What the Second Amendment Means

On Mar. 14, students from Chelsea’s High School of Fashion Industries joined a nationwide school walkout calling for changes to gun laws. | Photo by Josh Rogers

BY JOSH ROGERS | A well regulated Militia.” That’s how the Second Amendment starts. It’s a fact often ignored by people on both sides of the gun debate. Increasingly, I hear people who favor more gun restrictions quietly say something along the lines of, “If only we could change or get rid of the Second Amendment…”

And from the other side, “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED” typically gets repeated in all caps in one of those productive Facebook posts quoting the part of the amendment gun supporters like. I’m using “productive” in the sense of an angry debate in which no one changes their mind.

“I’m for the Second Amendment” is taken as shorthand for opposing any proposed restriction on guns. But if you argue that rapid-fire assault weapons are protected by the Constitution, then there is no argument against prohibiting people from owning tanks, grenades, or, for that matter, nuclear weapons.

PERSPECTIVE: Express Yourselves

Gun control advocates justifiably lamented the Supreme Court’s Heller decision in 2008 because, for the first time, the courts said individuals had a protected right to own a gun — essentially the Founders were just clearing their throats with that “well regulated Militia” part.

But that decision, written by one of the conservatives’ all-time heroes, the late Antonin Scalia, said the right to arms is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” He specifically identified “concealed” and “dangerous and unusual weapons” as ones that could be prohibited.

So, we only have ourselves to blame for not doing much to stop over 30,000 people a year dying from guns. Suicides and mental illness account for many, but only the tiniest of percentages of the mentally ill pose a danger to themselves or others.

The 300 million guns in this country are the problem. Universal background checks, bans on weapons that fire many dozens of times in a minute, and limiting magazine sizes are some of the measures that could be taken to reduce the “carnage” the president promised to end on inauguration day.

More recently, he went to the left of Barack Obama, who actually praised the Heller decision as a candidate. Donald Trump mocked his fellow Republicans for being scared of the NRA, and backed gun confiscation without due process — but quickly showed he was just as scared as they are, by falling back in line with a group that gave him tens of millions in 2016 (and that he desperately needs for a chance at reelection).

Last week’s student walkout honoring the Parkland, Florida, shooting victims and calling for gun control reform will be followed up by a “March for Our Lives” on Mar. 24. | Photo by Josh Rogers

Change is starting to happen, led by a small group of student survivors of Stoneman Douglas who have already shamed Republicans into passing tougher gun measures in Florida, a notoriously gun-friendly state where Trayvon Martin’s killer walked in part because of a “Stand Your Ground” law.

Last week they led students around the country, who walked out of class for a symbolic 17 minutes to mark the number killed on Feb. 14 in Parkland, FL. In Chelsea, PS 11 elementary school students silently walked holding signs like “Regulate, Legislate, Don’t Procrastinate,”  and students from the High School of Fashion Industries spilled out onto W. 24th St. and Eighth Ave. to demand change.

But I’m skeptical the Florida students will be able to lead us to a safer country before November. Congressional Republicans have not even banned people on the No Fly List from buying guns, so some people too dangerous to board planes unarmed are allowed to walk many of our streets with assault weapons.

Changing that wouldn’t put much dent in the carnage, but it does show how intransigent the current Congress is. I’m not expecting national change before people get voted out of office. Is a Republican on the fence going to risk losing NRA money and supporters’ votes in the hope of picking up others who love life more than guns?

I’m not hopeful — but on Sat., Mar. 24, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, will “March for Our Lives” in Washington DC, here in New York City, and elsewhere. If the 18 and up come back in big numbers on Nov. 6, we’ve got a chance.

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