My daughter entered our suburban at the end of a happy third grade year and excitedly stated to her brother, “We made it through the whole year without a school shooting!”
Do you find that disturbing? If not, read it again. We have become numb to these events as they are a fact of life now. The usual arguments proceed. Many revolve around “correctly” interpreting the Second Amendment.
The idea that there has somehow been handed down through the generations a single true interpretation of the Second Amendment is fallacious and needs to stop. Perhaps many reading this would say that no one is making that claim, but the near religious zeal and dogma that infects gun debates would suggest otherwise. Those that are against additional gun control or possible bans often cite “original intent” in their reasoning. These are just arguments for the status quo. Few would argue for an interpretation that returns to the era of only whites owning muskets and most would not want an expansion to include automatic guns, fighter jets or nuclear bombs. The former would return us to an interpretation similar to the times when the original authors wrote the Second Amendment. The latter would provide us the ability to defend ourselves against possible tyranny from the U.S. government; conservatives often claim this is the purpose of the Second Amendment.
The truth is that we don’t live by original intent. It is the consensus of the people, court cases, lawmakers, and the culture that determines interpretation. We simply draw a line and decide that some weapons are legal and others aren’t. We decided that automatic guns are illegal but semi-automatic are. This is a line we drew … not the founders. We decided that citizens cannot own a nuclear bombs or fighter jets.
We can redraw the line again. The Second Amendment didn’t come to us by the hand of God. If the Constitution came to us without error, then why can we amend it? Admitting this includes the possibility of change and maybe more fruitful debate.
Perhaps some think the status quo is great but they cannot claim adherence to constitutional orthodoxy. The U.S. Constitution is our culture’s holy document and the Supreme Court justices are our priests tucked away in their Greek temple modernizing the text. How we interpret and which justices should be seated there is a worthy debate. However, it is important to note that no one has a direct line to Madison and/or the state legislatures that ratified it. If we did, then we would likely find that there never was a single true understanding. It has been consensus and flawed people trying to build a better society. Room for improvement remains.
John W. Davis