The current national flap over gun control -- a dialogue that most recently began in reaction to the Newtown, Conn., school massacre -- recently got me thinking about how it came to be that citizens of our country got the right to own guns in the first place. I'm referring, of course, to the Second Amendment, which is part of the Bill of Rights, added to our Constitution shortly after its ratification in the late 1700s.
I wonder how many people have actually read the Second Amendment. One of the shorter segments of the Bill of Rights, the amendment reads simply: "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."
Now, I am not a Constitutional scholar, so I'm not even going to begin to discuss what impact the specific wording does have (or should have) on the various arguments being made in the national gun control debate.
But I will say this: If the Second Amendment was proposed today, it would have no chance, whatsoever, of being ratified by the states. In short, it would be opposed by pretty much everyone.
Those in favor of gun ownership rights would oppose the amendment over the whole "well-regulated militia" bit. They would argue that the right to own a gun is all about the right to hunt; to being able to defend yourself and your property; and to prepare for any of a host of apocalyptic scenarios, from government collapse to zombie attack. Gun ownership has little to do with militias, well-regulated or otherwise, they would say.
For those against gun ownership, the argument would more or less be the same as it is now -- that guns are simply too dangerous to leave in the hands of ordinary citizens. There certainly would be calls to add specific restrictions to the amendment, such as bans on assault rifles, high-capacity clips and other more lethal types of weaponry. The anti-gun crowd would also oppose any gun amendment that didn't give state and local governments the power to regulate firearm sales, via such things as waiting lists, background checks and registration rules.
In other words, the Second Amendment would be dead in the water. In 2013, such a proposal would go nowhere.
But the Second Amendment isn't the only amendment in the Bill of Rights that would struggle for popular support in today's culture. Indeed, I believe that even the most treasured of our Constitutional rights -- the First Amendment -- would be in trouble, if proposed today.
The opposition would start with the "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" clause. If that provision had never existed, and was proposed today, I think it would face severe opposition from religious groups across the country. Many of these groups would be abhorred at the notion of what would be seen as removing religion -- and prayer -- from government institutions and public life. It would be viewed as a declaration that America is not a Christian nation, something that would be protested powerfully.
I think the clause forbidding Congress from making laws "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press ..." would also be widely opposed. While most people would probably agree that general freedom in these areas is best, I don't think the amendment would be supported unless there were some restrictions in place. I can just hear it now, "I am for a free press," folks would argue, "but I can't support a law that says they can print anything they want! There's got to be some rules!"
And just like the proposed gun amendment, the opposition would be strong enough to halt ratification. And though the debate might persist, nothing would ever happen.
Personally, I'm glad both the First Amendment and the Second Amendment exist. The First Amendment, in particular, more or less secures my vocational livelihood.
I guess it's good our forefathers had the wisdom and prudence to push through amendments like these when they did. If it was up to getting it done in today's political climate, provisions like these would never have a chance.