- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2000

History supports Bush's Second Amendment stance

Thank you for your Nov. 2 editorial "Issues: the Second Amendment." In particular, I am pleased that you included federal District Judge Sam Cummings' observation that historical examination of the Second Amendment as well as examination of its text "bears proof that the right to bear arms has consistently been, and should still be, construed as an individual right."

The consistent wording of the Constitution usually is sidestepped by the anti-Second Amendment troops. They claim that as used in the Second Amendment, the phrase "the right of the people" means the right belongs the collective citizenry, not the individual. Thus, they reason, the collective militia has the right to bear arms, not the individual.

However, they never compare "the right of the people" as used in the Second Amendment to its use in the First Amendment in support of freedom of the press and speech. Does the freedom of speech apply only to a collective group say, only to the press and not the individual? Certainly, they would agree it does not.

If "the people" means individuals in the First Amendment, why would the same phrase refer only to groups in the Second Amendment? Isn't it reasonable to assume the Constitution is consistent in its use of terms?

MATT GUZZETTA

Spring Valley, Calif.

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I appreciate your Nov. 2 editorial "Issues: the Second Amendment."

The letter of U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman referenced in the editorial contains several citations from U.S. District and Circuit court decisions as well as pronouncements from various federal officials who served in previous administrations, all supporting the current administration's position on the Second Amendment that it does not recognize a right of individuals to own firearms.

The Waxman letter, not surprisingly, fails to mention U.S. Supreme Court decisions that provide insight into the court's thinking about private gun ownership. In some, gun ownership was not the primary issue before the court. These U.S. Supreme Court decisions include:

• An 1876 decision (United States vs. Cruikshank) in which the court recognized the right to bear arms as a natural right, not a right "granted by the Constitution. Neither [is it] in any manner dependent on that instrument for [its] existence."

• An 1886 decision (Presser vs. Illinois) in which the court stated that "the states cannot, even laying the constitution provision in question (the Second Amendment) out of view, prohibit the people from keeping and bearing arms."

• A 1990 decision (United States vs. Verdugo-Urquidez) in which the court held that the phrase "the right of the people" in the Fourth Amendment (and the phrases "by the people" and "to the people" in the Ninth and 10th amendments, respectively) refers to individual rights, and use of the same phrase in the Second Amendment means that it also relates to an individual right.

• A 1992 decision (Planned Parenthood vs. Casey) in which the court cited the Second Amendment as an example of an individual right.

Although dealing only peripherally with the subject, these decisions definitively support the proposition that ownership of firearms is a right of individuals.

Unaware of these decisions or ignoring them, people who favor more restrictions on private ownership of firearms often cite the United States vs. Miller decision of 1939 (also cited in Mr. Waxman's letter) as the ultimate support for their claim that Americans have no right as individuals to bear arms outside of the militia context. However, two aspects of Miller make its import much less clear-cut than anti-gun people would have us believe.

One is the line of reasoning used by the court to reach its major conclusion: Mr. Miller had no right under the Second Amendment to have a shotgun with shortened barrels because such a firearm (in the court's opinion) would be of no practical value to members of a militia. Thus, in Miller, the court established military usefulness of a firearm as the criterion for determining whether an individual's possession of it is safeguarded by the Second Amendment.

That line of reasoning presumably would have led the court to a much different conclusion about the applicability of Second Amendment protection to Mr. Miller if his firearm had been a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, a .30-caliber semiautomatic rifle or a .50-caliber machine gun, because such firearms were used widely by military units in 1939 and unquestionably would have been useful to a militia.

The court's rationale in Miller makes it irrational for anti-gun people to tout Miller and with the next breath demand a federal ban or restriction on private ownership of firearms precisely because they are useful primarily in a military context. Anti-gun people are quick to demonize private ownership of some firearms that have little or no value for target shooting, hunting or personal protection, but in light of the Miller decision, whether firearms are useful for those purposes is irrelevant when the Second Amendment right is at issue.

The other aspect of Miller that reduces the ruling's value for anti-gun rhetoric is the court's finding that the Second Amendment's "militia" is composed of "all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense" using "arms supplied by themselves." Those quoted phrases from the court's opinion were crafted to reveal the court's understanding of the Founding Fathers' intentions. It's obvious from those words that authors of the Constitution intended for able-bodied males to have personal firearms regardless of whether it ever became necessary to use them while serving as members of a militia.

Clearly, historical precedent favors the opinion of your editorial staff and the stance of Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

PHIL EDMUNDS

Boalsburg, Pa.

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Thank you for your Nov. 2 editorial "Issues: the Second Amendment" concerning the Clinton Justice Department's assertion that the Second Amendment does not grant individuals the right to own firearms.

Even if the administration is correct that the Second Amendment does not apply to individuals, the 10th Amendment, the so-called "forgotten amendment," still is in effect.

The 10th Amendment states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Thus, even if the anti-gun lobby's spin that the Second Amendment refers only to a well-regulated militia were true, state and local governments could grant individuals the right to own firearms.

This relatively simple matter is being blown out of perspective. Meanwhile, a lot of lawyers, lobbyists and others are making a nice living, mostly at the expense of taxpayers.

DAVID KVERAGAS

Newton, Pa.

Multiple choice reveals Orwellian political culture

Linguist Jacques Barzun wrote that sound communication (in contradistinction to propaganda) seeks directness, clarity and economy.

Which of following phrases best achieves these objectives:

(A) A woman's right to choose.

(B) A woman's right to choose an abortion.

(C) A woman's right to an abortion.

If the correct answer is C, how else can one classify A except as a euphemism whose fundamental purpose is to avoid a cogent and accurate expression of the core idea?

And, by extension, isn't it fascinating that a mantra that so blatantly obstructs recognition of its meaning has become a verbal sledgehammer; a sledgehammer so effective that there are seemingly no weapons to be used against it in the current public arena.

George Orwell noted that propaganda is effective because it so commodiously allows individuals to hide from their conscience and avoid the decidedly vulnerable responsibility of thinking for oneself.

Sadly, Orwell's assessment of the mind of the masses has gradually but surely become the predominant feature of our political culture.

JOHN BYRD

Reston

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