Since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the nation has moved into major debate mode on the issue of gun control.
Since the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the nation has moved into major debate mode on the issue of gun control. When such debates have occurred in the past the focus has always been on the intent of the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment 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."
So, who wrote the 2nd Amendment and what was the intent when it was written? In the late 1770s we had the Articles of Confederation that bound the colonies together but no Constitution. Congress was the supreme regulator and decision maker during that period of history. The 13 colonies had gone through a war (1776-1783) and had existed without administrative or judicial branches of government for 13 years until the acceptance of the Constitution in 1789. The first ten Amendments followed in 1891. James Madison, a recognized legal genius, is given credit for being the primary author.
When the war with England was finally over in 1783, General Washington went to Philadelphia to meet with Congress. He turned over his sword symbolically resigning from his responsibility as General of the Army. He then recommended that Congress dissolve the army and send the men home. Both General Washington and Congress believed that a standing army was too costly and wasn't needed.
In dealing with the issue of guns it was reasoned that if the nation was not going to have a standing army citizens might, never-the-less, be called up again to deal with a national emergency. Should such a call-up be necessary soldiers needed to be able to bring their guns with them in defense of the country. Thus, the reference in the amendment to both "A well regulated Militia" and to "keep and bear arms."
When issues are raised as to the intent of a part of the Constitution the Supreme Court becomes the authority on "meaning." So, what does the Supreme Court say the 2nd Amendment means? Seven times the wording of the 2nd Amendment has been taken to the Supreme Court and confusion still reigns. Earlier rulings indicated that there was "the right to bear arms only within the militia." The most recent rulings ignored the militia issue and stated that citizens had "the right to keep and bear arms."
If the dispute gets to the Supreme Court this time, with Columbine and Sandy Hook in our history but more than one third of our adult population owning guns, it is anyone's guess how they will rule.
Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for Scripps Newspapers and GateHouse News Service. He is past president of colleges in universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.