A thoroughgoing survey of that most troublesome of constitutional matters.
Recent court decisions, from the lower municipal to the highest in the land, have held the Second Amendment right of gun ownership to be sacrosanct, never mind that pesky “well-regulated militia” bit. The National Rifle Association, for its part, has argued that the Second Amendment is the most important in the Bill of Rights, protecting all others. But, writes Lichtman (History/American Univ.; The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present, 2018, etc.), Founding Father James Madison didn’t see it that way: He held instead that “the ‘essential rights’ are trial by jury and freedom of conscience, speech, and the press.” Past interpretation of the amendment did in fact connect it to the militia, subsequently replaced by the National Guard and therefore, in theory, rendered moot. Instead, as Lichtman enumerates in just one statistic, nearly 24,000 Americans die of gun suicide, something that rarely happens in other developed nations with strict firearms codes. As he notes, our constitutional right to keep arms is shared only with Guatemala, “whose gun murder rate is the third highest of some 195 countries worldwide”). The NRA was once a responsible hunters’ organization. Since the 1960s, not coincidentally the civil rights era, it has become a lobbying firm that protects arms manufacturers’ interests by battling any efforts at gun control—and not just here, but also in places such as Canada and Brazil, the latter of which “has by far the most firearms homicides and deaths of any country in the world.” As for Americans, we are far more likely to be murdered by gun than a resident of any of the G7 nations—more than 20 times per capita, in fact, adding Australia to those nations. What can be done? Short of repeal outright, Lichtman sensibly suggests strengthening background checks, limiting gun sales, and holding gun manufacturers legally accountable for the nefarious uses of their products.
Useful ammunition for an argument on gun rights at the bar or dinner table.