Fulwider 2-10-2012

My Word: 2nd Amend.: What were framers thinking?

By Bryan Fulwider

This week Congress will begin debate on gun control. However, when we can’t even agree about the original intent of those who framed the Second Amendment, how can we determine what today’s right to keep and bear arms actually entails?

Were the framers thinking about hunters? Probably. After all, many frontiersmen survived by hunting. Were they also thinking of personal protection? Quite likely. The frontier was a dangerous place. Were they thinking of community protection? Certainly. That’s what a well-regulated militia does.

By opting for regional militias rather than a standing national army, were the Founding Fathers seeking to allay fears that a strong federal government might undermine state sovereignty? It’s probable.

But here’s the catch: Did the framers intend that ordinary citizens should employ lethal force against the government itself if they felt the government had run amok? That one’s hard to swallow — because governments just don’t make such provisions. Yet much of the gun-control debate is predicated on that assumption.

So, let’s assume that the Second Amendment is indeed based, in part, on the right of citizens to arm themselves for insurrection. Just how well has the government honored that right? Ever read about John Brown’s Raid? The Civil War? Waco?

My point is: No citizen — or group of citizens — has ever taken up arms against the U.S. government without paying dearly. It’s not a right. Never has been. Never will be.

The U.S. spends more on its military than the next-highest 15 nations combined — plus we have a vast array of law-enforcement agencies. It’s delusional to believe that privately held arms stand a chance against such unparalleled kill power.

It spits in the face of democracy to tout insurrection as a viable government-accountability mechanism. Such a perspective makes nuanced discussions about gun control impossible. It leaves millions of Americans in a perpetual state of suspicion and fear. Government itself becomes the great enemy.

The Second Amendment isn’t a veiled right to prepare a revolt against government. Clearly, however, the Constitution protects free speech, free and fair elections, and other essential democratic rights as the tools to keep government accountable and to make our imperfect but great nation even greater.

The Rev. Bryan Fulwider is a fellow at the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College and president of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.