LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Second Amendment and ignoring common sense

In my letter headlined “Guns and common sense” on Nov. 7, I tried to point out the hypocrisy of those Second Amendment fanatics who claim to read the Constitution quite carefully and literally, but who were nonetheless quite happy that the Supreme Court, in its Heller decision in 2008, chose to ignore the opening clause of that amendment (“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”).

Mr. Pleasanton described it as “ruled that it is irrelevant” [“Proving my point,” Letters to the Editor, Nov. 1] and was quite pleased at this, although in other contexts he undoubtedly would be upset that unelected justices would choose to ignore whole passages of the Constitution in order to reach their decision.

Mr. Hague [“Of the Second Amendment and common sense,” Letters to the Editor, Nov. 14] seems unaware of the historical record of court decisions on the amendment, especially the most important precedent, United States v. Miller, decided in 1939.

In that case, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by the quite conservative Justice McReynolds, upheld the constitutionality of the federal ban on sawed-off shotguns that was part of the National Firearms Act of 1934. The most important passage of this opinion asserted that “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of ‘a shotgun having a barrel of less than 18 inches in length’ at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep or bear such an instrument.”

Clearly, the Court in 1939, in a decision that stood as precedent for almost 70 years, regarded the first clause of that amendment as quite relevant!

Gun laws governing all kinds of rules had previously been upheld. Michael Waldman of the NYU School of Law pointed out in a Politico magazine article in 2014 that “four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia.” The Heller decision in 2008, which nullified the District of Columbia’s law regulating handguns, was the FIRST time the Court ruled that the amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun, and it was a clear break from precedent.

Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon, gave an interview in 1991 in which he asserted that “the Second Amendment has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

He was, of course, referring to the NRA and its radical position that any law, no matter how mild or sensible, that regulates the sale of guns is ipso facto unconstitutional. This position ignores common sense, court and historical precedent, and the first 13 words of the amendment itself.

The majority of NRA members and gun owners, as well as the vast majority of the American people, realize that this position is ludicrously extreme. If we can accept searches at airports and other public places as a reasonable precaution even under our Fourth Amendment, we can surely accept some reasonable gun safety laws. We can only hope that the Supreme Court will, as well.

Daniel Pritchett
Dover

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