‘The Second Amendment’ is not a winning argument


February 2, 2013 by Nash Riggins

As America’s debate over gun control continues to intensify, opponents of new government measures to limit gun violence are increasingly answering rational questions by way of reference solely to one archaic piece of legislature.

This sentiment proved truer than ever this week when Neil Heslin – the father of a six-year-old boy who was shot dead in the Sandy Hook massacre – was reportedly heckled by pro-gun enthusiasts while testifying at a local hearing on gun control.

Neil Heslin was giving an emotional account of his son Jesse’s murder on 14 December when several members of the crowd began brazenly shouting “the Second Amendment”. Media agencies across the globe pounced, claiming that Mr Heslin had been the victim of heckling; however, in truth, he was less heckled than interrupted. After all, some video accounts of the incident opted to omit the grieving father’s would-be-query to the room.

“I ask if there’s anybody in this room that can give me one reason or challenge this question: Why anybody in this room needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips,” Mr Heslin said (rather than asked).

A period of brief silence followed, as the majority of the crowd clearly understood this to be a rhetorical question. Yet for whatever reason, only after Mr Heslin resumed speaking once more did the room’s pro-gun enthusiasts opt to interrupt him by shouting a delayed answer to his non-question: “the Second Amendment”. Not necessarily heckling, but no less nonsensical.

It’s hard to say whether the falsely-labelled hecklers simply missed the lack of rising intonation in Neil Heslin’s voice, or whether it just took them a little too long in order to manage the courage to speak up. Either way, Mr Heslin was not heckled, but merely confronted with a thoughtless answer to a valid question.

Meanwhile, the scene also served to demonstrate yet another low point in the national debate on gun violence – after all, what sort of person is so obsessed with an inanimate object that they can’t sit and listen to a forlorn father’s 10-minute account of his child’s murder?

In truth, Mr Heslin’s testimony was incredibly diplomatic, given that his young son had recently been murdered with 26 other victims at Sandy Hook Elementary. He admitted to having been raised with a knowledge of gun safety, and had regularly been hunting as a youth – and subsequently stated that assault weapons such as the AR-15 and other high-capacity firearms were 100% unnecessary for the purposes of recreation or protection.

“A semi-automatic or automatic weapon is one of the most inaccurate weapons out there. The sole purpose of a semi-automatic … is to put a lot of lead out on the battlefield quickly – and that’s what they do. And that’s what they did at Sandy Hook Elementary,” Heslin stated.

His response was quite level-headed. Indeed, under what circumstances are over 100 rounds necessary in order to defend one’s home from an intruder? Unless you’re either being invaded by an entire battalion of trained soldiers – or are just an abysmally awful shot – it shouldn’t take more than a few bullets to defend yourself.

Yet according to the pro-gun enthusiasts who crashed the legislative subcommittee at which Mr Heslin had been invited to speak, the lack of need for civilian-owned, high-capacity firearms is completely eclipsed by the all-powerful Second Amendment. If nothing else, these primal screams form a foolishly half-baked defence against gun control – yet in the interest of fairness, they cannot be ignored.

Yes, this Constitutional clause undeniably spells out a civilian’s “right to keep and bear arms” – why? Because the founding fathers believed that “a well-regulated militia” is “necessary to the security of a free-state”. Indeed, their foresight paid off – for just twenty-some years down the road, a bitter British Crown tried to invade US soil once more. The former colonists persevered, and the King acquiesced.

Yet 200 years on, the UK has evolved into America’s closest ally – and US soil has unsurprisingly witnessed no additional mass invasions. Accordingly, perhaps it’s time for pro-gun activists to painfully admit that they aren’t stockpiling weapons so as to form a militia and protect America from foreign invaders. No – they stockpile weapons because they enjoy shooting for recreational purposes, or simply feel safer with a firearm close by.

That’s fair enough, and within their rights – but as previously stated, why the hell does this outdated and regularly abused freedom allow for almost any individual in the country to have access to a high-capacity assault weapon? The Second Amendment offers no specifications as to the state’s ability to limit which firearms individuals are allowed to carry under this right, as it completely fails to define the word “arms”. Accordingly, this piece of unclear legislature has been contested and reinterpreted numerous times – most recently, in 2008.

In the District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled in a five-to-four decision that the Second Amendment does indeed guarantee an individual right to bear arms; however, Justice Scalia also declared that “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited”, and it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” After all, if this clause was exercised as literally as Mr Heslin’s would-be-hecklers want legislators to believe it should be, every American would be entitled to owning a nuclear warhead ‘just in case of intruders’.

In short, ‘the Second Amendment’ should not be considered a rational answer to Neil Heslin’s question; therefore, not only was the grieving father rudely interrupted during a formal proceeding, but he was interrupted with an incomplete answer that is too often used as the last line of defense for the otherwise indefensible. If nothing else, it should comfort advocates of gun control to know that their opponents are swiftly running out of valid arguments with which to launch against the impending arrival of new and proactive firearm legislature.

Over the coming months, all three bodies of federal government will be combing through different interpretations of an individual’s right to bear arms – that’s what we elected them to do. Accordingly, activists who feel very strongly with regards to the debate should make their voices heard – yet there’s a when and a where for everything, and this sentiment undeniably holds true whilst a grieving father is discussing his six-year-old son’s senseless murder.

No voice should be left unheard in a national debate that concerns all of society – especially those who are opposed to gun control. Yet it should be duly noted that civic discourse is best served rationally. Shouting the name of a short and infamously contested piece of legislature is by no means a winning argument, and the ‘activists’ who interrupted Neil Heslin, during what can only be interpreted as one of the toughest moments of his life, should be publicly shamed.

No, Mr Heslin was not heckled; however, this entire episode has clearly illustrated that the child-like sense of entitlement boasted by many Americans does not go beyond the literal translation of an archaic text. Subsequently, if gun advocates truly wish to be taken seriously, they must move beyond childish shouting, and instead provide rational arguments with which to formally make their case. It’s time for a grown-up debate about one of America’s most pressing issues, and thousands of Americans will live or die by its outcome. Don’t screw it up.


3 thoughts on “‘The Second Amendment’ is not a winning argument

  1. rubenoff says:

    we all have the rights to own reasonable gun’s ie’ a rifle for hunting, a shotgun for game birds and a hand gun for home protection, if we have a clear criminal record and no mental issue’s we should have no problem pre qualifying in the background check prior to the purchase of the guns we want to fullfill the wishe’s in our rights, We then have the responsibility to ensure all these guns are secured in a steel lockable gun safe away from children, and if we want the children to use the rifles, we must for safety send them to gun safety training courses, seems pretty basic stuff, Guns will not be taken away unless we abuse their use in criminal activitie’s in which we have abused our own right’s and must suffer the action’s of the prevailing law’s

  2. darrelltoddmaurina says:

    Nash, you live in a country with a history of an unwritten constitution, so I understand why you may not fully understand American conservatives’ emphasis on the text of the Second Amendment.

    I’ve lived for most of the last decade in an area of the United States where even most people in the news media don’t criticize guns, and a lot of us either hunt or have guns in our homes for target shooting or personal protection. But in the past when I lived in more urban areas and listened to reporters attacking the Second Amendment, I reminded them that if the courts can “reinterpret” the Second Amendment to restrict firearms, they can also “reinterpret” the First Amendment to restrict freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and even freedom to peaceably petition the government for redress of grievances.

    You live in a country where, theoretically, the Parliament could suspend habeas corpus or cancel elections — and if I’m correct, Britain actually **DID** postpone the elections during the Second World War, whereas the United States was constitutionally required to hold presidential and congressional elections in 1944 and 1864, even though we were in the middle of World War II and the Civil War, and also had to hold mid-term congressional elections in 1862, 1864, and 1942. Those elections turned into referendums on how well President Lincoln and President Roosevelt were doing in fighting their wars, and both the Confederacy and the Germans spent considerable effort to influence the elections, though they were ultimately unsuccessful. Let’s just say a President McClellan (Lincoln’s opponent) would probably have made peace with the Confederacy, and Roosevelt won by only 53 percent over Dewey, who as a strong anti-Communist and anti-corruption candidate, would likely have caused a rift in the American-Soviet alliance against Hitler. For much of 1864, Lincoln thought he was going to lose the election, and good arguments could have been made to suspend those five elections to avoid disrupting the war effort, but the Constitution gave the United States no choice.

    You may view gun rights and the Second Amendment as antiquated. But to change the Second Amendment, according to Article V of the Constitution, someone would need to get two-thirds of the Senate, two-thirds of the House of Representatives, and three-fourths of the states to amend the Constitution by repealing or modifying the Second Amendment. That simply is not going to happen in modern America. Even if the House and Senate both sent such a proposal to the states, our more rural states which are strongly pro-gun are considerably more than 1/4 of our total number of states, even though rural states may have a lower population than our more urban states, they have an equal voice to our largest states, and the Constitution was written with that in mind to make sure small states did not get outvoted by what were, in the 1780s and 1790s, the largest states such as Virginia and Massachusetts.

    • Louis says:

      This is a pretty level-headed response from a somebody who’s obviously not screaming for gun control, which I like. But I think you’ll find the First Amendment HAS been reinterpreted. Originally, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress. However, starting with Gitlow v. New York, the Supreme Court has applied the First Amendment to each state. Since then, subsequent court cases have established numerous exemptions with the First Amendment. These are based on people’s reactions to words that include both instances of a complete exception, and cases of diminished protection. Speech that involves incitement, false statements of fact, obscenity, child pornography, threats, and speech owned by others are all completely exempt from First Amendment protections. Commercial advertising receives diminished, but not eliminated, protection. Basically, we don’t have 100% free speech, even though the First Amendment broadly says we should. Likewise, we shouldn’t have 100% freedom to carry around whatever high-power weapon we want, even though the Second Amendment broadly says we should. Times change, and legislature should evolve with it.

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