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: Our war on women

    Jimmy Carter, who was president from 1977 to 1981, has had quite an impressive career as an author. His first book was published in 1975, and he has now written a total of 37 books, 23 of them after his presidency. He has set a high example for other past presidents, especially those who would like to find ways of being as beneficial to their nation as possible in the days after their retirement.

    April 22, 2014

  • Tidbits: "Selfie" destruction

    Technology continues to profoundly impact our daily lives, from the Heartbleed Bug that put hundreds of thousands of websites at risk of compromising customer usernames and passwords, to the little light that tries to tell me I'm about to run out of gas. Technology also impacts our language, with new words being created to describe the latest gizmo, gadget or trend.

    April 21, 2014

  • Stumptalk: It depends on what you mean

    A writer’s headline asks, “Do we really believe in democracy?” To which I answer, “What do you mean by democracy?

    April 21, 2014

  • LION AND THE LAMB: Four ways to demonstrate opposition

    Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan mention in their book, “The Last Week,” that Roman-occupied Palestine during the first century was under the control of Pontius Pilate who lived in the coastal city of Caesarea. Each year at the beginning of the Passover observance when Jews celebrated their liberation from Egypt, Pilate feared that they might be getting ideas about revolting from Rome, so he would come with additional soldiers on horses to beef up the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. 

    April 15, 2014

  • WE THE PEOPLE: Is it (new) party time?

    The Democratic and Republican parties are toast, according to Joe Trippi. The Republican Party is coming apart at its Tea Party seam. Democratic candidates struggle to celebrate President Obama’s health care successes, while responding to criticism of his failed promises, e.g., government transparency.

    April 15, 2014

  • TIDBITS: I found it at the library

    I have such fond memories of going to my local library as a child, searching through shelf after shelf and finding a book that would make me a Little Princess in World War II England, or bring me along as Nancy Drew solved the Secret in the Old Attic.

    April 14, 2014

  • STUMPTALK: The reason words have meaning

    If words did not have accepted meanings we would not be able to communicate effectively and civilized society would not exist.

    April 14, 2014

  • Lion and the Lamb: Do we really believe in democracy?

    The recent Supreme Court decision, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, is in a long line of debates about power in a democracy. Should power be in the hands of all the citizens or should it be in hands of those who have greater wealth and social position?

    April 8, 2014

  • We the People: Public education or business opportunity?

    A month ago, we followed the money trail left by a ‘think tank’ to the major sources funding an attack on our traditional, locally controlled public schools. We saw that a handful of billionaires provide major support to many organizations lobbying for change.

    April 8, 2014

  • Stumptalk: Just another government lie?

    There is a vault located in Fort Knox, Kentucky. It was built in 1936 and encased in 16 cubic feet of granite and 4200 feet of cement. The door is made of 20-inch thick material that is immune to drills, torches and explosives.

    April 7, 2014

Marketplace Marquee
Must Read
Section Teases
Seasonal Content
AP Video
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

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