By Dan Davidson
Davidson is a retired professor of business law. He retired from the Davis College of Business and Economics at Radford University after 45 years in the classroom, the last 33 at Radford.
We recently had two more mass shooting, taking another 31 lives and injuring more than two dozen other innocent people who were just living their lives. According to the Washington Post’s data, such events are becoming more common and occurring more often. Since June 17, 2015 and the shooting in the Charleston., S.C. church, there has been an average of 47 days between mass shooting. And Congress does nothing except issue sound bites. State legislatures, possibly emulating our national leaders, have been similarly inactive.
I taught law at the college level for the past 45 years. One of my favorite topics for teaching and for discussion was the U.S. Constitution. I consider this one of the great written works in history. And I have heard, too many times to count, that we cannot restrict guns due to the protection of the Second Amendment. I have heard that the Constitution gives us the “right to keep and bear arms,” so nothing can be done. How many of those people have read the Second Amendment? I suspect too few of them. Using my hundreds, if not thousands, of students as examples, I assure you this is not hyperbole. Contrary to popular belief, the Second Amendment is more than the fourteen words regularly cited (the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed). It contains three clauses. I quote it here: “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.”
There was no standing army when the Constitution was ratified, so a well-regulated militia was a necessity. Today we have a standing army. And navy. And Marine Corps. And an air force. Each of these is well-regulated. We don’t need the guy next door in a militia today.
Another key point: No right in the Constitution is absolute. Each right is relative, and the ability to enact regulations and statutes to limit those rights exist with the legislature. And the courts exist, in part, to prevent overreaching by the executive and/or legislative branches. The right to free speech is limited by libel and slander laws and the laws prohibiting hate speech. You can be sued for what your write, if it harms another and is untrue. Free exercise of religion ends if that exercise includes human sacrifice. The right to peaceably assemble is frequently limited by the need of the group to obtain a permit prior to its assembly.
I was raised by a gun owner and proud veteran (US Navy, Underwater Demolitions, WW II). I am not anti-gun. I do not advocate banning guns, but I do advocate banning some types of guns. And some ammunition magazines. And bump stocks. And the right of some people to own guns, subject to due process protections and the showing of a compelling state interest.
It is past time for our legislators at the state and national levels to rediscover their backbones, to represent “We, the People” rather than special interests or toeing the party line. We must demand that they enact reasonable regulations on gun ownership, including prohibiting individuals from owning certain types of guns, such as assault rifles (any hunter who needs an assault rifle to bring down a deer should consider visiting the meat department in his or her local grocery) and oversized ammunition magazines. We, the People, deserve it. We need congressional action. Instead. What we have are the empty words and sound bites of our legislators. Their conduct to date can best be described by a writer much greater than I: the conduct of these legislators amounts too often to be “[A] tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”