National Politics | Politics | State Politics

Time for a New Second Amendment?

AP photo

AP photo

There is a lot to consider regarding to gun control.  As anyone who has watched the movie “Braveheart”  will recognize, one way for a tyrant to keep control over his subjects to forbid them to have weapons.  If the government can effectively remove our right to bear arms, it will be extremely difficult to defend ourselves from a tyrannical majority should that ever come to pass.

The right to bear arms can be traced back to at least the English Bill of Rights of 1689. It’s born of our natural right to self-defense.  Yet the Second Amendment states in whole: “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.”  What does that mean?  Does it mean that a barrier to an oppressive federal government is the state government militias? Or does it mean that we as individuals should be able to possess weapons?

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the second amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm – unconnected with service in a militia – for lawful purposes such as self-defense.  But it did not hold that you could own a rocket-propelled grenade.

The current debate over arms control (since the Constitution speaks to arms not guns) was obviously sparked by the Sandy Hook Elementary School slayings.  The discussion of arms control has been sidetracked by debating whether mass slayings can be effectively reduced by outlawing certain types of guns – or the rounds that can be fired.

Why would the National Rifle Association oppose limiting clips to 10 rounds, when it seems like this would produce an added benefit greater than the added cost?  The reason might be that, once you begin to intrude upon the right to bear arms, you are on a slippery slope to eventual elimination of that right.

As Friedrich Hayek pointed out in The Constitution of Liberty, democracies are peculiarly liable to passing legislation that is separated from a general principle. This legislation then leads to additional legislation that eventually results in a principle that the majority would not have agreed to in the initial phase.

Hayek also said that the ability of the Constitution to limit the powers of the temporary majority requires that the Constitution be followed even when it creates a barrier to solving an immediate problem.  If the Constitution does not allow the solutions to problems that have developed, we may wish to amend the Constitution to allow such changes.

The Founders clearly did not have in mind “arms” that included nuclear-tipped rockets, chemical weapons, or even repeating rifles.  Rather than focus on whether guns kill people or people kill people, we can make more progress if Congress put forth a resolution under Article V to amend the Second Amendment in a way that would clarify what we as a people believe with regard to gun rights.

If done properly this can solidify our right to bear arms by providing clarity – and removing the attacks on the right to bear arms that will be renewed with every shooting that makes headlines.

Gary Wolfram
William E. Simon Professor in Economics and Public Policy at Hillsdale College and President of Hillsdale Policy Group, a consulting firm specializing in taxation and policy analysis. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of California-Berkeley, and he has taught at several colleges and universities, including Mt. Holyoke College, The University of Michigan, and Washington State University. His government experience includes a stint as Washington chief of staff for Michigan Congressman Nick Smith, being senior economist for the Michigan State Republican policy staff, and serving as Michigan's deputy state treasurer for taxation and economic policy. His publications include "A Capitalist Manifesto: Understanding the Market Economy and Defending Liberty" (Dunlap Goddard, 2012), and several works on Michigan’s tax structure and other public policy issues. He has written for numerous publications including Human Events, The American Spectator, The Washington Examiner, and The Detroit News.