COMMENTARY: Repealing Second Amendment would be a monumental task

So, let’s discuss the elephant in the room. The Huffington Post, with which I rarely agree, at least makes this point: The New York Times’ page-one editorial the other week was far too timid.

Or look at this another way. In his State of the Union address the other week, President Obama praised the Australian model. Basically, the Australian government a few years ago confiscated most guns in that country through a mandatory buy-back. Apparently, it works for them.

Those, like President Obama, who believe we should restrict gun ownership and possession in the United States should stop being hypocrites. They should come out and advocate what they really believe, and that is they wish to repeal the Second Amendment.

Reid Beveridge

Reid K. Beveridge

So, let’s talk about repeal. The Second Amendment, of course, was added to the Constitution as a part of the Bill of Rights in 1791. James Madison, one of the major drafters of the Constitution, agreed that a Bill of Rights was needed, during the period in 1787-88 when ratification of the Constitution was before the states.

The Second Amendment reads:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the safety of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Until recent years, many constitutional scholars believed that, notwithstanding what organizations like the National Rifle Association and its supporters believe, the Second Amendment was intended only to apply to the organized Militia. Today, the organized Militia is called the National Guard.

However, looking at this from an historical point of view — of the 1790s — the general militia or common militia was understood to be every able-bodied male. Further, in those days, members of even the organized militia owned and kept their weapons at home.

Today, the National Guard’s weapons are secured in armories. Fast-forward to recent years. In the Chicago case (which also applied directly to Washington, D.C.), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment means ownership of guns by anyone. In that case, it overturned local ordinances that outlawed possession and ownership of handguns in those cities.

That is the law of the land as understood by the U.S. Supreme Court — like it not.

Which gets us to repealing the Second Amendment. It should first be said that the Second Amendment remains quite popular politically in most of the United States. It may not be popular on the East Coast north of Virginia, in California and perhaps Chicago, but in the “fly-over” part of the United States, it is popular. And the further west you go, the more popular it becomes. That even is true in Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, where Sen. Sanders remains, at best, ambivalent about gun rights.

Repealing a constitutional amendment is not unprecedented. We repealed the 18th amendment by adopting the 21st amendment. The 18th amendment, ratified by the states in 1919, prohibited the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages — i.e., Prohibition. It was repealed in 1933 by the 21st amendment.

Both amending the Constitution and repealing an amendment are tortuously difficult, however. The Constitution provides for two ways to amend. One is by constitutional convention, never seriously proposed since the original convention in 1787.

The second is initiated by Congress. A resolution to amend must pass both houses of Congress, each by a two-thirds vote. Then, it requires three-fourths of the state legislatures — or 38 — to ratify. Further, most proposed amendments in recent years have include an expiration date — often seven years — after which they are null and void if not ratified by then.

Readers should know all this if they have taken a serious civics course in either high school or college. But it is a reminder of why we have only 27 amendments to the Constitution — and why the U.S. Constitution is such an enduring document when compared with constitutions in other countries, which often are changed at the whim of whoever is in power at the time.

It’s a big elephant, isn’t it?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reid K. Beveridge is a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and resides at Broadkill Beach.

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