Op-Eds

Public Speaking, Political Commentary, Teaching, Consulting

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III

“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.” 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution, Ratified 1789

The most recent school shootings, one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL (17 dead and numerous wounded) and another at Great Mills High School in Lexington Park, MD (1 dead and 1 wounded) have re-ignited the so-called gun debate in America. Hundreds of thousands of people recently rallied in Washington, D.C. and across the country in support of the March for Our Lives protest.

The prevailing narrative from those in support of gun reform legislation is student safety and the reduction in the incidence of attacks on our nation’s schools and public arenas by assailants wielding assault-style weapons.  The rebuttal from the NRA is that passing any serious gun control legislation starts the country down the “slippery slope” of eliminating the 2nd Amendment and an individual’s right to own a gun, otherwise known as “the camel’s nose under the tent” theory.Part of the problem with this debate is how these arguments are framed.  The focus should not be the reduction of gun violence in American schools.  The issue is how do Americans reduce the amount of gun violence, of which school shootings is a subset? According to Business Insider.com, gun violence is one of the leading causes of death in America. “Assaults by firearm kill about 13,000 people in the

A Sensible Gun Rights Debate Requires Honest Sensible Debate

US each year, which translates to a roughly 1-in-315 lifetime chance of death from gun violence. That's about 56% more likely than the lifetime risk of dying while riding inside a car, truck, or van.”

From the gun rights perspective, there is a difference between the right to own a firearm and the argument that the “right” is protected by the 2nd Amendment.  White males have owned guns in North America since the arrival of the colonists in Jamestown in 1607.  Much to the dismay and at the expense of the lives of Native Americans, America was founded at the barrel of the gun. Contrary to the fear-mongering perpetuated by the NRA, the probability of a white, male-dominated Congress passing legislation that takes away the right to own a gun is zero.

The NRA infers that the 2nd Amendment has always been interpreted as the Constitutional protection of the right of individuals to own firearms.  This could not be further from the truth. According to the brilliant analysis of the Honorable Reggie W. Walton’s opinion in Seegars v. Ashcroft ( 297 F.Supp.2d 201 (2004)), “For more than sixty years following the Supreme Court's decision in Miller (1939), there was little judicial debate regarding the scope of the Second Amendment, as almost every circuit court interpreted Miller as rejecting the notion that the Second Amendment provided individuals a constitutional right to possess firearms.”

Staying with Judge Walton’s “Seegars” analysis, let’s examine the controlling language of the 2nd Amendment which opens with ““A Well Regulated Militia…”. Walton explains, “the Emerson Court concluded that “ ‘a well-regulated militia’ refers not to a special or select subset or group taken out of the militia as a whole ....”, Walton continued, “…the term “militia,” as used in the Second Amendment, is clearly referencing a state military body.”

Judge Walton also explains the context of, “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms…” Walton cites the Ninth Circuit, “…the Court finds it “highly significant ... that the second clause does not purport to protect the right to ‘possess' or ‘own’ arms, but rather to ‘keep and bear’ arms. This choice of words is important because the phrase ‘bear arms' is a phrase that customarily relates to a military function.”

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© 2016 Dr Wilmer Leon