The Second Amendment to the US Constitution – when interpreted properly by the courts – proves quite the stumbling block to strict gun control laws. But California Governor Gavin Newsom hopes to change that. The Golden State gun grabber says his proposed 28th Amendment will “enshrine fundamental, broadly supported gun safety measures into law.”
Raising the federal minimum purchase age, mandating universal background checks, instituting a waiting period, and banning so-called assault weapons all make the progressive wish list – and all this while somehow “leaving the 2nd Amendment unchanged and respecting America’s gun-owning tradition.” As far as longshots go, it’s hard to tell which would prove the greater miracle: getting this amendment added to the Constitution or the proposal actually “respecting” the Second Amendment.
The 28th Amendment: A Pipe Dream
The Constitution succeeded, in part, because of an agreement to pass what we now call the Bill of Rights – ten amendments designed to safeguard the right of the people to live, live free, and pursue happiness without oppression by a tyrannical government. In the 231 years since the Bill of Rights, the Constitution has been amended a mere 17 times – and that’s not for lack of trying. According to the National Archives, there have been more than 11,000 proposed amendments to the Constitution. Of those, only 33 made it through Congress, and just 27 were ratified – and that does include the aforementioned Bill of Rights.
The Constitution can only be changed in two ways. Either Congress can pass an amendment with two-thirds of both the House and Senate voting for it, or two-thirds of the state legislatures can pass a resolution calling for an Article V convention – often called a constitutional convention, or Con Con for short – which would vote on the proposed amendment. In either case, the amendment must then be ratified by three-fourths of the states.
Consider that more than half the nation has gone in the opposite direction and passed some form of “constitutional carry” laws, and Newsom’s 28th Amendment seems little more than a pipe dream.
Amending the Second Amendment
No, any such amendment seems far more likely to get lost among the “over 11,000” than to join the select ranks of the 27. But pretend for a moment that, as Newsom claims, “Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and gun owners overwhelmingly support” the measures he proposes. What would it mean for the right of the people to keep and bear arms?
According to a June 8 press release, the proposed 28th Amendment would raise the federal minimum firearm purchasing age from 18 to 21. It would mandate universal background checks for all transfers, even among individuals. Civilians would be banned from buying so-called assault weapons, and there would be a “reasonable waiting period” before people could collect any guns they are allowed to buy. It would also “affirm Congress, states, and local governments can enact additional common-sense gun safety regulations that save lives.”
In short, it amends the Constitution so that the Second Amendment has no power at all. It seems the governor’s idea of respecting the Second Amendment is allowing it to remain attached to the Constitution, powerless though it would be, for nostalgia’s sake.
The Second Amendment reads:
“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.”
Many have argued over who should be allowed to have guns, what guns they should be allowed, and for what purposes. But the Founders made it quite clear what they thought, even if the final text that made it through Congress confuses some.
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” I Annals of Congress 434 quotes James Madison, the man who wrote the Second Amendment. “A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.”
George Mason, another Founding Father and a man who heavily influenced Madison’s work, put it more simply at the Virginia Ratifying Convention: “I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”
“No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Constitution. “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” he wrote in a letter to John Adams’ son-in-law, William Stephens Smith, in 1787.
“The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature,” Jefferson wrote in Commonplace Book, quoting the criminologist Cesare Beccaria. “They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
If the people are to enjoy, uninfringed, the right to possess and use arms adequate to the task of defending themselves, their communities, and the free state, what sort of firearm can they be constitutionally forbidden? If it’s the people who enjoy such a right, what of those excluded by the legislation of the political elite? In the eyes of the law, are they even still people? Perhaps it was easier for many to accept a group of “prohibited persons” in this sub-human legal status when it was limited mostly to felons – but what of everyone else aged 18-20, who are seen as both human and adult enough to vote, join the military, wed, buy homes, etc.? Do these people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Forbidding them the means to successful self-defense is saying they do not.
That Newsom’s proposed amendment stands not one proverbial snowball’s chance may be evident to most, but the proposal itself still serves as a progressive call to arms. It’s the volume of voters who rally to his cause that’s truly terrifying.
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