July 2022

The Second Amendment:
What You Should Know, What You Can Do

Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh

In the late 1920s and early 30s, gangsters began making flamboyant use of the Thompson submachine gun, particularly Al Capone, John Dillinger, "Baby Face" Nelson, and George Kelly Barnes, better known as "Machine Gun Kelly."

The public and politicians alike were appalled by the killing-power these firearms loosed on American streets. Very quickly and without any fuss, lawmakers in Congress—as in Republicans and Democrats—passed the National Firearms Act of 1934 which "provides for the taxation of manufacturers, importers, and dealers of certain firearms and machine guns; to tax the sale or other disposal of such weapons; and to restrict importation and regulate interstate transportation thereof."

The law is still on the books. Essentially, it restricts machine guns by taxing them out of circulation. The first federal gun-control legislation was a no-brainer.

So why in 2022 do we bury 111 Americans every day who were shot and killed?

You read that correctly. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which uses both data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project's HCUPnet, 321 people are shot every day in America; of those, 42 are murdered, 65 die by gun suicide—39,234 men, women, and children killed annually with guns. Picture the crowd at a typical game at Yankee Stadium….

And why do we forbid 18 year-olds from drinking a beer but allow them to buy assault rifles with 30-round magazines? What happened?


To increase their profits, gunmakers expanded their market. Companies that made military assault rifles, such as Colt, decided to market their weapons to civilians. Colt holds the trademark for the AR-15, a variant of the Army's former M16 rifle and a preferred weapon of American mass-murderers. It's today's equivalent of the Thompson submachine gun of the 1920s and 30s.

You'd think fat government contracts for the only rifle carried by U.S. military personnel (and numerous other armies and police forces) would keep Colt's executives and private shareholders happy (Colt has been a privately held company since 1990, but in 1987, the last year Colt held the Army's contract to make M16s, it posted $1.6 billion—that's billion with a "b"—in total sales.)

In order to broaden their market, the gun industry needed to broaden the Second Amendment's traditionally narrow, conservative interpretation. So, here it is:

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.

You'll notice the first half of that curiously punctuated sentence specifies not just an organized military unit but a well-regulated one. To further reinforce its context of military service, here's the amendment's penultimate draft:

A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

That last bit pertains to conscientious objectors who, in those days, composed an important slice of the population: Quakers. Obviously, to the men who wrote the Constitution, military service formed the essential framework of gun ownership.

But don't just take my word for it. Here's former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, a decidedly conservative judge appointed by Richard Nixon in 1969, in a 1991 PBS News Hour interview:

    If I was writing the Bill of Rights now, there wouldn't be any such thing as the Second Amendment. This [the Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. Now just look at those words—there are only three lines to that Amendment—'a well-regulated militia'. If the militia, which was going to be the state army, was going to be well regulated, why shouldn't 16 and 17 and 18 or any other age persons be regulated in the use of arms, the way an automobile is regulated?

In that same year, Burger also penned a series of articles for the Associated Press on the Bill of Rights. In his look at the Second Amendment, titled "2nd Amendment has been distorted," Burger clearly saw the gun-lobby's pernicious agenda:

    Few things have been more vigorously debated—and distorted—in recent times than this clause, and very few subjects have been as cluttered and confused by calculated disinformation circulated by special interest groups.

He continues: "The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that 'state armies'—'the militia'—would be maintained for the defense of the state."

And later in the piece: "The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires."

He concludes:

    Of course, some of these observations will be challenged by weapons and ammunition manufacturers and other members of the so-called 'gun lobby.' That there should be vigorous debate on this subject is a tribute to our freedom of speech and press, but the American people should have a firm understanding of the true origin and purpose of the Second Amendment.

When you read the Second Amendment, it's impossible to ignore its first two phrases, but that's exactly what the gun-lobby needed to do in order to sell more product. Enter the National Rifle Association, or NRA.

Ironically, the NRA began in New York in 1871, founded by two former Union officers who served in the Civil War and saw a critical need for marksmanship training for recruits. For decades, the NRA chiefly concerned itself with promoting shooting competitions and hunter safety courses. Hard to believe, for most of the 20th century the NRA supported permits in order to carry guns and mandatory waiting ("cooling-off") periods to purchase weapons. Two NRA leaders testified before Congress in 1934 to support keeping machine guns out of gangsters' hands.

But in the late 1970s, a faction within the NRA transformed the organization into a lucrative trade-lobby. They did it by using one of the most effective marketing tools: fear. They invented paranoid narratives that the government was "coming for your guns," that crime was rampant everywhere so no one was safe without a firearm . . . or ten.

Through their newly-created Institute for Legislative Action, they made guns a partisan issue by backing conservative politicians. So-called "gun rights" became a voting litmus test; being an NRA-approved "conservative" soon meant all-out opposition to any gun-control legislation. Very quickly, the NRA and the Republican Party formed an alliance.

As a trade-lobby, the NRA has had astonishing success. According to The Small Arms Survey, an independent global research project based in Geneva, Switzerland, by 2017, Americans, while comprising just 4% of the planet's population, owned 46% of the 857 million firearms in civilian hands worldwide.

The NRA's boast is our bane. We are awash in firearms. And, utterly relatedly, we are awash in blood. Contrary to propaganda spread by gun lobby shills, the more guns the more gun-deaths. In 2020, more than 45,000 Americans met their end thanks to a firearm, the most annual gun-deaths on record. It's the guns, stupid.

And just last month, the Supreme Court handed down a catastrophic decision on the NRA-backed lawsuit, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (NYSRPA) v. Bruen, unleashing its most radical reinterpretation of the Second Amendment to date, a precedent which could gut gun-control measures by allowing concealed carry in public places across the United States (doubly ironic given today's so-called conservative justices who espouse "original intent" as their standard of interpreting the Constitution.) A day after the decision, share prices for major firearms and ammunition manufacturers surged with Smith & Wesson Brands, the second-largest gunmaker, rising over 6%..

What can we do? One thing you can't do is try to reason with Republicans in Congress, especially the Senate. No matter how many dead children's bullet-riddled bodies you pile up in front of them, reptiles such as Mitch McConnell will argue that it's violent video games, lack of family values, mental health issues, or—the monstrously idiotic reason Ted Cruz offered for the Uvalde, Texas massacre—schools have too many doors.

McConnell, Cruz, and the rest of them are bought and paid for. (And the NRA contributed $31 million to Donald Trump's 2016 Presidential campaign.) Republican Senators are out of touch with the public. In survey after survey, over 90% of Americans want universal background checks for firearms sales. A Quinnipiac poll last month found that 3 of 4 Americans support raising the minimum legal age to buy a gun to 21 nationwide. In the same poll, 83% supported "red flag" laws allowing police or family members to petition a judge to remove guns from a person who poses a risk for violent behavior.

What you can do is vote these monsters out of office and don't let other gun-lobby shills replace them. Arm yourself with facts. (The NRA wants people to believe more guns is the answer so that companies they promote will sell more guns.) And you can support and join the efforts of gun-sense organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Visit their Websites, sign their petitions, donate, volunteer, get involved, stay informed.

For decades, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has fought and beaten the gun-lobby in the courts. In their amicus brief in NYSRPA v. Bruen, they argue simply: "All Americans have a constitutional right not to be shot—so-called Second Amendment "rights" must not infringe on the right of every person to live, which necessarily includes the right not to be unlawfully shot."

What a desperate state of affairs that such an argument needed to be made. It didn't work.


Everytown for Gun Safety

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence


Share This Page

View readers' comments in Letters to the Editor

Patrick Walsh | Scene4 Magazine

Patrick Walsh is a writer and poet. He served four years as an infantry officer in the 25th Infantry Division of the
U.S. Army. His articles and poetry have appeared in numerous journals and newspapers both here and abroad.
He writes a monthly column and is a Senior Writer for Scene4. For more of his columns and other writings, check the Archives.


©2022 Patrick Walsh
©2022 Publication Scene4 Magazine




July 2022

  Sections~Cover · This Issue · inFocus · inView · inSight · Perspectives · Special Issues
  Columns~Adler · Alenier · Bettencourt · Jones · Luce · Marcott · Walsh 
  Information~Masthead · Your Support · Prior Issues · Submissions · Archives · Books
  Connections~Contact Us · Comments · Subscribe · Advertising · Privacy · Terms · Letters

|  Search Issue | Search Archives | Share Page |

Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine–International Magazine
of Arts and Culture. Copyright © 2000-2022 Aviar-Dka Ltd – Aviar Media Llc.

2020-logo - Scene4 Magazine www.scene4.com

www,scene4.comSubscribe to our mail list for news and a monthly update of each new issue. It's Free!

 Email Address

Please see our Privacy Policy regarding the security of your  information.

Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine