We have spent the last 200+ years arguing over a comma and it’s time to stop doing that.
“A well-regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.”
That’s the text of the second amendment of our Constitution, a document that as President I will be and as a citizen I am sworn to preserve, protect, and defend. Part of that, to me, means making sure that we the people understand it and that we keep it relevant. Personally, I hate guns, but I also maintain a high level of respect for many of their purposes. I believe firmly in the right of Americans to protect themselves–their property and their persons and I don’t have a particular hangup with those who choose hunting as a sport and way to feed themselves and their families.
What I do have a problem with is using the 2nd Amendment (an amendment about militia) to defend the rights of individual citizens to own guns. As a result, I believe (while some will disagree and others will see my proposal as redundant) that we should once and for all, end the debate over the comma in the second amendment, by considering it a militia amendment and by then creating and ratifying a constitutional amendment that limits the government’s control over the rights of individual to keep and bear small arms. (I bet you never thought you’d see a Democrat say that. You just did)
Here’s the thing: The NRA would have you believe that the 2nd amendment already covers individuals, but to do that requires them to assume on the common sense of people and it calls for them to disregard the first clause of the amendment. Neither works as a foundation for American law. Firstly, it must be noted that to the founding fathers, “arms” meant more than guns. It included heavy artillery such as Canons. The goal was that militia would keep us safe from the possible tyranny of our own government by keeping us operationally ready. They had just fought a war with England and they had to steal, borrow, buy, and beg for bombs and heavy equipment with which to fight that war. The point of the militia amendment (the second amendment) was to insure operational readiness for we the people in case, as had been the case for them, our government were ever to be overrun by tyrants willing to wage war against us to assert its will. That’s a valid argument and it was the most important way our forefather could think of to protect the first amendment limiting the government’s recourse for free speech.
The problem with the NRA argument that the 2nd Amendment is about individual arms is that their interpretation assumes my drunk neighbor who likes knocking my mailbox over with his car, also has a right to an A1 Abrams tank and a fully armed harrier jet. There is not an allowance in the Constitution for common sense. And if I am to believe the NRA argument on the 2nd amendment, then I cannot discount the dangers posed by such an interpretation. Now, the amendment does, in my opinion, allow for well regulated (ostensibly by the State Governments) militia to own such weapons (to insure their ability to secure our free state despite the power of our federal military) and as such, I would say that the addition of my suggested amendment on individual gun rights would clear the path for that to happen. Here are some things I think would be valid in terms of well regulated gun ownership for our citizens: Firstly, I believe that States should require individuals who wish to own guns (and other small arms) to procure a license. Licensing requirements would include a written safety test and a proficiency test on the gun range.
Secondly, once one has a license, they would be able to purchase guns but they would be required, for as long as those guns were in their possession, to maintain liability insurance coverage in case those guns were to accidentally or wrongfully hurt or kill someone. Thirdly, there should be no way for law enforcement to use a name, phone number, or any other piece of information, except the license number, to look up gun owners. They could do a cross check with the database, using the name of the licensee and the gun license number, but without the number itself, they would be, by law, forbidden access. This is to insure the privacy of our citizens– and officers should always assume everyone they encounter is armed regardless of licensing, so doing a check on the individual without also cross checking the license number is not required and is a privacy violation. Fourthly, a criminal record should result in lifetime ban on weapon ownership. Period.
I know that my proposal may strike some as odd, coming from a Democrat, but I believe we need to stop arguing over a comma and we need to clarify our position as a nation. A clarifying amendment will ensure individual small arms rights and clarify the rights of well regulated militia to expand their arsenals commensurate with the intended purpose for militia. Guns are here to stay. Criminals have them and law abiding citizens have the right to protect themselves. We need some governing rules and a constitutional amendment is the best way I can think of to achieve those ends and to settle the argument once and for all. One note: The Constitution does not give rights. The Constitution sets the structure for government and limits the government’s authority over us. The text of my proposed (but yet unwritten) amendment should be written with that understanding in mind.