How Far Does the Second Amendment “Right to Bear Arms” Go?

Does it mean that you can arm yourself with military style weapons, load them and head into a Wal-Mart store?

There is a lot of debate and argument going on now over exactly what the second amendment guarantees when it comes to the right to bear arms.  Some insist that the principle comes from the colonial militia, the men who could be summoned to protect communities and homes in the event of an emergency and who became an essential part of the American military during the Revolutionary War.  Others say that there was a distinction made between those who could be called up as militia and those who weren’t.  Only the militia, who were trusted and recruited from among the general male population, were given the right to be armed according to their needs as a defensive military force.

The time I have spent studying American History, fairly extensive since I’ve taught it to high school and college students for several decades and still have an interest in reading and writing about it in order to develop school curriculum that is effective in teaching students what they need to know (which most public school history courses no longer do) leads me to believe that the right to bear arms for personal safety and the right to bear arms as part of local militia are two different and separate things.  One is for the mutual protection of the community, an armed “police” force designed to protect from an outside threat while the other is for protection of personal property.  Hunting is not mentioned or considered, by the way.

The militia could be summoned by those whom the community gave authority to govern and lead and could be used, as some suggest, to fight off a tyrant if the community will called for doing so.  But that decision was not left up to individuals to decide.  So an individual gun owner does not have the right to bring his weapon with him to use for his own protection while he isn’t defending his home or his property.  Such use would mean that his “rights” would supercede the same rights accorded to others and thus, would not be constitutionally protected.  So if a business posts a notice on their door or entrance which states that personal weapons are not permitted on their property, they are within their rights as a property owner to do so and it is not interfering with a gun owners “right to bear arms.”  The rights of the property owner supercede the rights of any individual and they have the right to choose who will protect them and how they will be protected.

The incident that the article refers to was a particularly stupid move.  Coming just days after a similarly armed gunman killed 22 and injured 20 more in  a Wal-Mart store in El Paso, Texas, to walk into a Wal-Mart armed to the teeth to “test” whether Wal-Mart honors the second amendment was an act of sheer stupidity.  And it looks like the punishment will fit the crime.  It is not a violation of anyone’s second amendment right to bear arms for a private business owner to restrict the possession of any form of weapon on their property.  Your rights stop at the boundary where their rights begin.

These active shooters aren’t dummies.  The shooter in Dayton clearly figured that there might be people around with permits to carry out in public where he planned to carry out his act of mass murder so he acquired some body armor and was wearing it.  The argument that if there are other armed individuals present in the immediate area which is, in and of itself a protection against mass shooters doesn’t hold water.  The Dayton shooter killed 12 people and injured many others in 30 seconds before armed police officers could figure out what was going on and shoot him to stop the carnage.  Note that it took professionals, not citizens carrying guns, to neutralize the guy and stop the shooting.  Too late.  In the El Paso Wal-Mart, it’s doubtful any citizen with a gun could have reacted in time to prevent what one guy with an automatic rifle did in a short period of time.  And if someone else had opened fire, whose to say that more people wouldn’t have died in the crossfire?

There’s common sense legislation that has been proposed that probably won’t stop every single mass shooter, but which will stop enough to drop the death toll and help get a handle on the problem.  Delayed purchases and background checks do not violate anyone’s second amendment rights!  The constitution doesn’t say anything about how long it takes to purchase a gun, how soon you can have it nor does it say anything about restricting the sales of military style weapons to non-military personnel.  Nor does it say that a “red flag law,” which would allow temporary removal of weapons from an individual suspected of planning a massacre or with some other notable instability is unconstitutional.  These are both excellent starting places and it looks like we are finally going to get there.  It is taking the clear threat of a massive number of voters planning to vote against members of Congress supported by the NRA to get action.  Well, if that’s what it takes, then it is time for some members of the house and senate to go home.

I work in a school where two thirds of the students are under the age of 12.  The student body is about 70% Latino, mostly Puerto Rican with a mix of Mexicans, Central Americans who are mostly Guatemalan, Honduran or El Salvadoran, about 10% African American and a scattering of Caucasians and Asians.  I’ve been through several training sessions on securing a school building and what to do if an active shooter either enters  your building or is on your property.  I’ve seen videos from the Columbine and Jonesboro shootings and pictures of the aftermath of Sandy Hook.  It absolutely sickened me to hear the screams, the sounds of the automatic weapons going off continuously, the silence that follows.  There is no way you can sit through a training session on ways to secure your building in the event of an active shooter, realize that if it ever happens to you, there is going to be loss of life no matter how well trained you are and then sit there and do nothing because your pet politicians and their party are against it because they need the campaign funds from the NRA.

The drills are very frightening to the children, because they know why we are doing them and the fact that we have to do this tells them that their classroom may not be safe and that someone could walk in and start shooting.  The drills are designed to protect as many students and staff as possible, knowing that if an active shooter ever does come to your campus, not everyone is going to survive.  And yet, that’s not enough to move the Republican members of Congress, the Senate Majority leader who already has several bills in front of him that would at least be an improvement over how things are now, or the President.

If they cared about the children of this country, they’d do something.

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