I am hesitant to put my thoughts concerning the Second Amendment down on paper. Any stand on the issue is destined to stir passionate and often vitriolic responses from the side opposite the stance. Few issues have ever been as polarizing. But as the number of mass killings across our nation continues to grow, and each new horrific episode shakes us like a dog with a stuffed toy, I feel some sense of duty to try to open a dialogue appealing to citizens to really look at our Bill of Rights and recognize what makes the Second Amendment so different from the other nine original rights given to us in 1791.
It is common knowledge that the Bill of Rights was intended to guarantee specific personal freedoms to citizens by protecting the rights of liberty and property against the government. The nation was brand-new, and protecting the country against the type of tyranny from which we had just broken free weighed heavily on the minds of the Founding Fathers. The Bill of Rights was their way of ensuring the new government would never be able to abuse its citizenry in a similar manner. It provides us with protection against our government, should it ever be required.
I do not wish to rehash each amendment in the Bill of Rights, but I highly recommend each of you reads those rights anew and feels the sense of protection they convey. It is in this sense of protection the Second Amendment was originally ratified. It reads, “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.” People needed the ability to keep their “State” free, and possessing and using “Arms” was the way to do that in 1791. A “well-regulated Militia” had just helped the Continental Army defeat the most powerful army in the world, so it was reasonable to expect those same people to be able to protect themselves against tyranny if it raised its ugly head again. I am firm in the belief the Second Amendment was necessary in 1791 and for quite some time after in our country’s evolution. But one item in the Second Amendment that makes it different from the other nine has made its original intention moot and thus a re-examination is necessary.
The word “Arms” is the difference. To many, it means guns. To others, it means weaponry in general. Regardless of how you define “Arms,” the reality is that technology has made “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” a non-issue. Unlike 1791 or any year up until the early 20th century, citizens are no longer in a position to maintain “the security of a free state” with “Arms” unless those “Arms” include weapons on a par with that of the government. It’s an irrefutable fact that the evolution of weapons technology since 1791 far exceeds the evolution of the philosophical and political precepts expressed in the Bill of Rights’ other nine amendments.
It is this technological aspect which separates the Second Amendment from the others. If Second Amendment proponents were to ask for the right to possess armed fortified Humvees, drone planes or nuclear weapons, they’d find little support. But that is exactly what’s required for citizens to fulfill the obligation put forth by the Second Amendment. Common citizens have no legal means to possess the type of weaponry needed to stop a 21st-century government from subjecting them to tyranny. We haven’t had the ability to do so for almost 100 years. Once the technology of weaponry was divided into government and public, the ability for citizens to confront their government was compromised. Present day, the ability does not exist at all.
It seems like a small difference, but it is major. The other nine original amendments possess no such association with technology. In fact, that’s what has enabled them to remain effective and applicable 220 years after ratification. Take the Fourth Amendment on searches and seizures, for example. It has existed through the technological advancements of the telegraph, telephone, automobile, computer, cellphone and more, yet has remained applicable and effective. The other amendments demonstrate the same ability to evolve over time and be applied to whatever technology comes our way, because they are devoid of any connection to 18th-century technology. The Second Amendment is different: It specifically refers to 18th-century technology and thus no longer can support its original intent. I don’t care how many semi-automatic weapons with high volume magazines an individual or an organization possesses. They’ve been made inconsequential in regard to the Second Amendment. They are not inconsequential, however, in ordinary, everyday lives, as we have seen over and over.
Here’s an absurdity of our current everyday life: We have laws against the number of cats a person can have in a house. Those laws exist because it’s a public health issue when too many cats are allowed in one dwelling, and the better interest of the public takes precedence over a citizen’s desire to have lots of cats. That same citizen, however, can legally possess multiple semi-automatic weapons and stockpile scores of high-volume ammunition clips, and he’s protected by law. Somehow, that’s not a public health issue, and the better interest of the public must take a back seat to individual freedoms protected — ostensibly — by the Second Amendment and its misguided application in a time of weapons technology unimaginable in 1791.
Personal convictions aside, I’m not trying to rid the country of all guns. I grew up in Western Maryland, with the greatest deer-hunting in the country all around me. My family had a well-stocked gun cabinet, as did many of my friends and their families. I have many friends who own handguns for personal protection. To my knowledge, they’re all responsible gun-owners, and I feel safe when I visit their homes. These types of guns and their owners are not the issue to me. The issue is the dogmatic application of an amendment which was rendered moot by weapons technology almost 100 years ago. It’s unfortunate the Second Amendment is invalid. It served the country well for quite some time; but its time has passed. Unlike its fellow nine amendments, it hasn’t been able to stay relevant. Recognizing the difference in the Second Amendment is the first step in adopting new legislation to address it.
Bell is an IT professional with a degree in computer science from University of North Florida. Jacksonville has been his home for 25 years.