Let’s replace the 2nd Amendment

The Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding gun control in Washington, DC, has returned this issue to the headlines. A central disagreement, as usual, concerns how to interpret the Second Amendment (the full text of which is at bottom). Part of the problem with this amendment is that it seems internally contradictory. It justifies the uninfringeable rights of “the people” in terms of the necessity of “a well-regulated militia,” but the connection between the two is not clear. Another problem is that it addresses gun-ownership rights in terms of “the security of a free State,” (italics added) when most – but not all – of the debate over gun-control laws these days centers on personal defense, individual liberty, and hunting. Finally, it is not clear whether the amendment limits only federal powers or those of the states, too.

Given these ambiguities, why not replace the amendment altogether? Let’s have a national debate and referendum on a clearer amendment that will address the central point of contention – who, if anyone, can legally control the use and ownership of guns.

The Second Amendment is considerably more anachronistic and obscure than most. By rewriting it, we will have a chance to consider, for example, whether to include in the justification militias, personal defense, any other reason, or no reason at all. Of course, replacing the Second Amendment with a clearer, more contemporaneous text will not end disagreement over its interpretation. It simply will make debates more reasonable and productive, as with those regarding, say, the First Amendment.

A national referendum between two options is propitious in this case because, for the most part, only two sides exist and the dividing line is clear, even though gradations exist within each camp. One side would like any level of government to be able to regulate gun ownership and use but would settle for state and local governments having the freedom to decide such policies. The other side would severely restrict any level of government from regulating the owning and bearing of guns, with exceptions perhaps for those people who had committed crimes with guns previously.

Ideally, gun-control advocates and opponents would each caucus, debate, and produce an potential amendment for the public’s consideration. After a vigorous campaign, voters nationwide could choose between the two, with the understanding that the text that won the most states – or votes – would be put through the process of amending the constitution. I have no idea how the U.S. public would vote on this issue. But isn’t it better to place a fairly clear question in the public’s hands than to leave the current mess of a text to the Supreme Court to interpret?


The Second Amendment: “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.”

– Interpreting Firearm Sales



6 responses to “Let’s replace the 2nd Amendment

  1. antireptilian

    If the American public are disarmed, there will be hell to pay. Your government is now a tyranny. Prepare to defend yourselves.


  2. Your comment suggests that you’re not eligible to vote here, but I would guess that you would support an amendment changing “well-regulated militia” to “unregulated militia” and “free State” to “free citizenry.” But would you be willing to accept the will of a clear majority, if voters overwhelmingly licensed governments to control firearms? Or would that be the tyranny of a majority?


  3. antireptilian

    Regulation, or licensing is a measure to control. If the government start with saying you may own a gun, as long as it is licensed, the next phase is, we dont issue licenses anymore. If i am not mistaken, that very thing occured in New York.

    I am aware of the crime commited by firearms, but to me, a greater danger resides in mass disarmament of the citizenry, and an out of control government, which i must say, both you over there, and us in the UK have at present.

    Majority rule always oppresses some group or other. I agree, it is a tough one, but what information will the majority get in order to make a decision? The press, which is clearly anti gun? With measured, non partisan and clear information and stats, the choice could be made by vote.

    Militia should be regulated, but the question comes, if the government regulates the militia, a militia designed to protect the citizens from tyrannical government, The militia will then operate for the government, and protection will be removed.

    Not being American, i believe that the first amendment is freedom of speech and religion etc, and the second amendment is the right to bear arms. The right to bear arms follows the first, to protect and enshrine the first. It also states the right to bear arms, not the right to have a license at the behest of government.

    I believe the chaps that formed the constitution had very good reasons, and experience under British domination, to consider the contents of the constitution with great care.

    Considering the police state infrastructure being erected the world over, i feel i would rather be armed to protect myself from the state than criminals.


  4. Conservative by Nature

    The 2nd Amendment doesn’t appear contradictory if you consider the founders original intent. They made it clear that the militia consisted of all able-bodied men, and their greatest concern was that a strong federal government was something to be feared, since it could deprive all unarmed citizens of all other rights.

    One need look no farther than the actions of the police and national guard during Katrina, when they went house to house confiscating firearms from law-abiding citizens while armed criminals roamed the streets (Google Katrina firearms to see for yourself). If the government can and has done it to them, then what makes you think that you are safe from an all powerful central government?

    Keep your head down and your powder dry and hope that your rights are not further infringed.


  5. 1) Another vote for no regulation.
    2) If the Framers had not referred to a “free State” and a “well-regulated militia,” then your interpretation might not be so debatable.
    3) Why bother figuring out their obscure intent? Let’s use our two centuries of experience with this issue to craft a clearer guideline.


  6. Pingback: Equal freedom – a radically new approach to political financing « IFS

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