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A Deadly Misreading (of the Second Amendment)

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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-27-07 10:04 AM
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A Deadly Misreading (of the Second Amendment)

A Deadly Misreading
Shahid Buttar
April 27, 2007

Shahid Buttar is a lawyer and recording artist in Washington, D.C.

Last week's shootings at Virginia Tech were a regrettably familiar spectacle: Americans unleashing inexplicably horrendous violence upon one another, followed by deafening silence from lawmakers unwilling to challenge the National Rife Association and other interest groups promoting "gun rights." But before committing themselves to such shocking timidity, neither policymakers nor their constituents should pretend that any constitutional values are threatened by getting guns off our streets and saving lives.

The Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms. Like the First Amendment, it includes both a public and private dimension. For instance, the First Amendment protects the individual's right to speechbut in the service of a corresponding public right to the free exchange of information and perspectives. Similarly, the Second Amendment's private "right ... to keep and bear arms" serves a broader, more important function of preserving a popular check on potentially tyrannical government.

The context of the Second Amendment indicates its central meaning. It explicitly contemplates a "well-regulated militia," and immediately follows the First Amendment (guaranteeing freedom of speech and assembly) and precedes the Third and Fourth Amendments (protecting citizens from being forced to house soldiers or submit to unreasonable searches or seizures). In this context, the central concern of the Foundersenabling We the People to defend ourselves from government run amokis quite clear. The Second Amendment is ultimately an escape hatch, intended by the Framers to enable popular uprisings were our government to grow unhinged from popular accountability.

While the private right ensured by the Second Amendment is widely trumpeted by gun advocates, its public dimension is rarely discussed. But its implications are crucial in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy. The Second Amendment's public meaning not only suggests the legitimacy of laws restricting gun ownership, but also counsels drastic measures to roll back the ongoing criminalization of nonviolent political dissent.

On the one hand, a right to armed rebellion may seem archaic today. But the right was historically non-controversial. The framers themselves took up arms to overthrow imperial British rule and establish our constitutional Republic.

Moreover, no right is absolute. Even the most precious liberties are subject to judicial scrutiny, and the authorization of restrictions where justified. The Supreme Court once went so far as to allow the arbitrary detention of a hundred thousand Japanese-Americans under its strictest standard of scrutiny. While the individual right to bear a weapon may remain legitimate in the abstract, legislatures have every right to deem the public interest in preventing mass murder sufficiently compelling to enact a law narrowly tailored to address it. In Britain, for instance, regulations on gun ownership have proven largely successful in preventing gun violence. ......(more)

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