Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Destruction of Our Second Amendment Rights

If we don't wake up, many of us will see the second amendment vanish within our lifetime.  It is a story that begins right after the founding of our nation, and is unfolding before our very eyes. In March of this year, Illinois added it's chapter with a number of new gun control laws were passed in both the House and Senate including  HB 1465 establishing the minimum age for buying an assault style weapon at 21.  Under this bill, any person who knowingly sells, delivers or causes to be sold or delivered an assault weapon to a person under 21 would now be subject to the Criminal Code of 2012.  The law also makes it unlawful for any under 21 to knowingly possess an assault weapon or assault weapon attachment.  The bill contains a very wide definition of an  "Assault weapon" that includes the following:  rifles with a belt-fed ammunition system holding more than 10 rounds, semi-automatic rifles with a detachable cartridge or magazine, semi-automatic shotguns with  a fixed magazine in excess of 5 rounds, and .50 caliber rifles.  The bill exempts members of the Armed Services or Illinois Reserves for the performance of their duties, as well as athletes training or participating in a sanctioned competitive shooting event.   If signed by Governor Rauner, the bill will take effect immediately, requiring adults under the age of 21 to dispose of such described firearms immediately.

This is just one more chapter in the destruction of our second amendment rights.  The story begins with our founding fathers and why they believed it was necessary to include the second amendment.  Our founding fathers were afraid of standing armies and feared that if the central government maintained a standing army then the nation might eventually fall into despotism. They struggled with this as they tried to find a way to maintain sovereignty without a possessing a permanent military force.  They settled on  state militias as the answer.   In the 18th century, no one ever envisioned a politician trying to take away a farmer's rifle, but they were concerned about maintaining a strong defense of our nation without infringing on states rights, like a standing army would. The framers of our constitution were first and foremost representatives of their state and feared granting power to a centralized government, as much as they feared their external enemies.   The second amendment was included primarily as a protection of the rights of the citizen soldier and the right of states to be free from a despotic central government. In addition, Congress allowed for these citizen soldiers which made up the state militia to be called forth by the President in times of war.

At the turn of the century, citizen soldiers protected their family and their communities. In most cases they armed themselves, but pledged allegiance first and foremost to their state.   The second amendment protected this, but was challenged during the War of 1812 when President James Madison pushed a declaration of war through Congress and sent orders to call out the state militias. Encouraged by the opposition Federalist party, vehement protests erupted in the Northeast, especially Connecticut and Massachusetts (which included Maine at the time). In response, the governors of the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island refused to allow their state militias to be called out. Led by Caleb Strong the governor of Massachusetts, they took a principled stand against the War of 1812, branding it "Mr. Madison's War". They claimed that the federal government was trampling on state and individual rights. The governors felt strongly that the President did not have the right to judge whether or not the militia was needed, nor did they believe that the state militia could be required to serve under the regular army command. In effect these governors were refusing to accept the authority of the President as defined in the 1795 militia act. This refusal to turn over the militia to the President became a bit of a constitutional crisis. Eventually, Governor Strong compromised on the issue of command, and allowed the dispatch of the militia from the state's eastern district (now Maine) to be put under the command of the US army. Governor John Cotton Smith of Connecticut held out more strongly and ensured that his militia always remained under state command. In 1815, after the war, Madison urged Congress to review the ability for the federal government to call out the militia under the Commander in Chief. The issue remain unresolved until 1827 in Martin v. Mott, when Justice Joseph Story validated the claim that the President had the exclusive right to judge if such exigencies existed for calling forth the militia.  This was a significant blow not only to states' rights, but the second amendment as it took away the ability for a state to command it's own citizen soldiers.

While the centralized government had full right to call out the state militias as needed, the states still had the right and responsibility to arm their citizen solders.  But over time, many of the states failed to live up to their end of this bargain and failed to properly arm their citizen soldiers.  By 1830, a census was taken that showed that the proportion of citizen soldiers armed with muskets or rifles fell sharply from 1820 to 1830, with only about one-third of the men then owning a firearm.  Congress responded by passing new Militia acts that defined new regulations for the state militias, and eventually began to take on the responsibility of arming them as well.  Slowly, the militia declined and was replaced with a standing army. In many ways, the second amendment as it relates to states rights was completely lost. In the 1800's culminating with the Civil War, the ability for a state to defend itself against a foreign invasion, or an invasion by the federal government had been utterly decimated, and as the Union replaced State sovereignty, the second amendment lost much of it's power. Individual citizens did not yet lose right to defend himself or herself against a tyrannical government, but states did.

Today, as individual citizens, we still have the rights of "citizen soldiers" as stated in the words of the second amendment: "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."   The Supreme Court came to this same conclusion in 2008 in Washington D.C. v. Heller when they held that the" Second Amendment guarantees an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home".  But these rights are slowly being stripped away as well.  Our right to protect ourselves, our family and our community is slowly replaced by a centralized government.  It's important to note that HB 1465 has an exemption for athletes competing in the sanctioned shooting events, because right before our eyes the second amendment is being rewritten to erase the "citizen soldier" and replace it with the hunter or sportsmen.   Once that happens, the story of how the second amendment vanished will be complete, and unfortunately, I fear that many of us will see this in our lifetime.

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