I don’t feel too strongly in either direction when it comes to the Second Amendment/gun control debate. That’s why this piece in Vanity Fair by Kurt Eichenwald appealed to me so much: it’s logical and reasonable. It’s a little lengthy, so I picked out the bits that I found most interesting.
His textual/historical analysis is interesting in that in follows the belief that many pro-gun rights supporters hold – that it intended to keep American citizens armed against the federal government via the states:
Then, “free State.” Some gunnies seem to translate these words to mean “a free country,” as if it were a generic term. They’re wrong. The word “State”—capital S—appears throughout the Constitution, and it always refers to the individual states that make up the United States. At the time of the writing of the Constitution, each state had its own militia of citizens, and the fear was that a federal army would disarm them. In essence, since the states didn’t trust the federal government not to abuse its power, the Bill of Rights guaranteed that these militias would maintain the weaponry needed to defend themselves against encroachment by a federal army.
He follows this with a look at how the NRA has fought to let those with mental illness buy firearms:
So the N.R.A. started poking holes in the bill. First, the group succeeded in limiting the definition of those with mental illness to only people who had been tossed in a mental institution or found by a court or other official body to be a danger to themselves or others. Even if a psychiatrist reasonably believed a patient could pose a threat, nothing could be done to keep a gun out of that person’s hand. A medical diagnosis isn’t enough.
Once the definition was weakened, the N.R.A. went after the restrictions barring the mentally ill from possessing guns. In the past, anyone banned from having a gun would always be banned, a concept that makes sense given the frequency of relapse among the mentally ill. With the N.I.C.S. amendments, thanks to the N.R.A., that was no longer true.
The key to that was a program jammed into the legislation called “Relief from Disabilities,” which allows even people who have been institutionalized or deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to buy guns again. The way it works is this: sometime after meeting the law’s standards of being too mentally ill to own a gun, a person could petition a court, claiming to be all better. If the court agrees, well, lock and load.
After the N.R.A. wedged that rule into the books, the group then went to its ground game, making sure that the states that had to enforce this law didn’t bring too many mental-health experts or too much proof into the mix.
Take Idaho. After the new law was signed, a group of law-enforcement and mental-health officials—you know, experts—proposed that the courts should be required to have “clear and convincing” evidence before ruling that a person diagnosed with a psychiatric illness was allowed to buy guns again. On top of that, the group wanted what would seem to have been a requirement of the law—a recent mental-health evaluation of the petitioner. But the N.R.A. made sure that proposal died.
Finally, an alternative to the Second Amendment that could satisfy both sides of the debate if they sit down for a rational discussion:
The people retain the right to keep and bear arms, subject to reasonable restrictions deemed necessary by the Congress and the President to secure the lives and well being of others.