Truth is the Only Currency

Does the Second Amendment protect guns over people?

I have written a number of articles about the arms industry’s distortion of the Second Amendment as it traffics in ever more lethal weaponry to increase its revenue, selling military grade firearms to the public at large (“The Arms Industry,” EW 2/18). Inevitably, such weapons are used by too many of their purchasers to massacre children in their schools, shoppers in the marketplace, patrons at cinemas or nightclubs, attendees at concerts, worshippers at churches, mosques and synagogues, and anywhere else where people exercise their right to assemble.

The slaughtering of these innocents occurs regularly and the nation often emerges from mourning over the victims of one mass shooting when it is soon weeping over another — recently Atlanta (eight fatalities) and Boulder (10 fatalities) — representing a tragically growing list of mass murders by gunmen wielding semi-automatic assault weapons.

Each killing spree is followed by virtually the same script — politicians offer prayers and thoughts but immediately disappear when pressed for legislative action to regulate continued sales of the weaponry. Gun rights advocates even belittle the victims, some calling the Sandy Hook massacre a hoax (just imagine if you are a grief-stricken parent of a slain child and being told it never happened), and disparaging the survivors in Parkland, Florida, telling them to “get over it.” 

The most recent shooting in Boulder evoked a tone-deaf, insulting statement from the Colorado Shooting Association that it would be “emotional sensationalism” which could “cloud remembrance” of the victims to have any discussions of gun laws at this time. As usual, we are to kick the can down the road and pay homage to the fabricated version of the Second Amendment, a version which supposedly confers a right or “freedom” for an individual to kill one’s neighbors with the most effectively lethal military grade weapon available.

But our founders intended no such insanity. The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are dedicated to the People, not guns. These documents enshrine the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They did not ensure the people’s right to life on the one hand, then to take it away with the other hand by a contemporaneous amendment which was focused on “a well regulated militia being necessary” as the preface for that amendment. 

The Second Amendment has been re-cast in modern times to confer a virtually unregulated right for anyone without a criminal record to acquire military weaponry designed and intended to be used within the confines of the military to inflict maximum casualties among the enemy in combat.

I personally had an experience as a federal prosecutor in Eugene that demonstrates the fact that even the arms industry in very recent times recognized that the Second Amendment did not entitle the general public to acquire military grade firearms.  

In the early 1980s a local group of investigators and prosecutors ordered a number of mini-14 semi-automatic assault rifles from Sturm-Ruger (the manufacturer), which were shipped to the Sheriff’s Office. Because the sheriff had not ordered them, an investigation was initiated by ATF because Sturm-Ruger had a strict policy at that time of only selling the weapons to the military and law enforcement departments. 

The investigation determined there was no violation of the law or that policy because the purchasers did in fact have law enforcement status. But the point of the episode is this — Sturm-Ruger and several other manufacturers had themselves concluded that these weapons were military grade and were not suitable for sale to the private sector. We were so advised during the investigation by Sturm-Ruger which recognized the risk they posed to public safety if they were marketed outside the rigid command structure of the military and police.

That self-restraint collapsed as the National Rifle Association and more aggressive ownership in the arms industry pushed to increase revenue in face of a declining market for the traditional hunting and sporting rifles. At roughly the same period, seminars and articles began appearing which encouraged dramatically expanding the reach of the Second Amendment by distorting it to include the purpose of arming private individuals on the basis that they had the right to rebel against their own government and thus had the right to possess the weaponry to do so.

This, of course, is nonsense. The same founders who adopted the Second Amendment had contemporaneously defined treason as taking up arms against the government in the body of the Constitution.

I end with this somber warning: We the People need to restore truth as the only currency in our society which is entitled to any value. 

False narratives are counterfeit currency and must be given no weight in politics, government or the culture in which we live, raise our families, and pass on to our children. The insurrection of Jan. 6 was exactly that — an attempt to overthrow our Democracy. It is a lie to describe it as anything else. The Nov. 3, 2020, election was not rigged, stolen or fraudulent. The winner won legitimately, and the loser lost legitimately.

And firearms, especially military grade assault weapons, can be regulated and banned. Congress even did exactly that in 1994 with its Assault Weapons Ban that lasted 10 years, with no mass shootings during that period. No court held that such a ban violated the Second Amendment. But unfortunately, the AWB was not extended, and so here we are today being killed with assault weapons.

The answer to my question posed by the title of this article is emphatic and the absolute truth: No — our Constitution does not protect guns more than people. 

Do not accept a counterfeit facsimile of the real Constitution. And don’t let the politicians do so either.

Thomas Coffin is a retired U.S. magistrate judge. He served 24 years in the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, from 1992 to 2016.