Original Intent

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My Facebook friends will not be surprised that I have been reading The Federalist Papers. I’ve been posting favorite quotes, mostly from Alexander Hamilton, who wrote so many quotable passages. I had never read them before, and I find the experience quite surprising and interesting.

One surprise was to learn that Hamilton opposed keeping a standing army, what today we would call a professional military. He considered it a danger to individual freedom for the government to have professional soldiers at its command. He reasoned that since soldiers are everywhere admired and respected, they would gain increasing influence in politics and eventually carry out a coup, overthrowing the duly elected government. Indeed, we have seen this scenario play out in fledgling democracies across the world. As long as the citizens of a country were armed, there was therefore no need to keep a professional military.

Of course, in Hamilton’s day citizens had access to the same arms as professional soldiers. Despite having guns, many armies still fought at close quarters with swords. Guns had to be reloaded through the muzzle after every shot. Volunteer artillery groups acquired their own cannons. Can you imagine a volunteer group of citizens today purchasing a long-range bomber or a nuclear submarine?

The nature of warfare has changed so much that it is no longer reasonable to expect that a well-armed citizenry could act as a sufficient deterrent against invasion from without or a military coup from within. Modern armies have access to weapons with far greater destructive capability than those available to citizens. The causes which impelled the constitutional framers to insist on limiting the government’s authority to control private ownership of arms no longer exist.

Since the Second Amendment can no longer serve its original intent, it should be repealed by amending the Constitution. However, it would be political suicide for any politician to take up such a position, even if the aim was to place gun ownership on a more sane Constitutional footing.

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