“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.” – Second Amendment-U.S. Constitution.

This is the sum total wording of the Second Amendment. Why does it generate so much controversy?

We have a tendency to pick a particular phrase or concept from a written work and insist that it is the only way to interpret the entire work. In the case of the Second Amendment, there are two widely different readings. The first reading is to read the entire Amendment as one concept. That the right to keep and bear arms is tied together with the the creation of a group or militias. The second reading cherry picks just the last two clauses to imply an individual right, not a group right. Both are valid and widely held.

In 2008, the United States Supreme Court told the country which is the law of the land: The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Pp. 2-53. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v HELLER 554 U.S. 570 (2008).

Is this the final word and there is no further need to discuss the Second Amendment? No. I am going to do my own cherry picking. The following is a footnote in the majority opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia:

“”Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those ‘in common use at the time’ finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusuasl weapons. Pp. 54-56. (HELLER)

The Second Amendment is not an absolute nor unlimited right. There are already restrictions on the right to bear arms. Examples include the type of weapon is restricted; certain classes of people (such as convicted felons) are barred from owning guns; places (such as government buildings and courthouses) can restrict who carries guns within building walls.

The question of what can be done to stop or prevent gun violence needs to start with the HELLER decision, not end with it. Respectful discourse will lead to reducing gun violence.

NOTE: The above article is written by David B. Erickson, “a semi-retired lawyer who qualifies for senior discounts. He wants to establish dialogue, not diatribe, as the way to improve the future for his and all grandchildren by making the world they are inheriting a more understanding and tolerant place. His personal motto is, ‘To Listen…To Think…To Understand.’ Dave and his wife attend Auguatana Lutheran Church in West St. Paul, Minnesota.”