The Second Amendment, Gun Control and the NRA

By Michael Califra

 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.

On December 15, 1791, the Second Amendment was adopted along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. But is it as relevant and necessary in the 21st Century as it was in the 18th?

For the Founding Fathers, the right to bear arms was deeply ingrained; formed by a philosophy dating back at least to 16th Century Florence and the political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli.  For Machiavelli, a leader’s authority was derived exclusively from the supremacy of coercive power.  Whether a ruler was a force for good or evil, his government beloved or hated, was irrelevant in Machiavelli’s view. In the brutal world of politics, a state and its laws would never be generally accepted if they were not supported by a show of force which compelled obedience and rendered opposition useless.

Yet despite Machiavelli’s thoughts on how to get and keep political power – or perhaps because of them – he was deeply distrustful of those who had it, and saw the standing armies used to coerce the citizenry to obedience as the root of tyranny. To protect the citizenry from abuse by the powerful he advocated giving them a power center of their own – the citizens’ militia.

Machiavelli reasoned that concept of an armed citizen warrior would be the bulwark against corrupt governance. His writings on the subject affected political thinkers for centuries and their concepts would be included in the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the Articles of Confederation, and finally in the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the new American republic.

A militia made up of ordinarily citizens necessitated the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  When James Madison and his colleagues, charged with drafting the Bill of Rights, wrote the Second Amendment, they included in it two rights: the right of the individual to keep and bear arms, and the right of each of the states to form their own militia.  Yet the Amendment is awkwardly worded and its intent has long been the subject of controversy.

There is little dispute that its purpose was to ensure that the people could resist a foreign invasion or the central government should it ever devolve into tyranny. But there is little agreement about whether that resistance should involve only the “well-regulated militia” or armed citizens acting on their own.

In any case, the Second Amendment is an anachronism today.  The nation and its institutions, if imperfect and slow to correct historic injustices, have proven fundamentally sound for more than two centuries. Having survived a Civil War, our constitution is the world’s longest-serving written charter of government.  The United States has a massive defense establishment with global reach that is without question the most powerful on Earth.  When the nation’s citizens are call upon to protect it, it is not through citizens’ militias, but in branches of the military and their reserve units, which now rank among our most respected institutions. It now seems the height of absurdity to imagine armed citizens committing an act of treason by attempting to violently overthrow a government they themselves elected, no matter how frustrated or angry they may be.

So what, then, is the rational for the Second Amendment in modern society?  Simply stated, there is none. So why not repeal it? After all, the Constitution once has an 18th Amendment which was repealed for no reason other than people getting sick and tired of not being able to buy a beer. The truth is that today, the high bar for amending the Constitution makes repeal of the Second Amendment politically impossible. So it stays with us, having wrought consequences the Founders could never have envisioned two centuries ago.

The United States of America in the 21st Century is an unusually violent country that averages 11,000 gun murders a year. The nation is awash in firearms, including military assault weapons that are legally available to anyone including criminals, the mentally unbalanced and even people whose names appear on the government’s Terrorist Watch List. We’ve suffered a long and growing list of horrific mass murders with names like Virginia Tech, Columbine and most recently Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which now occur with shocking regularity. Every single day, dozens of other gun deaths, including those of innocent children, occur all over this country in tragic incidents invisible to most Americans. And while personal safety can never be guaranteed, no one is ever safe in a country where anyone and anyplace is a potential target by a person with a gripe and a powerful weapon of mass destruction bought for cash or on a credit card with no questions asked.

There are, of course, sensible measures that can be taken to begin to change this reality that don’t involve amending the Constitution: reinstating the Clinton-era ban on military assault rifles, which the Bush Administration let expire; closing the so called “gun show loophole”, which lets unlicensed gun dealers sell any weapon to anyone, without running a background check; banning high-capacity magazines to reduce the amount of killing someone could do before being forced to stop and reload; all are relatively minor regulations that would make us safer. Unfortunately, none of them will be enacted because our politicians are too compliant with the wishes of the gun lobby. Chief among them is the National Rifle Association, which claims to represent the interest of gun owners but is, in fact, a lobby for the domestic and foreign gun manufacturers.  According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the NRA has received at least $14.8 million dollars over the last few years from dozens of gun makers, all of which have benefited from the NRA’s lobbying efforts. And the NRA serves the interests of those gun makers well; having secured passage of a federal law that limits liability claims against gun manufacturers and successfully resisting any real restrictions on gun ownership. And that’s despite the fact that their own membership overwhelmingly supports some restrictions on guns. According to an opinion survey released in July by Republican pollster Frank Luntz, 79 percent of current and former NRA members and 80 percent of the other gun owners supported requiring gun retailers to perform background checks on all employees to ensure they are not felons. More than two-thirds of both groups said that permits to carry concealed weapons should not be allowed for people who had committed violent misdemeanors, such as assault, or those who have been arrested for domestic violence.

But while paying lip service to the idea of background checks, the NRA, perhaps the most powerful special interest lobby in Washington, fights relentlessly against them with a near pathological vengeance, as they do any restrictions on guns. With revenues of $200 million a year the lobby spends millions of dollars – $7.2 million in the 2010 election cycle and certainly much more this year – supporting candidates who toe their line while whipping up anti-gun control hysteria to defeat those who support even mild restrictions on guns. Politicians, including President Obama, are targeted for defeat by the NRA even though they have taken no action in support of new gun legislation; their only sin was to have supported such legislation sometime in the past.

The NRA’s favorite meme is: guns don’t kill people; people kill people. The truth is that people with guns kill people, and people with military assault weapons, like the one used by James Holmes in Aurora, Colorado, kill a lot of people, and quickly, before anyone has a chance to stop them. Their strained reasoning: that the way to make our communities safe is to put more guns in the hands of more people is a sick, self-serving delusion. Would a pitched gun battle in the dark, smoke-filled movie theater in Aurora really have resulted in less killing? And what if the police had charged in – how would they have known whom to take aim at with multiple guns firing?  When Congresswoman Gabriele Giffords was shot in 2011, Joe Zamudio, a legally-armed citizen, went to the scene as it was unfolding and took aim at a man he saw holding a gun.  But that man wasn’t the shooter; he had wrested the gun away from the shooter. The tragedy was a split second from claiming yet another innocent victim, which had already killed six people including a federal judge, a nine year- old girl, and left 13 others were wounded.

According to the NRA, any restrictions on guns are constitutionally inconsistent with the Second Amendment’s “shall not be infringed” wording. But is it?  While gun control laws have had a mixed history before the Supreme Court with some being upheld while others have been stuck down, an analogy can be made with the First Amendment, which guarantees free speech; yet freedom of speech is not absolute in this country. In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, in Schenck v. United States, declared that there are limits to speech such as shouting “fire” in a crowded theatre. The risks to public safety from someone falsely shouting “fire” was deemed greater than the right to express oneself, and no reasonable person would disagree. Recently, in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Justice Antonin Scalia, probably the most conservative of the “strict constructionists” on the Supreme Court, said of certain types of firearms, “Yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed.” When public safety is at stake, sensible exceptions are made. Yet, when it comes to guns, the NRA is determined to use all its political clout and financial resources to see it to it that our political system is no longer willing to make those exceptions, even in the name of public safety. And they’ve been absolutely successful for nearly 20 years.

There are exceptions; some of our politicians have shown political courage on the issue of guns. Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy of Long Island, who lost her husband when a gunman opened fire on a Long Island Railroad train in 1993 (six people were killed in that rampage and 19 injured including McCarthy’s son) have introduced legislation that would require all ammunition dealers to be licensed and maintain records, including reporting the sale of more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition. The bill also requires buyers to show photo IDs when purchasing ammunition. Lautenberg and McCarthy say these simple rules would effectively ban the online and mail-order purchase of ammunition. James Holmes was able to purchase 6,000 rounds of ammunition online before his rampage in Aurora.

What are the chances that any of this will actually become law?  Zero.  The leaderships of both parties have made clear they have no intention of considering new gun control legislation. NRA has already used its muscle to kill even those modest proposals.

The gun zealots of the NRA say none of this would make a difference anyway; that someone intent on doing damage with a firearm will find a way to get one no matter what laws are in place. While no one is so naïve as to think gun control laws, no matter how stringent, can stop all gun violence or make it impossible for someone to get a weapon if they are determined to do so, a study done last year by economist and urban studies theorist Richard Florida showed that deaths from firearms are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation; even when those laws include just three simple elements:  an assault weapons ban; a requirement for trigger locks, and a mandated safe-storage requirement for gun owners. But the NRA has fought fanatically and successfully against even those simple measures.

Yet it is important to remember that there is one thing more powerful than the NRA in Washington: the collective voices of ordinary Americans. Politicians will always be susceptible to pressure from special interests until “we the people” make it clear that a particular special interest is no longer operating in our public interest and we expect our elected representatives to push back. The NRA’s stranglehold on our government will never dissolve on its own, no matter how many innocent people are gunned down. It will only be broken if we make our voices heard in Washington by getting involved; by organizing; by calling, emailing and writing to our elected representatives to tell them the time has finally come to stop the senseless killing and to assure them of our support when they act in our interest on guns.

The NRA constantly evokes the language of freedom. On their Web site, in their literature, and in the speeches by their officials, personal freedom is equated exclusively with the freedom of anyone to buy any weapon and carry it anywhere they so choose. This country was indeed founded on the principle that everyone is endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.  Yet the Americans killed in Aurora, Oak Creek, and others gunned down every day in this country have had those rights invalidated by the gun lobby and its intransigence on sensible gun laws. They have been denied the most fundamental rights of life and the pursuit of their personal happiness. They and every other American have been denied a basic liberty in the simple expectation of safety in a public place while doing something as mundane as watching a movie without being gunned down by a madman or a thug because of the easy access to guns. Former NRA President Harlon Carter once made a callous remark dismissive of the lives of the innocent Americans killed by gun violence when he called their deaths simply the “price of freedom.” It is up to us as citizens to decide whether that’s a price we want to continue paying.

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7 thoughts on “The Second Amendment, Gun Control and the NRA

  1. Mike, South Africa adopted strict laws to include bans… Your view point is wrong and dangerous…South Africa – Israeli Diamond Trader Murdered in Johannesburg
    Published on: November 18, 2008 09:12 AM
    South Africa – An Israeli citizen was killed Monday evening in South Africa. The exact circumstances surrounding his death are unclear as of yet, but he apparently died in an armed robbery somewhere in Johannesburg.
    The victim, Michel Rubinek, 40 years of age worked as a diamond merchant, and transferred his residence to South Africa many years ago.
    Mr. Rubinek was the owner of Rubinek Diamonds cutting factory in Johannesburg
    The ministry said the man’s family had been notified of his death.
    Personal safety in South Africa in general and Johannesburg in particular has become increasingly compromised, and local police often find themselves outgunned by criminals.

  2. While your intentions are true to your beliefs, it may be telling that you would suggest eliminating one of the Bill of Rights. Perhaps, you misinterpret the foundation of these rights, I don’t know.

    You mention the Supreme Court, but never sight any particular decisions. The most recent being Mcdonald v Chicago . Background. – In 1833 The Supremes ruled that the Bill of Rights only applies to the Federal Government. Heller involved a direct application of the second amendment for D.C.. After the Civil War the 14th amendment says “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” .Unfortunately in 1873 the Slaughter House Cases, the Supreme Court nullified the Priviledges and Immunities clause. In 1897, the Supremes did begin enforcing the Due Process clause, to that they created what as known as “selective incorporation” for each Right- In the McDonald case, the NRA argued successfully that the Second Amendment be incorporated in the Due Process and Privileges and Immunities clauses…. The NRA played a major role in the argument of this case. To shutter them as zealots, does not make sense to me, as the NRA is a reflection of the organizations sizable membership and supporters.

    You also argue for the Lautenberg law of 1000 rounds. Perhaps with a little background check, you may have discovered that it is quite common for gun enthusiasts to buy several thousand rounds at a time, as a gun enthusiast shoots as many as 2000 per month, on each weapon. 6000 rounds is not unusual.

    The real problem you argue is that Crazy people, with clean records, get to buy guns. I think a more valid argument would be, how do we keep Crazy people from buying guns. This is definitely not a second amendment issue regarding normal law abiding citizens.

  3. Gun Control, Gateway to Hell

    By Ralph J. Rubinek

    Throughout the history of mankind there has been those who seek to rule by benevolence and those who seek to rule by shear force.

    Wars have been fought just for the sport of conquest and that of control. Conquers by any realm in written history disarm subjects of conquest and those who oppose their rule of force executed.

    Modern warfare has no coat of arms nor uniform, combatants seek to utilize freedoms hard gained through propaganda and acts of terror. In America, Modern combatants by virtue of behavior would have been institutionalized prior to civil rights protections put in place in New York in the 1970s by then Governor Hugh Cary who let scores of crazies hit the streets then and roam freely to this day.

    There are those who believe bending civil liberties or repealing constitutionally guaranteed individual rights would solve violence in America. Taking away rights never accomplishes a happy ending. In the end millions die and not one life saved.

    Americas founders where masters of the English language, they incorporated certain rights in order to maintain a balance in our Democracy based upon law. They knew how power corrupts and how governments at times seize opportunity to murder as many of their subjects who step in their way. Intellectuals, people of faith and those with a sense of community and responsibility were enemies of the state.

    The Second Amendment was incorporated as a mechanism of balance and trust between a free society and its government.

    In the Twentieth Century over 170 million people were murdered by government, mostly in so called civilized Europe. A Europe which incorporated strict gun control laws as those sought by today’s progressive’s. In Europe the only ones with guns were criminals and government thugs who murdered with impunity.

    Since the late nineteenth century, most intellectuals have embraced the illusion that government could somehow be tamed. They promoted a vast expansion of government power supposedly to do good.
    But the twentieth century turned out to be the bloodiest in human history, confirming the worst fears of classical liberals who had always warned about government power. Perhaps nobody has done a better job documenting its horrors than University of Hawaii political science professor emeritus Rudolph J. Rummel.
    Little known outside the academic community, he suddenly received much attention when he wrote Death by Government (Transaction, 1994). In the book, Rummel analyzed 8,193 estimates of government killings and reported that throughout history governments have killed more than 300 million people–with more than half, or 170 million, killed during the twentieth century. These numbers don’t include war deaths.

    We need to punish criminals and institutionalize those who clearly present a danger to themselves and others.
    It is with no wonder Machiavelli’s thoughts were correct centuries ago to modern times.

    Ordinary citizens are tired of the same feel good politicians who promise change yet deliver either more of the same or misery. In respect to gun control, it sure sounds good, yet in practice is never enforced given over 25,000 gun control laws already in the books all while drug dealers already know how the law has been a dismal failure controlling them, hence at times are better armed than law enforcement, here in the USA and abroad.

    Progressives say they are championing a better society and have been instrumental in electing politicians who goose step to their alleged agenda.

    In an failed operation to identify and contain sale of all kinds of weapons to Mexican drug lords, the United States Government has been linked to facilitate the sale of literally thousands of firearms and crates of ammunition, several of which have been linked to the murder of US Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and key Mexican officials… So much for “Gun Control”.

    It is with no surprise mass killers in the United States appear to be hatched from the very same intellectuals who at every juncture seek to control when we are born and when we die… Our colleges and universities are filled with programmed individuals in the likes of James Holmes who meticulously devised a plan to kill with impunity. He cared not of law or even human existence, he purchased guns and ammo legally alright, he also had in his possession illegal gases and bombs. If the death penalty wasn’t a concern, how would more laws have prevented his horrific acts?

    Most mass shootings today occur in gun free zones which are legislatively protected and bring a gun there alone is a crime.

    The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a citizen advocacy group comprised of everyday people, not the gun manufacturers. NRA President Harlon Carter, was a United States Border Patrol Agent and a career law enforcement officer, a personal friend of mine… Surly him and I know about the price of freedom, my parents suffered in Europe and he respected knowing that there is a “Price of freedom”, non worse than loosing freedom.

    NRA’s membership is also comprised of new comers to the United States who are victims of oppressive governments who have for many years disarmed their subjects for safeties sake and killed their families with no regard to human dignity or life.

    It happened to my parents family in Europe decades ago, it happens all around the world today and if we as citizens do not act responsively it can happen here in the United States as well.

    There is no record of Genocide/Democide occurring in a free armed society in the history of the world.

    Benjamin Franklyn said it best… Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
    US author, diplomat, inventor, physicist, politician, & printer (1706 – 1790)

    Freedom is to share power and yes, its up to citizens newcomers and other generations of Americans to decide whether that’s a price we want to continue paying. Punish the criminals not the law abiding…

  4. Comments (822)
    TAMPA, Fla. — Marissa Alexander had never been arrested before she fired a bullet at a wall one day in 2010 to scare off her husband when she felt he was threatening her. Nobody got hurt, but this month a northeast Florida judge was bound by state law to sentence her to 20 years in prison.
    Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of a toddler and 11-year-old twins, knew it was coming. She had claimed self-defense, tried to invoke Florida’s “stand your ground” law and rejected plea deals that could have gotten her a much shorter sentence. A jury found her guilty as charged: aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Because she fired a gun while committing a felony, Florida’s mandatory-minimum gun law dictated the 20-year sentence.
    Her case in Jacksonville has drawn a fresh round of criticism aimed at mandatory-minimum sentencing laws. The local NAACP chapter and the district’s African-American congresswoman say blacks more often are incarcerated for long periods because of overzealous prosecutors and judges bound by the wrong-headed statute. Alexander is black.
    It also has added fuel to the controversy over Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which the judge would not allow Alexander to invoke. State Attorney Angela Corey, who also is overseeing the prosecution of shooter George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case, stands by the handling of Alexander’s case. Corey says she believes Alexander aimed the gun at the man and his two sons, and the bullet she fired could have ricocheted and hit any of them.
    At the May 11 sentencing, Alexander’s relatives begged Circuit Judge James Daniel for leniency but he said the decision was “out of my hands.”
    “The Legislature has not given me the discretion to do what the family and many others have asked me to do,” he said.
    The state’s “10-20-life” law was implemented in 1999 and credited with helping to lower the violent crime rate. Anyone who shows a gun in the commission of certain felonies gets an automatic 10 years in prison. Fire the gun, and it’s an automatic 20 years. Shoot and wound someone, and it’s 25 years to life.
    Critics say Alexander’s case underscores the unfair sentences that can result when laws strip judges of discretion. About two-thirds of the states have mandatory-minimum sentencing laws, mostly for drug crimes, according to a website for the Families Against Mandatory Minimums advocacy group.
    “We’re not saying she’s not guilty of a crime, we’re not saying that she doesn’t deserve some sort of sanction by the court,” said Greg Newburn, Florida director for the group. Rather, he said, the judge should have the authority to decide an appropriate sanction after hearing all the unique circumstances of the case.
    U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown, D-Jacksonville, has been an advocate for Alexander. Brown was present at the sentencing, where she and Corey had a brief, terse exchange afterward as sign-toting supporters rallied outside the courthouse.
    “The Florida criminal justice system has sent two clear messages today,” Brown said afterward. “One is that if women who are victims of domestic violence try to protect themselves, the `Stand Your Ground Law’ will not apply to them. … The second message is that if you are black, the system will treat you differently.”
    Victor Crist was a Republican state legislator who crafted the “10-20-life” bill enacted in 1999 in Gov. Jeb Bush’s first term. He said Alexander’s sentence – if she truly did fire a warning shot and wasn’t trying to kill her husband – is not what lawmakers wanted.
    “We were trying to get at the thug who was robbing a liquor store who had a gun in his possession or pulled out the gun and threatened someone or shot someone during the commission of the crime,” said Crist, who served in the state House and Senate for 18 years before being elected Hillsborough County commissioner.
    On Aug. 1, 2010, Alexander was working for a payroll software company. She was estranged from her husband, Rico Gray, and had a restraining order against him, even though they’d had a baby together just nine days before. Thinking he was gone, she went to their former home to retrieve the rest of her clothes, family members said.
    An argument ensued, and Alexander said she feared for her life when she went out to her vehicle and retrieved the gun she legally owned. She came back inside and ended up firing a shot into the wall, which ricocheted into the ceiling.
    Gray testified that he saw Alexander point the gun at him and looked away before she fired the shot. He claims she was the aggressor, and he had begged her to put away the weapon.
    A judge threw out Alexander’s “stand your ground” self-defense claim, noting that she could have run out of the house to escape her husband but instead got the gun and went back inside. Alexander rejected a plea deal that would have resulted in a three-year prison sentence and chose to go to trial. A jury deliberated 12 minutes before convicting her.
    “The irony of the 10-20-life law is the people who actually think they’re innocent of the crime, they roll the dice and take their chances, and they get the really harsh prison sentences,” Newburn said. “Whereas the people who think they are actually guilty of the crime take the plea deal and get out (of prison) well before. So it certainly isn’t working the way it is intended.”
    Alexander was also charged with domestic battery four months after the shooting in another assault on Gray. She pleaded no contest and was sentenced to time served.
    Her family says that doesn’t erase the fact that a relatively law-abiding person – a woman with a master’s degree – who was making positive contributions to society will endure prison for two decades over a single violation in which no one was hurt.
    “She had a restraining order against him. Now Marissa is incarcerated and he’s not,” said her father, Raoul Jenkins. “I’m wrestling with that in my mind and trying to determine how the system worked that detail out. It’s really frustrating.”
    Newburn says Alexander’s case is not an isolated incident, and that people ensnared by mandatory-minimum laws cross racial barriers.
    In central Florida, a white man named Orville Lee Wollard is nearly two years into a 20-year sentence for firing his gun inside his house to scare his daughter’s boyfriend. Prosecutors contended that Wollard was shooting at the young man and missed.
    He rejected a plea deal that offered probation but no prison time. Like Alexander, he took his chances at trial and was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm. Circuit Judge Donald Jacobsen said he was “duty bound” by the 10-20-life law to impose the harsh sentence.
    “I would say that, if it wasn’t for the minimum mandatory aspect of this, I would use my discretion and impose some separate sentence, having taken into consideration the circumstances of this event,” Jacobsen said.
    ___

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