An outright fraud

March 14, 1991

"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."

--Second Amendment, U.S. Constitution Barring a miracle, the General Assembly will not outlaw assault weapons in its present session. Once more, the gun lobby, in the form of the National Rifle Association and its various affiliates, has prevailed, not by virtue of its superior reasoning but rather by means of its deeper pockets.

As always, the NRA relied heavily on the theory that the Second Amendment, quoted in its entirety above, constitutes an absolute right of citizens "to keep and bear arms." This position is so specious as to be an outright fraud.

To begin with, the Second Amendment as originally written applied only to the federal government; no one disputes this. The amendment's purpose was to allow the states to maintain what would now be called national guards, without interference from the federal government.

But, the NRA argues, the 14th Amendment changed that by making the Bill of Rights applicable to the states. This, too, is false. The Supreme Court has never held that the 14th Amendment extended the Bill of Rights in its entirety to the states.

Even leaving aside all these aspects of the Second Amendment, is a simple fact -- not even remotely debatable as a matter of opinion or theory -- that never once in the history of the nation has the U.S. Supreme Court even come close to ruling that the Second Amendment creates the right the NRA claims. On the contrary, for well over a hundred years, every decision has consistently upheld that both federal and state regulation of firearms are perfectly constitutional. State courts have likewise consistently affirmed that the Second Amendment does not bar a wide range of statutes controlling guns.

The issue is so settled, in fact, that there is only a thin body of law at all on the matter. A competent lawyer would no more argue that the Second Amendment constitutes an absolute right to bear arms than an astronomer would argue that the Earth is flat, or a doctor would argue that germs don't exist.

Whether people should be permitted to own guns -- any kind of guns -- is a matter reasonable people can debate. The question of whether there is a constitutional right to own guns is not debatable -- for the simple reason that the U. S. Supreme Court, the final authority in such matters, has stated explicitly that there is no such right.

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