated tragedies.

The opening section of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state …” has been forgotten in the debate. This section provides the raison d’etre for civilians owning guns. Where are the well-regulated militias? The KKK? Arian supremacy groups? I think not. The historical context of the 1791 Second Amendment cannot be ignored. The amendment added to the Constitution a pre-existing right inherited from English law (and from which it has disappeared long since). But the American context was somewhat different. It was a political compromise between the southern slave-owning states and the northern states, free of slavery, but increasingly dependent on the tobacco and cotton from the plantations. The slave owners demanded the right to maintain their private armies for policing the plantations. 1791 saw the outbreak of a bloody slave rebellion in Haiti and this must have been on the minds of the politicians.

The Founding Fathers, recognizing that circumstances can change, allowed the Constitution to be amended. Amendment XXVII is the most recent. Amendments can also be repealed, for example Amendment XVII (Prohibition) was repealed in 1933. The question is, “Has the Second Amendment outlived its usefulness. Should it be repealed?” The American obsession with gun ownership is unique among the developed nations and regretfully is part of a culture of violence permeating much of the nation’s psyche that sees violence not only as a source of entertainment but also as a solution to problems. If the Second Amendment were to be repealed, each state could legislate its own requirements and process for gun ownership, including the “proper discipline and training” currently absent despite being constitutionally mandated for a well-regulated militia. Car registration and driving licenses are standard across the states, and so it is appropriate to require the same for guns and gun owners within a national database.

Repealing the Second Amendment and initiating a state-based process may seem a wacky idea. But cutting the Gordian knot would allow for a movement toward improved gun safety and is receiving support from different organizations. For example, in America; The National Catholic Review (Feb. 25, 2013), a Jesuit publication, an editorial argues, with greater eloquence, data, and length, for such action. The Second Amendment had relevance in 17th century England and 18th century America, but it is now proving to be an obstruction in the journey toward greater gun safety.

Centuries ago, the concern was for protection against a tyrannical government. Today, the tyranny is the extraordinary power of intimidation exercised by the NRA. Right now the citizens of the USA must go directly to their elected representatives in order to get common sense gun safety legislation passed. In the longer term the push would be to repeal the Second Amendment and clear the way for legislation appropriate to the 21st century.

Fraser G. MacHaffie