Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The U.S. Constitution Was Designed to be Amended

It’s time to get military weapons out of the hands of civilians.  Yes, I know that the assault weapons ban passed during the Clinton administration was rendered unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.  But, the Constitution was designed to be amended.  And, if we need to amend it to get a ban on weapons manufactured with a military purpose, then amend it we must.

I am a great respecter of the U.S. Constitution.  It is a brilliant document, a reflection of the Age of Enlightenment and the courage of the men who wrote it.  Among its most brilliant elements is Article V, which outlines the procedure for amendments.  The Founders knew that society would evolve. 

The Second Amendment was written at a time when we had just concluded a revolution against the King of England.   There was a legitimate fear of the tyranny of a central government.  Would a new United States government confiscate private property to serve its own ends?  No one could be sure.

The Founders wrote the Second Amendment to the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights with that in mind.  The United States had yet to take the form of a single country and it only made sense to grant the citizens the right to bear arms against a potentially repressive government.

Is such a fear rational in the 21st Century?  And if it is, what group of citizens could defend itself against the U.S. Army?  Not those guys in camo holed up in the woods of Michigan or Idaho. 

Now, I have heard the argument – haven’t we all – that the school principal in Newtown, CT might have defended herself rather than sacrificed her life to protect the children.  And, perhaps that’s so.  But, do we really want to live in a society where our teachers need to arm themselves?  Where will that lead us?  Should our teachers be required to carry and use guns?  What of those who won’t or can’t?  Should they lose their jobs because they don’t carry weapons in the classroom?

It’s a ludicrous argument.

I grew up in New York where today anyone carrying an unlicensed gun risks going to jail.  There is good reason to fear gun violence in the city that never sleeps as it is in many of our big cities. 

But, I also lived in Colorado where gun ownership is routine.  I worked with a guy who told me he used to go home after school to get his .22 caliber rifle, tie it to the handlebars of his bike and go hunting rabbits.  No one thought anything of it.  I know that ranchers and farmers consider a rifle an essential tool, and often use it to defend their livestock from a hungry coyote or to put down an injured animal.  I met another guy who used a .45 caliber pistol to kill a grizzly bear while camping in the wilderness.

But, none of them owned an AK-47.

Could Adam Lanza have killed first-graders with a pistol or single shot rifle?  Yes, he could have.  But, not so many and not so quickly.

Do we still fear that our government might confiscate our property, as did the Founders?  Isn’t it time to get past that argument?

Clinton’s assault weapons ban, passed in 1994, gave impetus to the NRA to target Congressional Democrats who had voted for it in the mid-term elections.  Their campaign contributed to that year’s change of control from Democrat to Republican for the first time in 40 years.  Democrats have not pressed for gun control legislation since. 

However, the President expressed the feelings of many when he said on Monday, “a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals –– that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities….  that we should do everything possible to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons; … that a mentally unbalanced individual should not be able to get his hands on a gun so easily. These steps shouldn’t be controversial. They should be common sense.”

Any measure must be able to withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, bound to interpret the Constitution and apply it to Congress’ legislation.   But, Article V…  well, Article V grants the power to amend the Constitution to the Congress and the state legislatures.  The President has no role in the process.

Great change comes about when large majorities demand it.  Will a large majority of Americans demand the change we need? 

Do we have the will to do it? 



  1. Another insightful article, John. Wish you did not have to write this one, though. I remember as a 2LT when we were missing a weapon after coming back from the field and the entire Post was sealed off. MP's would not let anyone on or off post until it was found.......Things certainly have changed.....why on earth does anyone need an AK-47 other than to wax an enemy of this country in battle? I think something else that needs serious regulation are video games.......I just know that the violent ones have to be warping young minds, and I think desensitizing them to the consequences of pulling a trigger.

  2. It will happen this time….sometime this year I would guess. May be a rallying point to divert some of the perceived inability for any cross aisle solution to anything.

  3. Good article. thank you for sharing!

  4. Something we agree on 😎

    Peter A. Calia

  5. What's next? Maybe outlawing ropes so people don't commit suicide. Do you really think we need more laws?? How's that working for you with respect to drugs? Or alcohol during prohibition? Or laws against DUI?
    I can show you people that can fire more lethal shots with a handgun than Adam Lanza could with his AR on his best day. But they don't. Why? Because they're not mentally ill. They don't watch highly interactive violent video games. And they don't let their kids.
    You want more laws as a solution? Then go all the way on interfering with individual rights afforded us by the constitution. Require parents to force their kids to read for an hour. Not buy violent games. Play baseball with them.

    Michael Mazzarino

  6. Karen VanAssche • I agree with everything, John, except your take on why we have the Second Amendment. I don't believe the founding fathers wrote that to defend against a central government of the US. They wrote it in case they needed to defend against an invading British army again - which they did in 1812. The militia was key to the revolution and the War of 1812. That militia is now called the National Guard and is a bit more organized that "farmers with pitch forks". One of the issues for which the War of 1812 was fought was that the Brits still had manned military forts within the US boundaries. Americans wanted those forts disbanded. That type of situation was the purpose of the Second Amendment, not brandishing AK-47s at kindergarteners!

    You might be interested in the front page article in the Wall Street Journal today on this issue.

  7. Hi, Karen. I stand corrected. This from the Federalist Papers #29:

    "It requires no skill in the science of war to discern that uniformity in the organization and discipline of the militia would be attended with the most beneficial effects, whenever they were called into service for the public defense. It would enable them to discharge the duties of the camp and of the field with mutual intelligence and concert an advantage of peculiar moment in the operations of an army; and it would fit them much sooner to acquire the degree of proficiency in military functions which would be essential to their usefulness. This desirable uniformity can only be accomplished by confiding the regulation of the militia to the direction of the national authority. It is, therefore, with the most evident propriety, that the plan of the convention proposes to empower the Union "to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States, RESERVING TO THE STATES RESPECTIVELY THE APPOINTMENT OF THE OFFICERS, AND THE AUTHORITY OF TRAINING THE MILITIA ACCORDING TO THE DISCIPLINE PRESCRIBED BY CONGRESS."

    "Of the different grounds which have been taken in opposition to the plan of the convention, there is none that was so little to have been expected, or is so untenable in itself, as the one from which this particular provision has been attacked. If a well-regulated militia be the most natural defense of a free country, it ought certainly to be under the regulation and at the disposal of that body which is constituted the guardian of the national security. If standing armies are dangerous to liberty, an efficacious power over the militia, in the body to whose care the protection of the State is committed, ought, as far as possible, to take away the inducement and the pretext to such unfriendly institutions. If the federal government can command the aid of the militia in those emergencies which call for the military arm in support of the civil magistrate, it can the better dispense with the employment of a different kind of force. If it cannot avail itself of the former, it will be obliged to recur to the latter. To render an army unnecessary, will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions upon paper."

  8. Karen VanAssche • Keep in mind as well, John, that when they discuss the dangerous standing army they are talking about, in addition to the forts I mentioned above, the Quartering Act of 1765 that allowed the British to force colonists to quarter troops in their homes. This was a huge contributing reason for the revolution - and one of the direct causes leading to the Boston Massacre.

    “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.”

    Everyone: Please re-read the first part of the above sentence.

    When citing the U.S. Constitution, it’s important to keep two things in mind:
    1. As others have mentioned above, it was written by former colonialists whose memories of the real and perceived oppression from the British – including the confiscation of arms - were still fresh in their minds.
    2. The constitution did not provide for a standing army; citizens could band together against an enemy, fight them back, and then return to their shops and farms. Hence, the reason for a “well regulated militia” to “the security of a free state.” Today we have a standing army, air force, navy, coast guard, and merchant marine, as well as a national guard.

    Could someone confirm to me that Mr. Lanza (or his mother) were members of a militia? And even if we accept that today’s National Guard is the equivalent of the militia cited in the Constitution, were either members of that organization? The Army? The Navy?...

    And to the writer above who wondered “what next? ...outlawing ropes so people don’t commit suicide?” Let’s get real with our analogies. Slow down and think it through. Is the primary function of rope to form a noose? Are pharmaceutical companies manufacturing drugs for the primary reason to assist in suicides? Does Stoli make vodka to increase traffic deaths on the highways? does Chevrolet build cars primarily to be smashed into Fords?

    A kid can choke to death on a Crayon; someone can have a heart attack shoveling snow; someone can be pushed in front of a speeding subway car. But none of these – the crayon, the shovel, or the subway – were manufactured as weapons.

    A GUN IS MANUFACTURED AS A WEAPON. Its purpose is to kill.

    Oh, we can go on and on about those whose only use of a firearm is in target shooting, etc., but that does not change its primary purpose.

    Of course, mental health is a factor. Of course parental care and oversight are factors. But none of those factors stand a chance with 300 million firearms - whose primary purpose is to kill - in the hands of ordinary citizens who have no connection whatsoever with a militia, the Guard, or the armed forces.

    Bruce Scottow

    1. Of note as well to your point on target shooting Bruce, what are those personnel practicing to shoot. Just like any sport we play we practice to win a game, as with target practice and "target shooting" you are practicing for when you would need to use the weapon for its primary purpose, killing. There are a whole slew of issues with regards to the gun violence in this country and there are no one way solutions to the problem at large.
      Jon Lloyd
      USNA '10

  10. Robert Spencer • John, I hold you in the highest regard and while I understand your feelings on this matter I can't agree. I have purposely not read all the media on the subject because as a father of four it does no good other than to tie my heart up in knots.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/335739/facts-about-mass-shootings-john-fund# is a good article that shows this is not a problem on the rise.

    When cooler heads prevail we don't revamp our laws do to a strange occurrence especially when the solution has little to no hope of actually solving the problem. Other times we foolishly make the mistake and create an organization like the TSA that has never caught a terrorist, harasses and gropes law abiding citizens and intentionally destroys safe lawful merchandise.

    The Constitution may have been set up to allow amendments but it was not set up to allow amendments that destroy the rights of good people. Once you do this there will be no reason for the existence of the US government as it will then be a violator of your natural rights. Arguments can be made that we have already passed this threshold.

    Between 1900-2000 governments around the world including the US killed between 175-260 million people. So the need for self defense is far more common for free people than we generally think. Granted the US didn't kill most of those people. Also, sometimes the weapon used was famine and pestilence and a gun wouldn't always be the solution to that problem. Although during the Holodomor as the Soviets were loading up the grain they could have shot a few government thugs.

    We should never change our laws and violate the rights of everyone for the bad act of one person. A fully auto Ak-47 requires a great deal of paperwork to be filled out. It would be far easier and more intelligent to not allow ownership of fully auto weapons to folks with mentally ill people in their household.

  11. Christopher Smith • I submit that, with the 250th Anniversary of the Constitution coming up in 2037, we should start now and avail ourselves of a thorough review of our experiment in self-government.
    Some ideas have been failures: slavery, prohibition. Others, not so much.
    Wringing out our history, keeping the good, scuttling the bad, and ensconsing the result in a re-ratified Constitution would go a long way to damping the noise in the discourse.
    Such an idea would also require leadership, a rare commodity in the age of Homo Bureaucratus.

  12. Eric Wenschlag • John, we should amend the constitution so that illicit drugs are illegal. Then nobody in the country will have access to them! Won't it be wonderful?

  13. James Byers • You don't need a Constitutional Amendment to make gun possession illegal for a convicted criminal or for the mentally retarded or seriously disturbed. In Texas, we already have those laws. The only reason for an amendment would be to take weapons out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Really? Our police love it when they stop someone and are shown a concealed weapon license; they know that "civilian" has had a thorough background check, no criminal record, and weapons training. What is missing in Conneticut is a law to make it illegal for a parent of a disturbed child from having firearms. Leave the rest of us alone. And you think tyranny was only an issue in 1776? What world do you live in? Here, 500,000 have a concealed weapon license and twice that have firearms in there home. And most are not for hunting, nor for one-on-one home defense. Heard of drug cartels? Gangs? We can't all afford our own security detail like Barbara Streisand or Barbara Walters.

  14. James Byers • Also, in my county, Montgomery County, Texas, our schools all have armed police that work for the school district and are on site whenever the school is open. We armed our pilots after 9/11. What's wrong with an armed Principle and a few teachers after Conneticut?

  15. Robert Spencer • John, interesting quotes "To render an army unnecessary, will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions upon paper." talks about making an army unnecessary I would say by having a well armed populace that could repel an invasion.

    Further free men going all the way back to the iceman found a while back was found with the latest hunting/combat arms because a free man has the right to defend himself as he sees fit, not by asking others for permission.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%96tzi_the_Iceman read particularly tools and equipment. Which included knife, ax and the devastating 6" long bow. This guy was from roughly 3300BC and stood a diminutive 5'2" by our standards.

    Another interesting comment from your blog was that teachers shouldn't have to be armed and would they be willing to. My question would be do we allow police not to be armed? If it became a condition of employment then they would have little choice. Not that it would necessarily be the best choice.

  16. Robert, there is a clear difference between the role of a policeman and the role of a teacher so I won't bother to respond to that point. But, to the out of context quote concerning rendering an army "unnecessary", it is very clear from the entire text that the intent is to enable a militia under the control of the states according to standards set by Congress.

  17. Robert Spencer • The militia isn't an army its an armed populace.

    From Blacks law dictionary 4th edition. "ARMY. The armed forces of a nation intended
    for military service on land. An "army" is a body of men whose business is war, while the "militia" is a body of men composed of citizens occupied temporarily in the pursuit of civil life, but organized by discipline and drill, and called into the field for temporary military service when the exigencies of the country require it. And see Brown v. Soldiers' Bonus Board, 44 R.I. 483, 116 A. 280, 281.
    —Regular army. The permanent military establishment, which is maintained both in peace and war according to law. 10 U.S.C.A. § 3; State v. Moorhead, 102 Neb. 276, 167 N.W. 70, 71."

  18. Alison Brown • Yes, but it will not happen. The NRA has deeper pockets (for the reasons above mentioned) in which members of the Supreme Court share space with members of Congress, than any organisation which thinks there are just too many guns and bullets in this country to be good for it.

  19. John, this is such a serious subject and the political spin has already distorted the issue to the point that our administration is now using it as leverage for fiscal cliff negotiations. Your point on assualt weapons is well taken (and this by a Southern gun owner); however, I am afraid that the shock of NewTown will far more over-reaching than assualt weapons.

  20. WOW, what an amazing amount of twisted logic, head-in-the-sand denials, and over-simplistic answers in some of the comments above!

    It's a fact that a gun owner is far more likely to use that weapon against someone they know (friend, family member, co-workers, classmates) than against a real "enemy." Ask Mrs. Lanza about that - oh wait - she was her son's first victim.

    And to cite the number of people that governments have killed between 1900-2000 to justify the arming of citizens is absurd. Yes, wars kill people. But we're not talking about military conflicts here and to use those figures in this discussion is ridiculous.

    And let's not go to the absolutes, either, claiming that because regulations don't stop every crime or every death, there should be no regulation. Stop lights don't prevent all accidents, but they sure as hell reduce their number and their severity. Requiring the FDA to test food for safety doesn't absolutely prevent food poisoning, but it sure as hell helps.

    Just about everything we do or use is regulated: how and where we drive, the safety of our elevators, our food, our prescription drugs, what is taught in our classrooms, our bridges, our lawn fertilizers, where we can cross the street, the wiring in our homes, the toothpaste we use, etc. The limitations aren't labeled a "violation of our rights." It's called CIVILIZATION.

    Get real people, read up on the facts, and stop jumping all over attempts to INCLUDE reasonable gun regulations - as well as mental health checks, parent/teacher/classmate involvement, stricter law enforcement - in this conversation.

    Bruce Scottow

  21. Please check your facts on the type of weapons Lanza used. Reloading is easy, especially when your potential victims are unarmed (and are mostly women and children). The human mind is a much more significant threat than any material weapon. If you want legislation, lets talk about teaching our youth values and lets start it in the household.