Right to bear arms must evolve with modern times

J. Andrew Hamlin /

Among the things Americans hold sacred are motherhood, apple pie, and the Second Amendment! Of course we hold dear the entire Bill of Rights, but the Second Amendment is garnering the current attention.

With regard to the Second Amendment, overlooked in the discussions is the fact that when it was ratified on December 15, 1791, firearms were single shot, muzzle or breech loaded guns, capable, depending on the dexterity of the shooter, of firing a single round every minute or so.

By contrast, some current weapons can fire up to 1,000 rounds per minute. The authors of the Bill of Rights could not have conceived of our modern weapons and doubtfully would have recommended them to every household.

The National Rifle Association and its supporters address the current debate by implying that the president’s recommendations will ultimately result in taking all of our precious firearms away from us. God forbid we should not be able to shoot something, or somebody. To listen to the spokespersons for the NRA, one would think there was no difference between military style weapons and ordinary hunting rifles. They, the NRA, fail to inform us why we should need to own assault rifles with quickly changeable magazines holding numerous cartridges capable of painting an area with a spray of bullets. Rather, they inflame the discussion by averring that any restriction is equivalent to total restriction.

NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre says the president wants to redefine the right of the people to bear arms. If that is the case, we should not be alarmed, for it is not without precedent. In other cases, for the greater good the courts have found it necessary to interpret and redefine the absolutely strict wording of the Bill of Rights so as to apply more appropriately to a changing society.

For instance, few would assert that the First Amendment’s seemingly absolute protection of free speech applies to child pornography, hate crimes or the clichéd example of falsely shouting “Fire!” in a crowded auditorium. Principles trump “absolutes.”

The concept of arms has certainly evolved since 1791. Arms, as understood by the founding fathers with regard to personal rights when they penned the Second Amendment, may not apply to today’s military-style weapons.

By accepting the support (campaign contributions) of the NRA, a powerful lobby indeed, many of our elected lawmakers in Washington, D.C., find themselves indebted to the extent that they are reluctant to oppose the wishes of the NRA, lest that organization abandon them in the next election cycle and actively work to unseat them. We now read that even the Senate Majority leader, Harry Reid, is worried that if Senate Democrats support the president in this debate they will likely jeopardize their seats in 2014. The situation is similar to the Republicans’ fear of Grover Norquist’s retribution should they reconsider the wisdom of their commitment to his Taxpayer Protection Pledge and vote for a needed tax increase.

In a multifaceted approach to a complex problem, the president has put forth reasonable proposals in an effort to put an end to senseless massacres at the hands of deranged individuals.

Regardless of the rhetoric of the NRA, the president did not call for a surrender of legally owned weapons, even legally owned assault rifles, but his proposal only says, “No more!”