I appreciated Maarten Bosland’s May 18 One View regarding the history of the Second Amendment. He refers to Carol Anderson’s account of that history in her book, The Second. The thesis is that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to permit the Southern states to maintain militias to put down slave rebellions, and not to protect the individual right of self-defense.

That very well may be true, though I expect there are other historical accounts, such as that the purpose of the Second Amendment was to protect state sovereignty against an overreaching federal government. But I have two observations:

First, I suggest that reliance on “original intent” to interpret the Constitution, which is what Ms. Anderson and Mr. Bosland are doing, is hazardous and likely not legitimate.  Original intent is difficult to discern and likely was not monolithic. Moreover, the originalist mode of interpretation permits the group of men who formed the Constitution 250 years ago to dictate to us the meaning of the grand constitutional phrases such as the “free exercise” of religion, “freedom of speech,” “right to be secure in [one’s] person,” or “cruel and unusual punishments.”

Second, the argument set forth by Ms. Anderson and Mr. Bosland is not necessary to conclude that the Second Amendment allows for reasonable regulation of firearms or other weapons. Even if the Second Amendment does protect the right to bear arms for the purpose of individual self-defense, that right is not absolute, any more than the rights protected by the First Amendment are absolute. Freedom of speech does not entail the right to commit fraud, to slander, to falsely advertise, to commit perjury or to disturb the peace. Freedom of religion does not entail the right to engage in human sacrifices, to endanger the well-being of one’s children, to disturb the peace, or necessarily to evade generally applicable laws that are not aimed at religious practice or belief. The interpretation/application of constitutional rights is always a balancing of the protected right against legitimate societal interests.

Likewise, any individual right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment, if any, must be balanced against legitimate societal interests. As has been suggested by a former Supreme Court Justice, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Daniel Hurtado
Oak Park

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