On Sunday, a fire
swept through a Brazilian night club, killing over 200 people. The story was eerily reminiscent of a fire several years ago in Rhode Island
. In both cases, fireworks started the fires. In both cases, people got trampled trying to get out the front door. The club in Brazil only had one exit; the club in Rhode Island had several. That is likely because of workplace safety laws that have evolved since the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911
Republicans constantly put forth the notion that regulations "get in the way of business". Most regulations, however, are created as a result of a tragedy which could be prevented in the future. As a result, we have regulations requiring businesses to have multiple fire exits, to minimize the pollution they put into the environment, and to specify what they can, can't, and must say in labeling and commercials. That latter one of course is for the safety and well-being of the consumer.
Throughout the years, legislation via Congress or judicial decisions in the Supreme Court have defined the boundaries of our freedoms so that they protect society as a whole from the misuse and abuse of those freedoms. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Yet our freedom of speech is curtailed when the public safety is at stake (the "shouting fire in a crowded theater" example
). Our freedom of the press is curtailed by disallowing the printing of blatantly false statements about a person
. Laws requiring permits for demonstrations and anti-loitering laws would seem to abridge our right to peaceably assemble. Some Mormons might argue that laws against polygamy
violate their religious freedom (not to mention laws in city and suburban areas where a religion might include an animal sacrifice as part of their proceedings).
So it's well established that government can and does curtail our rights when the balance of exercising those rights versus the safety and/or general welfare of the public tips in the public's favor. Which leads us to - as you already expected - the Second Amendment. The second amendment reads (bold-face mine):
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.
That first part of the amendment (often skipped over by most gun enthusiasts) denotes the rationale for allowing the people to keep and bear arms. The rationale is that since there was no standing army, the militias would serve the duty of protecting the free state (country). This notion was reinforced by the Militia Act of 1792
, and the Militia Act of 1903
, which codified that the National Guard were the militia. Therefore, if you are not a member of the National Guard, the 2nd Amendment does not apply to you.
The likelihood of a complete ban on weapons ownership for non-militia members is nil. However, restrictions on the type of weapons a civilian may own, and the rules by which they must comply to purchase and own them are likely and have precedent. It is already illegal to own fully automatic weapons and other military armaments (bombs, grenades, rocket launchers). It's a small step to ban weapons which can be converted to automatic, to ban large capacity clips and the guns which can accommodate them, and to institute strict regulations on the trafficking of firearms.
Before the Amendments, before the sections denoting the rights, responsibilities, and operations of our 3 branches of government, there is the preamble. This mission statement for our country denotes that the Constitution was meant to "insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare". The government and the courts have acted before to ensure those ideals were maintained for the public, perhaps to the detriment of a few. It's time for them to do it again.