The National Rifle Association, or NRA, loudly and repeatedly claims to support the Second Amendment to the Constitution. In reality, they have used a rhetorical trick, we have fallen for it, and we are dying because of it. If an honest discussion were held, the NRA would oppose the Second Amendment, which begins with a reference to “A well regulated militia”.
So far, they don’t need to oppose it, because they have been allowed to distort the debate and set the frame for discussions of gun control. They have established this frame so effectively that almost never are the real words and intention of the amendment addressed. Instead, every discussion about gun control begins with the foundation established by the NRA, as if the entire amendment simply reads “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.
That distortion needs to be challenged, and we should insist that discussions of gun control take place on the basis of what the entire Second Amendment actually says, not merely on the basis of that part which the NRA happens to like.
Now that we have had yet another mass killing in the United States (how many have you seen in your lifetime?), we are again talking about gun control. Most of the time, we only talk. We are stunned by the tragedy, we ask why? How could this happen? And then we do nothing.
It’s not that most people aren’t willing to at least try. According to a CNN poll from 2011, 94% of Americans favor background checks for purchases. What else does almost every person in America agree with to the level of 94%?
From the same poll, more than half of Americans (61%) favor a ban on extended ammunition clips, more than half (61%) favor a ban on semi-automatic weapons, and more than half (55%) want to limit gun purchases. If most people want more responsible controls over weapons, why do we still have so many gun deaths in this country? In part because the NRA has been allowed to distort the debate. And in fact, even the questions in this poll are based on the NRA’s framework, not on a full reading of the Amendment.
“A well regulated militia…”
The word “militia” can mean an organized group to which people officially belong, such as the National Guard. By historical use, however, it might also mean a more informal arrangement, in which armed men gather when necessary as an impromptu fighting unit. When we read about this kind of thing occurring in our own time—Congo or Somalia or Iraq—it sounds like lawlessness and anarchy, but let’s assume that we would find this acceptable in America. Perhaps the Second Amendment says we can have such “militias”.
Nevertheless, if we are going to truly discuss the Second Amendment as written, we must address the the phrase “well regulated”. Note the significance of both adverb and adjective. The Founding Fathers did not merely say “A militia, being necessary…” They specifically said a regulated militia, and moreover, a well regulated militia.
People who oppose gun control based on the Second Amendment have an obligation to talk about those words, or else admit that they don’t care what the amendment says. What kind of regulations are we talking about? And what does it mean to have a “well regulated” militia?
Any other discussion is openly dishonest—and that is exactly the discussion we have now.
It is past time that the extremists and fanatics stopped controlling this debate. The other 94% of the country has something to say. We want to know what the regulations are on the militia, and we are demanding an answer to this question.