The Second Amendment and “insurrection”

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At the Jan. 30 Congressional hearing on legislation to curb gun violence NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre repeated the mantra of the right wing extremist movement: 

"I think without any doubt, if you look at why our Founding Fathers put (the Second Amendment) there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny."

This is a complete fairy tale but unfortunately, as a result of a 36-year campaign by the National Rifle Association, it is widely accepted including among some progressive people.  Just the previous week former Congressman Dennis Kucinich, now a commentator on Fox News, shocked and delighted Sean Hannity when he stated, "the people are weaponizing themselves historically because - you go back to the beginning of the Constitution - it was to protect themselves against a tyrannical government.  So now, with the government getting ever more powerful, people weaponize themselves.

It is disheartening to say the least that such a progressive and intelligent person as Kucinich has fallen for the fraudulent position of the ultra-right.

The theory that the Second Amendment was enacted to protect individual gun ownership and the right to resist or overthrow the government is known in legal circles as the "insurrectionist" interpretation.  It was never taken seriously by any court or legal scholars until the NRA was taken over by extremists in 1977 and began a campaign at the behest of gun manufacturers to repeal all gun control legislation. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Pres. Richard Nixon, denounced this effort in no uncertain terms.  The Second Amendment, he said in 1991, "has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud - I repeat the word 'fraud' - on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

A thorough and highly informative rebuttal of this "insurrectionist" interpretation can be found in an article, "The Hidden History of the Second Amendment," by law professor Carl T. Bogus that appeared in the University of California Davis Law Review in 1998.  Here is the link.

Bogus showed that James Madison, author of the Second Amendment, was motivated by the concern of slave owners, like himself, that the Constitution could empower the federal government to disarm state militia in the South that were essential for preventing and suppressing slave revolts.  The amendment was a concession to the powerful opponents of the Constitution like Patrick Henry, who feared the new document would permit Congress by these means to subvert and abolish slavery.

It was adopted to reassure Southern states that the federal government could not interfere with their ability to muster and maintain an armed force to secure slavery. 

The Amendment reads: "A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

There was no public clamoring for the right of individuals to own guns for self defense and there certainly was no support among the Framers - slave owners in the South, bankers, large land owners and merchants in the North - for authorizing armed resistance to actions of the federal government.  In fact, the Founding Fathers were virtually unanimous in supporting the violent suppression of Shay's Rebellion in 1787, a revolt by disenfranchised small farmers, shopkeepers and hired workers in Western Massachusetts, being driven into foreclosure and debtor's prison by Boston banks.

Madison called the revolt "treason" and urged Congress to send troops to help the State militia.  John Hancock, elected governor to deal with the rebellion, mobilized troops with instructions to "kill, slay and destroy, if necessary, and conquer by all fitting ways, enterprises and means whatsoever, all and every one of the rebels."

The suppression of the rebellion was heartily endorsed by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams and John Marshall.  Only Thomas Jefferson, then living in Paris as U.S. Ambassador to France, temporarily floated the idea of the right of revolution before realizing that he was alone in his views.

Later in 1794, a similar revolt by small farmers in Western Pennsylvania, known as the Whiskey Rebellion, was suppressed by Pres. George Washington, who under the provisions of the new constitution, led 13,000 troops mobilized from four state militia to disperse the rebels.

The Founding Fathers limited the franchise to white males with property over the age of 40 - approximately 15% of the population.  If they were unwilling to arm ordinary people with votes to change the government, they certainly were not for arming them with guns.

Thus, the "insurrectionist" twisting of the Second Amendment has no basis in history.  It is a fantasy promoted by reckless profiteers and delusional right-wing extremists. 

It should be noted that while the proliferation of guns has reached record levels of over 300 million, the number of households possessing them has sharply declined from 54% in 1977 to 32% in 2010 according the Univ. of Chicago General Social Survey.  Fewer people are amassing more guns and the study found that these new gun buyers are primarily Republicans. In fact, 50% of adult Republicans now own guns, but only 22% of adult Democrats. 

The fight to end gun violence is not only a matter of public safety. It is an essential part of the fight to secure democracy from right wing extremism.

Photo: March on Washington for Gun Control. Elvert Barnes // CC 2.0

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  • Of course. Kucinich dares to have a different opinion on gun rights and his fellow progressives throw him under the bus. How dare he think for himself instead of bleat with the other sheep in the herd.

    Quote: "Thus, the 'insurrectionist' twisting of the Second Amendment has no basis in history. It is a fantasy promoted by reckless profiteers and delusional right-wing extremists."

    It doesn't matter what your opinion is, the fact is there is turmoil in this country. The Democrats and Republicans no longer represent the people, but corporations and special interests. Yes, I am aware the NRA is a special-interest group, no need to point that out. That is beside the point anyway. The fact of the matter is this is the most well-armed nation in the world, and the vast majority of American people will not stand for tyranny. I think the people in charge in both parties are nervous, because you are starting to see people on all sides of the political spectrum come together. I want to see our government transformed at the ballot box and certainly do not advocate violent insurrection, but there is something we need to consider. If the two major parties continue to interfere with the efforts of the Libertarian, Green, and other parties to challenge their failed policies, we may have a second civil war on the horizon. Hopefully this will be settled peacefully and I look forward to the day when we cast meaningful votes for candidates who do not have a (D) or (R) next to their name on the ballot. That will be true democracy.

    Posted by Dave, 08/23/2013 2:37am (2 years ago)

  • I stand strongly in support of the NRA. That is the NRA, as founded by Union soldiers after the Civil War & that stood up for the American people, their safety. That organization was a mainstream group pushing for sensible regulations to control guns in our nation for over 100 years, until ultra right-wing, racist, survivalist, nut cases took over that once-proud organzation in 1977.

    The NRA worked with the FDR administration to write the 2 of the most important gun control bills in the '30's, supported the Mumford Act in California (outlawing public carry) & helped author legislation to support background checks which were adopted by 18 states. NRA officials worked with and testified before congress in support of these sensible legal steps designed to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. No where along the line was there any "confiscation of guns," "outlawing of guns," etc.

    The American people grew to respect the NRA for its sensible, mainstream work with young people, for gun safety and sport shooting. That respect has been completely destroyed now by LaPierre & the extremist imbecles now running that once fine organization. It is now viewed (correctly) as a group that is allied with the most outrageous, most extreme, most racist, unreasonable, survivalist nut cases in our nation.

    Today's NRA no longer speaks for gun owners. It has become the irresponsible mouthpiece of the gun manufacturers, pushing for more & more, unlimited guns everywhere, (&, of course, unlimited profits for gun manufacturers)! At a time when gun violence has reached epidemic levels, becoming a main cause of death for young inter-city youth, is far beyond irresponsible.

    As one who hunted regularly as a young person, I say that it is time for responsible gun owners to stand up for themselves, their famileis and the American people, and take that once decent organization back from the extremists that have taken it over!

    Posted by bruce bostick, 02/12/2013 11:02am (3 years ago)

  • I have never felt Kucinich to be intelligent. I heard him speak in Marin County, CA some years ago when he was the liberal darling. His stumbling and misstatements during a question and answer period dubbed him as a mediocre intellect at best.
    I was not surprised that he took a job at Faux News. His reputation among liberals was as tattered by exposure as the ex-part-time Alaskan Governors reputation has been.
    Both were over-rated and eventually unmasked.

    Posted by Keith Mathews, 02/12/2013 7:51am (3 years ago)

  • never thought of myself as extremist, but it is well known that the government has militarized the police departments around the country to make sure 'armed insurrection' by the citizens will not succeed. Rural police departments now have armoured personnel carriers and large caliber weapons. As the government, through the use of the courts, continues to steal our property under the guise of fraudulent foreclosures to enrich their bank oligarchy friends and protect their own pension funds dependent on mortgage=backed securities, the people are indeed reaching the breaking point.

    Posted by Roger Rinaldi, 02/10/2013 12:37pm (3 years ago)

  • I tend to lean more in the direction of not creating additional legislation to control gun ownership.

    I'd like to better understand the gun control supporters position as to how restricting ownership will keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill?

    I know this is the very core of the debate but any facts, examples and real life stories of cities or countries of successfully restricted gun ownership and subsequently crime and horific mass murders would be greatly appreciated.


    Posted by cliff, 02/08/2013 2:54pm (3 years ago)

  • I have never understood why the first part of the amendment is ignored. Even the courts have never interpreted the first clause properly.

    In the early years of the Republic, there was no standing army. The way to raise an army was to call up the state militias. The members of the militia had to own their own arms.

    I know that this interpretation is neither popular nor what the courts have said, but nevertheless, I think it is a correct reading.

    Posted by Ronald Humphrey, 02/08/2013 12:29pm (3 years ago)

  • I stand corrected on the precise wording of the Second Amendment. It makes no difference to the points made in the article. Like the Third Amendment banning quartering of soldiers in houses without the owner's permission, the Second Amendment is an anachronism. Its purpose ended with the abolition of slavery. The current effort of the NRA to twist the intent of the Second Amendment is nothing but an attempt to promote irresponsible, unrestricted sales for gun profiteers and to pander to delusional extremists hostile to American democracy.

    Posted by Rick Nagin, 02/08/2013 11:25am (3 years ago)

  • The Founders must be rolling over in their graves beause especially since the late 19th Century the Federal government continually eroded "a well regulated" citizen militia and replaced it with a professional standing army. This culiminated in their elimination by the National Guard, hardly what was originally envisioned.
    Marx and Engels, plus the 1st and 2nd Internationals must also be rolling in their graves when they confront articles like this. They advocated citizen armies where everyone is trained and serves part-time, such as in modern day Switzerland, not professional, standing ones. Lenin said the working class must disarm the bourgeoisie as a prerequisite for peace to occur. The thrust of this article goes in the opposite direction. Lenin must also be rolling in his grave.
    The task of Marxists in the armed forces should be to help organize a GI resistance movement within the military against their fighting in imperialist wars like the U.S. is now pursuing. We cannot fight the military, but we can win them over.
    Meanwhile, an armed working class is necessary in the event of armed attacks by white supremists, anti-abortion physician killers and rightwing thugs who are delighted the left would be unarmed.
    There are reasonable gun control measures short of disarming the working class of its semi-automatic hand guns and rifles.
    How about some Marxist analysis about the violence of the oppressor and the self-defense of the oppressed and how that can be accomplished in present and future situations?

    Posted by Al Sargis, 02/07/2013 8:19pm (3 years ago)

  • Quoting the 2nd Amendment: "A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

    Or, if we have to get anal retentive about it: "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."

    I suppose there's a comma controversy in interpreting what sounds like two sides of the same "coin."

    Regardless, we have one sentence, two (or three) parts. The first (and/or second) part providing a pretext. The second (and/or third) part providing a solution.

    I'll reverse the wording: The right to bear arms, being necessary for a well-regulated militia for the security of a free state, shall not be infringed.

    What it is there to misinterpret here? It sounds pretty, damn obvious. I'll use simple arithmatic if there are those still in denial and/or intellectually-challenged: We have a well-regulated militia + the right to bear arms = security of a free state.

    It doesn't promote or prioritize an over-glorified gun culture in the guise of "protecting our freedoms." It would be impossible to take guns away from people in some sort of gun purge. Hunting rifles will still exist. But I'm also sure the denial, and misinterpretation, will still exist. Thus, the 2nd Amendment being an intellectual challenge to some.

    Posted by revolution123, 02/07/2013 5:24pm (3 years ago)

  • Nice try, buddy. Good boiler plate rhetoric though.

    Posted by Garrett , 02/07/2013 3:54pm (3 years ago)

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