Is the Constitution of the United States a meaningless document?
The other day, I was driving down the highway and listening to NPR on the radio. On it was a discussion about re-integration of criminals after their incarcerations. The producers of the program were interviewing people, and one of them rather shyly admitted that he had been serving time in prison for “gun possession”.
It was a jarring statement. For one thing, while I was listening, I was in possession of a gun myself. I have been a lawfully armed citizen so long and so regularly that I have started taking for granted that I live in a state that recognizes my right to be armed. I rarely think about the fact that just ten short years ago, having a loaded revolver tucked away under my clothing was regarded a crime that could land me in jail for a long time. It remains a crime in many other states today.
It was also a statement that made me angry. The phrase “gun possession” is just another way to say “bearing arms”. The Constitution purports to guarantee my right to keep and bear arms. The knowledge that someone was imprisoned for bearing arms should be as outrageous as if someone were imprisoned for political speech. Both are clearly protected by the Bill of Rights. The First Amendment is worshiped in this country. The Second Amendment is derided, neglected, and ignored.
Literally neglected and ignored. Across the nation, there are over twenty thousand gun control laws, all of them infringing the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and all of them unconstitutional. Yet they are all enforced. Countless people have been charged, convicted, and punished for their violation. How can this be? How can a constitutional right be so blatantly criminalized, and nothing is done about it?
In the 220 years since the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the United States Supreme Court has heard only three cases directly regarding the Second Amendment. Two of them (Heller, McDonald) took place in only the last few years, and the Court found in favor of the Second Amendment. However, the first one (Miller) took place over seventy years ago and was devastatingly mishandled. By the time the case reached the Court, the defendant had died in prison, and no one appeared before the Court to give argument in defense of the Second Amendment. Nevertheless, the U.S. Justice Department wanted their gun control law re-instated, and the Court issued a ruling in favor of the prosecution. Astonishingly, this careless ruling has been treated as legal precedent for over seven decades, and the Supreme Court refused to hear any other cases regarding the Second Amendment until 2008. This single mistake has shaped gun control for generations and has not been corrected.
If you get into discussions about the constitutionality of gun control laws, people will tell you that the Second Amendment doesn’t mean what you think it means. However, that isn’t at all what happened. The Second Amendment is the shortest, clearest, most straightforward amendment ever made to the Constitution:
Amendment II. 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.
The Second Amendment has not failed due to being misunderstood. The Second Amendment has failed to stop gun control because the United States Supreme Court has actively refused to enforce it. The Supreme Court chooses which cases it hears. During the same period of time that the Court has heard only three Second Amendment cases, the Court has heard hundreds of cases regarding the First Amendment. The Court’s selection history suggests that the First Amendment is very important to the Court, and that the Second Amendment is contrary to the Court’s goals. By way of this selective enforcement, the United States Supreme Court has knowingly and intentionally allowed unconstitutional gun control laws to proliferate. This abdication of enforcement of the Second Amendment has allowed all levels of government in this country to enforce gun control laws as if they were not unconstitutional.
And folks wonder why gun rights proponents seem so angry. Americans claim to cherish this country’s Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights. Yet so many people wish to ignore the Second Amendment. They wish to pretend that the Second Amendment doesn’t matter, that it doesn’t provide the power which backs the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights. They wish to pretend that this nation could exist without arms in the hands of the people. Unfortunately, those people have been largely successful for several decades, and they have dragged the rest of us down with them. We are angry because they have made our Constitution meaningless.