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OpEd - What About the 2nd Amendment?


OpEd - What About the 2nd Amendment?

By Tish Levee
Too Close to Home. In just a little over two months, two mass shootings have come close to home for me and my family. On October 1st, a shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, shot and killed nine people and injured several others. One of those killed was Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, whose former husband, Eric Dietz, I have known since he was three. Then on December 2nd, two shooters seriously injured 22 people and killed 14 at a holiday party in San Bernardino. One of them, L. Daniel Kaufman, was a good friend of my granddaughter and her family.

Oregon.. The Oregon shooter was described by law enforcement sources as a "hate-filled" man with antireligious and white supremacist leanings, and with long-term mental health issues, whose mother had previously written anonymously  online that both she and her son had Asperger syndrome. Reaction to this shooting focused on the shooter’s mental health.The family of surviving  victim Cheyenne Fitzgerald said they wished President Obama would “look where the  problem really lies and quit running the gun [control] agenda.” Her mother said “… we need to pack guns–if this is what it’s coming to… to protect ourselves,” and her brother said  focusing on guns instead of mental illness is putting “so much money and…resources where they shouldn’t be.”

San Bernardino. The shooters in San Bernardino were two radicalized Muslims, an American-born citizen of Pakistani descent and his Pakistani-born wife. Thus the focus shifted from mental illness to terrorism, with all kinds of demagoguery ensuing, including the proposal that all Muslims be banned from the US. In just the next 11 days, at lest 20 attacks or threats were made to Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim. Meanwhile the Muslim community in America raised over $180,000 in the first week after the shooting, far surpassing a goal of $50,000—money to help the families of the shooting victims.

The Real Problem. What isn’t being talked about is the real problem. Yes, mental health is an issue; yes, terrorism is an issue. But the real issue is the easy availability of guns, especially those designed for mass shootings, in this country. In Oregon, the shooter, who later committed suicide, had six guns with him and a total of 13, including those at his home. His father expressed concern about this. “If [he] had not been able to get hold of 13 guns, this wouldn’t have happened.” “How is it so easy to get all these guns?” “It has to change. It has to change,” he added when asked whether he wanted to see the country’s gun laws modified.The shooters in San Bernardino, who were killed by police, had two .223-caliber assault rifles, and nearly 1,400 rounds of ammunition. They also carried semiautomatic handguns. All of the guns used in both shootings were purchased legally. Thanks to the expiration of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban under Presidebt Bush, assault weapons can be sold, even to those on the FBI’s terror watch list. Just days later, Congress voted down a proposal to change that.

2015 Statistics. As of December 17th, there have been  317  mass shootings—that’s nearly one a day in the US. This doesn’t begin to look at the more than 50,000 shootings that have occurred this year.

But What About the 2nd Amendment?
The first thing anyone says, when the subject of better gun control comes up, is “What about the 2nd Amendment?). The problem is that we don’t really read the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, which clearly says, “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.”  It was only in 2008 that the Supreme Court definitively ruled that the 2nd Amendment protected an individual right. The second thing to be noted is that the framers of the Constitution were referring to the arms of their day—single shot musket, which took time to reload, NOT assault rifles.
This  is a complex subject, and I’ve barely touched it. Look for more next month about growing up with guns, responsible gun ownership, all the other shootings here and how that differs elsewhere, and the ways in which sensible gun control has been perverted.

© Tish Levee, 2015.


I'm obliged to take pen to hand in reply to the recent remarks of our mitzvah maidel, Tish Levee, in her January column, "What about the 2nd Amendment?" [p. 9] She says that "better" gun control does not violate the 2nd Amendment, and then proceeds to quote it in its single-sentence entirety, without further comment --- as if to suggest that the compatibility of the proposition and the Amendment were evident in the Amendment's text alone, without need for a syllable of discussion. One can therefore only guess, alas, at her reasoning, and I will try my luck. 

It may be that she intends the term, "well-regulated militia," to make her case. If so, then this will bear some scrutiny. It is true that in contemporary parlance, the verb, "to regulate," is synonymous with to CONTROL. However, the word also has another definition, this being to ADJUST, as in, to adjust to a standard, or to adjust for accurate operation --- a meaning perhaps less common in our own day than it was during the 18th century, when the Amendment was drafted.

It is more than apparent, I would offer, that what was intended by the framers of the Bill of Rights was a well-TRAINED militia, not merely one more public agency, in the grip and under the control, of an all-powerful state. (They'd already seen enough of THAT.) Remember, if you will, that in the America of 1787, the "militia" was not a formal organization (as it is today), but rather, the collective assemblage of all able-bodied adult men (and occasionally, women) who could be called into action on short notice. Hence, the expression, "minutemen." 

An important clue as to the clear distinction between the framers' conception of the militia, and that manifest in OUR day in the state-maintained organization of the same name, is to be found in the phrase, "the KEEP and bear arms." [emph mine --- MZ] The arms of modern-day militias (and the National Guard) are NOT 'kept' by their members, but (except when in actual use) are retained under lock-&-key in state and federal armories; this is very significant.

I would submit, thus, and with all due respect, that the entity known in our day as the "militia" is in no way the physical embodiment and constitutional fulfillment of the principle encoded and protected in the 2nd Amendment.

Tish goes on to venture that the drafters of the Constitution had reference [only] "to the arms of their day --- single-shot musket, which took time to reload." I'm sorry but this notion is beyond absurd; it is preposterous, and indeed, frankly, bone-headed. The framers did not explicitly codify the particular characteristics of the arms --- and why WOULD they? Why would they lock in such a provision and thereby confine it to their own time and place? The Bill of Rights is a document necessitated by the acknowledged fact that without it the Constitution would have lacked the requisite support for ratification. With this abiding fact in mind, are we to understand the framers' intent to have been to create the Bill of Rights as an INTELLECTUAL ANTIQUE? 

What could be clearer than that the framers wished to bequeath and ensure the availability --- to law-abiding citizens in any era --- of the standard means of defense in general usage at whatever time those citizens lived? 

Clearly, the Amendment (second only to that protecting free speech) was NOT some ceremonial measure included strictly for reasons of quaint ritual, cultural nicety, or hidebound tradition --- but a terribly serious and earnestly practical matter deemed concretely fundamental to the defense of citizens, and not merely against criminal elements in their midst. It was seen as vital also, and indeed yet more significantly, to the defense of the citizenry against a government which (as long shown by the HISTORY of government) might well be someday tempted to usurp any or all of the liberties enumerated and encoded in the Bill of Rights --- and into which document the Amendment was therefore incorporated, and to which formal instrument this particular provision was conceived to constitute the document's very "teeth" and guarantor of all its OTHER assured liberties.

That's how it looks from out here in the bleacher seats.

Michael Zebulon, Rohnert Park