American vs. unAmerican values, according to the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States

When it comes to the Second Amendment, only the extreme positions of banning all firearms or allowing unrestricted access to all firearms are unAmerican.

The Second Amendment (image credit: tenthamendmentcenter.com)

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Without the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America, the United States of America would not exist. As such, the values laid out in these two documents are, by definition, American values. And any values held in opposition to the values in these documents are, again by definition, unAmerican.

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.

Due to the unclear wording of the Second Amendment and the presence of an unexpected comma, the Second Amendment’s intent is vague. Until 2007, the Supreme Court had held that the Second Amendment applied to only the collective ownership of firearms of militias, most commonly understood to be the National Guards of the various states. In the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court overturned this long history and held that the Second Amendment defined an individual right to possess firearms. Heller also held that the right was not unlimited, although exactly what limits are permissible has not yet been tested at the Supreme Court.

Ultimately, however, the confusing language and sentence structure of the Second Amendment means that Americans can hold a variety of opinions about firearms and still be aligned with American values.

For example, the Second Amendment explicitly mentions regulation of the militia. This could mean a formal militia like the National Guard, an informal militia like various private paramilitary groups, or even an unstructured citizens militia composed of every adult American. However the Militia is defined, the Second Amendment clearly intends it to be regulated in some manner. Therefore people who advocate for stricter gun laws, background checks, mandatory safety training, mandatory safe gun storage, expanding criminal liability for gun crimes, trigger locks, or any other regulations on firearm access are in alignment with American values.

Given the explicit mention of regulation in the Second Amendment, individuals who claim that the Second Amendment allows for no regulation of firearms or similar weapons are incorrect and hold a value that that is unAmerican. And yet, individuals who advocate for a complete ban of individual ownership of firearms, or for such tight regulation that it amounts to a de-facto ban, are also pursuing a goal that is unAmerican. The Second Amendment clearly defines a “right of the people,” which means that individuals have the right to own at least some firearms. The question then is not whether firearm regulations are aligned with American values, but rather where to draw the regulatory line between the two unAmerican extremes.

There are other oddities that are created by the Second Amendment, however. For example, should a sword be considered as “Arms?” Like a firearm, a sword is a weapon that can be used both offensively and defensively, so considering a sword as an “Arm” would seem reasonable in that respect. Yet swords are generally more heavily regulated than firearms even though swords are inherently less dangerous to the public at large than a firearm (laws on bows produce similar oddities). The difference seems to be that there is a strong pro-firearm lobby, composed of individuals, various pro-firearm organizations, and manufacturers. There is little enough money to be made selling swords and few enough people interested in owning them that the government and public at large doesn’t seem to care that sword limitations might also run afoul of the Second Amendment. That said, if a sword is fairly considered an “Arm,” then regulations that amount to a de-facto ban on swords are as unAmerican as a wholesale ban on firearms would be.

No right defined in the Constitution is without limit. There are always situations where one person’s rights come into conflict with someone else’s rights, and in those situations the laws and courts must define how to navigate the conflict. Unlike the rights defined in the First Amendment, however, the Second Amendment explicitly permits limits on the right to bear arms while at the same time ensuring that the people may bear arms. As such, it’s only at the extremes – a full ban on all firearms or no limits at all – where someone’s views should be described as unAmerican.

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