Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


April 10, 2013

Lion and the Lamb: Revising the Second Amendment

CROSSVILLE —  Several weeks ago in Crossville I saw a man wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” There was no indication on the T-shirt where that quote came from, but there was no need for one. The intense national debate about the Second Amendment had taken care of that.

But there was something else missing on that T-shirt. The first thirteen words of the Amendment, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” were not included. It was doubtful whether there would have been enough room on the T-shirt for any additional words. Nevertheless, that T-shirt’s shortened version of the Second Amendment turned out to be a fitting symbol of the national debate which has consistently ignored the first thirteen words and concentrated primarily on the last fourteen.

Part of the problem in this split focus comes out of the past. Many of our founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had studied Latin and had developed an appreciation for some of its linguistic forms. In that language there is a grammatical construction in the ablative case called the “ablative absolute.” This is frequently used at the beginning of a sentence to indicate a specific context for what follows. The wording used in the Second Amendment is a good example of this.

According to these founding fathers, then, the ablative construct at the beginning of the Second Amendment suggests that the discussion about the keeping and bearing of arms ought to be taking place in the context of a militia that is well regulated. The problem with this formulation, however, is that words and their meanings change over the years.

Much of the fighting in the American Revolution was done by militias. After the war was won, Washington’s army was disbanded which left the security of the new country in the hands of the militias. Only people who pledged their support for the Revolutionary War were allowed to keep guns, which disarmed about 40 percent of the white population that was still loyal to England. The feeling quickly grew, however, that these militias needed to be regulated, or else they could turn into armed anti-government forces such as happened in the 1791 Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania.

There were also racist fears, especially in the South. Carl Bogus in his article, “The Hidden History of the Second Amendment,” wrote: “James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents in Virginia, and the South generally, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control.”

Today we find that the term “militia” has been adopted by many anti-government hate groups around our nation. It is suspected that a number of recent shooting deaths of government and justice department officials have been carried out by such militia members.

The most powerful interpreter of the Second Amendment today is the National Rifle Association which portrays itself as an organization dedicated to keeping America free and armed. It interprets gun ownership as an individual right guaranteed by the Second Amendment. The Supreme Court, in its Heller v. District of Columbia landmark ruling in 2008, threw out the District of Columbia’s handgun ban. It stated that the Second Amendment “right of the people to keep and bear arms” protects a right to private possession of a handgun for the defense of one’s self and family in the home. A five-to-four majority, led by Justice Antonin Scalia, thus ignored the intended contextual meaning of the ablative absolute in the Amendment, giving its blessing instead to the abbreviated fourteen-word version on T-shirts and other public venues.

Meanwhile, our nation continues to wrestle with the horror of the Newtown school massacre and the need for greater gun regulation that relates to individuals as well as to militias. On April 4 Gov. Daniel Malloy of Connecticut signed the nation’s most far-reaching gun control bill, a 139-page document crafted by leaders from both major parties. The law adds more than 100 weapons to the state’s ban on assault weapons, limits the capacity of ammo magazines to 10 or fewer rounds, and requires background checks for all weapon sales, including at gun shows. It also establishes the nation’s first statewide registry for people convicted of crimes involving dangerous weapons. Access to the registry would be available only to law enforcement.

What is your take on the Second Amendment? Should the first thirteen words be eliminated, or should we do some further research on that Latin ablative puzzler?

• • •

This column is sponsored by Cumberland Countians for Peace and Justice and dedicated by the local writers to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world. Opinions expressed in “Lion and the Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.

Text Only
  • Lion and the Lamb: A promised land?

    Back in biblical times there was a group of people who believed that God had promised them a segment of land on this planet that would be theirs forever. Who could have known back then that this ancient promise and territorial justification would be used by their descendants today to claim the same segment of land?

    July 29, 2014

  • We the People: Bring back the American dream

    Our economy continues to expand. The stock market is at record levels, yet many ask why so many of us are struggling?  Barely half of us believe the American dream is attainable.

    July 29, 2014

  • Tidbits: Taking a low-tech break

    Feeling increasingly strangled by my electronic leash, with phone, text messages, email, social media and a variety of other forms of communication always at my side, I took the weekend off.

    July 28, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Governing before and after mass corruption

    Laws in America were originally written simply. Every citizen could read them quickly and understand their meaning. The founders wrote the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Northwest Ordinance and the Constitution of the United States, none of which was longer than 4,500 words.

    July 28, 2014

  • We the People: The last dance

    Charlie Hayden’s last recording session with his early partner, Keith Jarrett, was in 2007.  The songs they played were mostly melancholy.  The second album coming from that session includes Weil’s “My Ship” and Porter’s “Every Time We Say Goodbye.” The dark ballad “Goodbye,” by Gordon Jenkins, was the final track.

    July 22, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Living in a pressure cooker

    The Gaza Strip, a small Palestinian territory about the size of Washington, D.C., has been in the news almost every day.  Its key location at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea has attracted a number of occupying powers over the years, and it has  been at the center of much Middle East history.

    July 22, 2014

  • Tidbits: The excitement of election day

    On March 12, 1996, there were 427,183 votes cast in the presidential primary election. Among those votes was mine, the first vote I cast in an election, just two days after my 18th birthday.

    July 21, 2014

  • Raising the minimum wage

    My first job from which FICA was withheld was a minimum wage job, seventy-five cents an hour. And yes, even then no one could live on that little money. However, I was a high schooler living at home where my father provided room and board. The job gave me pocket money to buy gasoline, to take my girlfriend out for movies and burgers, and to buy tickets for baseball games.

    July 21, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Children on the move

    The news this past week has focused on the humanitarian crisis developing on our southern border. Thousands of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras seeking to escape from the violence, human trafficking and extreme poverty in their countries have been entering the United States.

    July 15, 2014

  • We the People: Memo to gun rights groups

    The recent incident in California helps us understand why we cannot rely on mental health services alone to solve the problem of gun violence.

    July 15, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast New Sanctions on Key Sectors of Russian Economy Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Weather Radar
2014 Readers' Choice
Graduation 2014