Man, you’ve got to love New Jersey’s Gunnies. Like their Eagle-loving brethren in the other great states of the Nugent Republic, they feel the need to carry, load, polish, write about, blog over, buy, sell, massage, aim and shoot their constitutionally protected, sacred firearms. I know these people well. I used to be one of them. And before I go into an entire explanation of their beliefs and their vision for America’s future, I want to start off with a very, very important statement. Though their view of history is skewed and their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is faulty, on legal grounds, they’re winning. They’re winning big-time. And the people of New Jersey need to know there is a very good chance that, using recent U.S. Supreme Court precedents, the Gunnies are very close to achieving most if not all of their goals right here in the Garden State.
What are their goals? In short, to completely deregulate firearms, aside from automatic weapons (yes, even most Second Amendment lovers agree that machine guns are not protected by the Bill of Rights). This vision amounts to the ability of any adult to freely purchase, store, and carry unconcealed, loaded firearms on their person. Everywhere. Anytime. And to their credit, they do not make this a secret.
First, let’s take their constitutional philosophy. They embrace a rather selective interpretation of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment states, if you haven’t read it in a zillion other places already, the following:
“A well regulated militia, essential to the security of a free state; the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
The amendment was drafted by James Madison, the Father of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in the late 1790’s. Madison was a very smart guy, a true legal genius. We need to read his words assuming that he knew what he was writing and talking about. So what did he mean? Did he mean that Americans have the right to have and carry firearms? Was he defining this right along the lines of the First Amendment, where he clearly stated, “Congress shall make no law…” abridging the freedom of the press, petition, assembly, and worship? In my opinion, he was not. Absolutely, straightforward, not.
Again, we need to understand that when he drafted the Bill of Rights, and the Congress and States approved of it, there were plenty of opportunities for changes, deletions and commentaries. So our final result must be taken for what it is. The Second Amendment does not state that citizens have the right to keep and bear arms. It has a clause that does contain such a right, but is dependent on that right being exercised when one is part of a “well regulated militia.” It’s ironic, that the Gunnies of today so disdain regulation when this very portion of the Constitution states it so plainly.
Okay, so what was the militia? Was it simply all the people, or at least, as understood at the time, all armed, white male adults? No. It was not.
In the original 13 states, “the militia,” which were not the equivalents to the modern-day, federally controlled National Guard, were similar. A militia was a state’s official armed force. It had ranks, rules and regulations. Militias were under state command (usually the governor or one of his appointees) and were not, ever, the counterpart to hunting or beer drinking gangs of good ol’ boys. They were meant for serious business, from keeping the public order to preventing and fighting Indians, foreign invasions, and in the South, Slave revolts. They were official collective entities and lawful bodies that placed genuine and comprehensive requirements on their members, from training to mandatory call-ups for action. For the most part, they do not exist anymore in their original forms.
In some state miltias men could use their own firearms, in others, firearms would be provided for them. They and their members were protected by the rules of war. Again, these organizations were not individual clubs, but state-regulated bodies. A citizen could not just show up one day during a crisis and say, “Hey, I’m a member of this militia because I have a gun, so let’s get this thing started!” It did not work like that. There were rosters, lists, levels, orders, etc.
So the idea that Madison simply wrote of a right where everyone could keep and bear arms isn’t factual. If he wanted such a right to be recognized, he would have said so. He meant that any idea of keeping and bearing firearms would only be protected within the organization of not a private army, but a “well regulated” government militia.
Okay, so perhaps you agree with what I just wrote. Perhaps you disagree. For the entire 20th century, the Supreme Court agreed with my interpretation of the Second Amendment. They don’t anymore, and this is where things get interesting, and potentially dangerous.
In 2008 the United States Supreme Court handed down one of its landmark decisions from its secure, pearly-white marble temple in D.C. Dubbed D.C. v. Heller, the High Court straightforwardly stated, and left no doubt, absolutely zero doubt, that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms was a personal one. Yes, it could be subject to some limitations; guns could be barred from courthouses and perhaps schools, but gun ownership and gun bearing was an adult right. That was their opinion, and whether you or I like it or not, it is the Supreme Law of the Land. Just like the High Court struck down racial segregation in the 1950’s, just like it recognized abortion rights in the early 1970’s, it has stated that the right to keep and bear arms is a personal one. Supreme Court case law is complex but it is not a salad bar. You cannot pick and choose from its decisions. You need to take it as a whole.
New Jersey, today, has some of the most comprehensive gun control laws on the books. To “keep and bear arms” a state resident must get a series of permits, starting with a “Permit to Purchase.” You cannot even touch a firearm at one of the state’s gun shops or shows unless you possess this permit, which is very difficult to get and requires a series of expensive and comprehensive background checks at the local and state levels.
I’m going to be honest with you here. Regardless of all the other gun laws on the books in our state, the permit requirements are the real heart of the gun control system. If New Jersey’s permit system is ever overturned you will see guns for sale at every Walmart, Target and strip mall. You will see armed citizens exercising their right to “open carry” on every road, at every public park and beach, in every business, in every shopping mall and convenience store. If you don’t believe me, you don’t have to…just ask anyone from Florida.
The Heller case has since been expanded by the Supreme Court and there is no reason to think that the Court will reverse itself on this core issue. The Gunnies won in the highest court in the land, hands down.
So where does this leave us, those that support sanity in firearms law?
We Americans that support gun control or even gun bans need to be realistic. We need an amendment to the Federal Constitution. Perhaps it is unrealistic to think that we could repeal the entire Second Amendment. But at least we should start pressing for an amendment that leaves such interpretations up to the states or other localities. If people in Texas and Louisiana want to believe that God and Moses and George Washington gave them the right to keep and carry a gun, and they want to write that into their state and local laws, then fine. But a majority of people in the state of New Jersey do not feel that way and never have. I do not believe that Madison ever intended the interpretation of this ‘right’ to go this far, and additionally, the firearm he was writing about was the clumsy musket, not the contemporary semi-automatic pistol or assault gun. You cannot kill 25 hysterical, fleeing children in under three minutes with a musket, and you never could. With a 9mm pistol and some spare ammunition, if murder is your intention, the sky’s the limit.
Again, to sum it all up, you can mock the Gunnies. You can call them hicks and rednecks. You can say that they’re nuts, and some of them are, but their ‘personally oriented’ interpretation of the Second Amendment is law. So let’s deal with this issue from this new perspective and stop arguing over the Second Amendment. Otherwise, we’ll never stop the bullets from flying.