The Second Amendment is Not about Hunting

First things first: the Second Amendment to the Constitution is simple and clear.  The version of it that was ratified by the states reads as follows:

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.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, President Obama and a host of senators and congressmen launched an all-out assault on so-called "assault weapons", high-capacity magazines, and gun ownership in general.  A few days ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed sweeping gun control legislation.  At the signing ceremony, he said,

"I am proud to be part of this government, not just because New York has the first bill, but because New York has the best bill.... I'm proud to be a New Yorker because New York is doing something - because we are fighting back."

Others had a different perspective.  According to the New York Times,

Gun-rights advocates denounced the measure. The New York State Rifle and Pistol Association said New York gun owners "should be ashamed and afraid of our state," and the National Rifle Association said, "These gun-control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime."

Ordinary people feel helpless and afraid when they see gruesome images of senseless mass shootings, and they wonder if they and members of their families will be next.  Their feelings are understandable, but as many of us have pointed out, guns are not the problem.  In every case where mass shootings have occurred, the person using the gun was the problem.  Despite Governor Cuomo's euphoria, banning guns of any type and/or restricting magazine capacity will do nothing to solve that problem.  In fact, a Harvard study indicates that restricting guns only makes the problem worse:

The study, which just appeared in Volume 30, Number 2 of the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (pp. 649-694), set out to answer the question in its title: "Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide? A Review of International and Some Domestic Evidence." Contrary to conventional wisdom, and the sniffs of our more sophisticated and generally anti-gun counterparts across the pond, the answer is "no." And not just no, as in there is no correlation between gun ownership and violent crime, but an emphatic no, showing a negative correlation: as gun ownership increases, murder and suicide decreases.

Even so, yesterday thousands of our fellow citizens marched in Washington to support gun control legislation for the nation as a whole.  They were not completely uninformed, but they were not well-informed, either.  If they understood the problem, they would realize that the best defense against armed attackers is armed citizens.  That's exactly what the evidence tells us, but pandering politicians being what they are can't resist the opportunity to capitalize on an opportunity, and the Sandy Hook massacre gave them one.  As Ben Shapiro said so eloquently, they and their enablers in the media, people like CNN's Piers Morgan, are "standing on the graves of children of Sandy Hook" to advance their political agendas.

Since ours is a constitutional form of government, as citizens we have a duty to delve deeply into the rationale of our Founding Fathers who risked their lives and property to win for us the freedoms that we enjoy, freedoms that are spelled out in our Constitution, before we enact legislation that restricts those freedoms in any way.  With that thought in mind, let's take a look at what some of them said about our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms:

George Washington: "Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence ... from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable ... the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference - they deserve a place of honor with all that's good."

Thomas Jefferson: "Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not."

George Mason, co-author of the Second Amendment : "I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them."

Our Founding Fathers' perspectives are just as important and relevant today as they were more than 200 years ago because the nature of man hasn't changed over time.  The world is still full of people who would enslave us and compel us to do their bidding if they could.  Our nation's capital is still loaded with elected officials who believe they know what's best for the rest of us, and they are willing to use whatever force is necessary to subjugate us and make us fall into line behind their way of thinking even if it violates our constitutional rights. 

As a current case in point, seemingly innocuous healthcare legislation that was proposed by the president, passed by Congress, and approved by the Supreme Court is running roughshod over our religious freedoms that are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.  Reasonable people can easily conclude that they would do much more to violate our rights if they could, that is if we would let them.  As unappealing as this possibility is, the day may come when we will need our weapons to fend off an overreaching and tyrannical government, as our Founding Fathers knew could happen.

Unfortunately, President Obama doesn't get it even though he is reputed to be a constitutional scholar.  Evidence of that fact can be found in an interview that he gave to The New Republic a few days ago.  The president said,

...I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.

Part of being able to move this forward is understanding the reality of guns in urban areas are very different from the realities of guns in rural areas. And if you grew up and your dad gave you a hunting rifle when you were ten, and you went out and spent the day with him and your uncles, and that became part of your family's traditions, you can see why you'd be pretty protective of that.

So it's trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months. And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.

The Second Amendment is not about hunting, and it's not about where we live.  It's about our right to defend ourselves if/when the need arises as our Founding Fathers made perfectly clear.


Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia.  His blog,, is posted daily.

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