The Ultimate Slam Dunk Argument Against the Individual Right Interpretation of the Second Amendment.

One thing that Heller and McDonald demonstrated was that it didn’t really care about the Second Amendment within the Constitutional Context. That means that those two cases are an absurdity in “Second Amendment Jurisprudence”. The absurdity starts with its minimalisation of what Heller described as the “preferatory clause”. The reason for the nonsensical nature of the “individual right” interpretation is that it takes the Second Amendment out of legislative and historic context.

But one need not go beyond the four corners of the document to show this is an absurd interpretation of the Second Amendment since it is presumed that a legal document will be interpreted so as to be internally consistent. A particular section of the document shall not be divorced from the rest of the act. Thus, if the Constitution mentions certain goals or subjects in the preamble, it must be considered within the terms of those goals and subjects.

There are two versions of the Amendment and I will use this one for the purposes of the argument I will be making for the purpose of clarity:

“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 means the phrase “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state” was pretty much ignored or discounted in Scalia’s analysis. This is despite the rule of constitutional interpretation that “It cannot be presumed that any clause in the Constitution is intended to be without effect.” The individual right interpretation means that not only is the “preferatory clause” mere surplusage, entirely without meaning, but so is the rest of the text

Of course, the “Individual right” theory also neglects the preamble, which most people seem to stop reading after the first three words:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

I would assert that both the preamble of the Constitution and the “preferatory clause” are important to the analysis of the Second Amendment within the proper constitutional context. That is because the document needs to be read as a whole. Doing that it becomes clear that one of the purposes of the US Constitution is to address matters of “the common defence”.

From Plato’s Laws through common law and until modern legal systems, preambles to constitutions have played an important role in law and policy making. The preamble to the United States Constitution has become a legend. The phrase “We the people of the United States” and the remaining forty-five words of the preamble are the most well-known part of the Constitution, and the section that has had the greatest effect on the constitutions of other countries. And yet, the preamble remains a neglected subject in the study of American constitutional theory and receives scant attention in the literature. This is a shame since a preamble is the part of the constitution that best reflects the constitutional intentions of its drafters.

The interpretive role of preambles is rooted in the common law tradition. Edward Coke asserted that preambles to an act of parliament are a “good mean to find out the meaning of the statute” and “the key to open understanding thereof”, they are “the key to the statute and the key to the makers.” William Blackstone referred to preambles as intended “to help the construction of an act of parliament.” Blackstone noted that whenever the statute is dubious, “the proem, or preamble, is often called in to help the construction of an act of parliament.” However, in a case of conflict between the preamble and the body of the act, the body of the act prevails. This is still considered good law in common law states. Some have a specific clause indicating the significant role of preambles in statutory interpretation.

The preamble may not be legally binding, but it is key to understanding the rest of the document and should be given weight in any constitutional analysis. Any interpretation that runs contrary to these principles is questionable. Anything which assumes something which is not covered by the main text must be suspect, which the individual rights interpretation does in spades.

This takes us to two concepts of statutory interpretation: (1) only items which are specifically mentioned are addressed within a law. (2) items which are not specifically mentioned are not covered by the statute.

Which takes us to Article I, Section 8, Clause 16, which gives Congress the power:

“To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;”

Note that Congress is given the power to ARM the militia. Only Congress has this power under the Constitution. This is where the individual rights theory provides the usual misquotations removed from their context, which in the case of the Patrick Henry “Let everyman be armed quote” is tragic since it is clear that Henry was concerned with the above section of the Constitution, not a personal right to arms, when one reads it in context.

I really don’t want to get too much into how this one sentence has been mangled and removed from constitutional context in the attempt to create a right which does not exist. The grammar is handled in this article: Dennis Baron, Guns and Grammar: The Linguistics of the Second Amendment. I will say that Prof. Baron would give the “preferatory” clause far more weight than it was given in the Heller decision:

Reading the Second Amendment as a statement in which every word counts follows from the opinion articulated by Chief Justice John Marshall: “It cannot be presumed that any clause in the constitution is intended to be without effect” (Marbury v. Madison, 1803). But even without that landmark ruling, it would have been clear to 18th-century readers that the first part of the Second Amendment was bound to the second part in a cause-and-effect relationship, that the right to bear arms was tied by the framers directly to the need for a well-regulated militia.

If you wish to go outside the Constitution, there are many more problems with the Individual right interpretation. In fact, both the Heller and McDonald decisions were exercises in sophistry which removed the interpretation from an “originalist” and “constitutionalist” context and placed them into pure fantasy. If anything, the Heller and McDonald decisions are unconstitutional exercises of power by judicial amendment of the constitution. McDonald even more so since it somehow neglected Article I, Section 8, Clause 16 and created a right which was present in state laws in contrast to its non-existence in the US Constitution.

I am truly disappointed by the praise of the emperor’s new clothes in McDonald v Chicago by the justices willingness to separate the Second Amendment from Constitutional context by even countenancing that it had nothing to do with Article I, Section 8, Clause 16. How does Congress’ power “incorporate” to the States without an amendment to the Constitution? McDonald can only be described as silly buggers and not really precedent.

State v. Buzzard, 4 Ark. (2 Pike) 18 (1842), puts the absurdity of the individual right assertion:

However captivating such arguments may appear upon a merely casual or superficial view of the subject, they are believed to be specious, and to rest upon premises at variance with all the fundamental principles upon which the government is based; and that, upon a more mature and careful investigation, as to the object for which the right was retained their fallacy becomes evident. The dangers to be apprehended from the existence and exercise of such right, not only to social order, domestic tranquillity and the upright and independent administration of the government, but also to the established institutions of the country, appears so obvious as to induce the belief that they are present to every intelligent mind, and to render their statement here unnecessary.

The revisionist theory that the Second Amendment somehow applies to a context outside the common defence is beautifully destroyed since it does not withstand scrutiny within the four corners of the US Constitution.

It is even more devastated if we are going to go outside the document since we need to have the “scholars” explain how:

  1.  The concept of self-defence did not allow for the use of deadly force as a first option when the Constitution was written.  Deadly force at that time was a LAST option. There was a duty to retreat. Deadly force could only be used if there was no lesser alternative and all other options had been exhausted.  You had to have your back to the wall to be able to kill someone.
    –carrying a weapon would create a presumption that you intended to do harm.
  2.  Where are the other versions of “gun rights” in Common Law nations?
  3. The issue of civilian control of the military, which fear of standing armies is a common thread in English political thought.  It was mentioned in the debates in relation to this Amendment, whereas personal defence was next to nonexistent.
  4. regulation of private arms has always been a part of the common law.
  5. When primary source material is read in its complete form, it highlights the above issues and the lack of concern with a right to own a weapon outside the context of the common defence.
  6. Why the US Constitution would concern itself with matters of “personal defence”, especially in light of point (1) above?
  7. Why state constitutional provisions explicitly mention this right, but it is not mentioned in the US Constitution.

There are far too many flaws in the Individual Right interpretation of the Second Amendment when one looks at it critically. There are even more flaws in the “precedent” set by Heller-McDonald despite its “friendliness” to firearms regulation. These are dangerous decisions to be left in the common law cannon.

It is a shame that Heller and McDonald have been allowed to create mischief in the US legal system.

I will not even bother readdressing the absurdity of the associated insurrection theory of the Second Amendment since it is so far from the Constitutional contexts as to be laughable. The fact that so many people are willing to accept it in their ignorance is astounding.

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