This is the seventh installment in a series defending the Constitution against slanders from “progressive” critics.
A lawyer in Boulder, Colorado, has been buying billboard space attacking the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
If you get angry reading Lindasue Smollen’s billboard message, please leave her alone. She has a right to freedom of speech and of the press. They are guaranteed to her by the First Amendment—also adopted in 1791. (Because she's using a medium, a billboard, to communicate her message, her conduct is more properly an expression of freedom of the press than freedom of speech.)
IMAGINE HIGHWAYS USING TRAFFIC LAWS WRITTEN IN 1791.
IMAGINE RADIO, TELEVISION, AND INTERNET RUN BY 1791 REGULATIONS.
IMAGINE LIMITING YOURSELF TO MEDICAL CARE AVAILABLE IN 1791
THE SECOND AMENDMENT WAS WRITTEN IN 1791
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS ARE NOT ENOUGH
This Ad Paid For by Lindasue Smollen
My first reaction to this billboard was that Smollen was wasting her money: A key to effective billboard advertising is brevity. Drivers don’t have time to read lengthy messages.
Have you ever seen mainstream media repeating any of the conservative, patriotic, pro-life, or religious billboards appearing on our highways? Of course not.
Unlike traffic rules, the Constitution’s expansive provisions are crafted to accommodate changing conditions. For example, the Commerce Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 3) doesn't lay out detailed rules for trade by horse, ship, and barge. Rather, it grants Congress power to regulate commerce. The word “commerce” enables Congress to regulate trade by methods that didn't exist when the Constitution was adopted, such as railroads, motor vehicles, aircraft, and telecommunications.
Similarly, the Second Amendment doesn't protect “the right of the people to keep and bear muskets and swords.” It protects the right to “keep and bear Arms.” That’s why the Second Amendment protects the right to own and use modern “bearable” (portable) weapons, such as semi-automatic AR-15 style rifles.
In short, by comparing traffic laws to the Second Amendment, Smollen’s billboard compares apples to edibles.
The billboard message also suffers from the false assumption that changes in conditions necessarily require changes in the Constitution. Because of the breadth of constitutional language, this simply isn't true.
“World War II. DNA. Sexting. Airplanes. The atom. Television. Medicare. Collateralized debt obligations. The germ theory of disease. Miniskirts. The internal combustion engine. Computers. Antibiotics. Lady Gaga.”The author was right that the Founders didn’t know about those things. But sexting, miniskirts, and Lady Gaga (as important as they may seem to a trendy magazine editor) aren't the sort of things that justify constitutional change.
- The change is relevant to the constitutional phrase; and
- Knowledge acquired since the Constitution was adopted (including knowledge of the change) has destroyed the phrase’s value.
On the contrary, you can argue that social changes call for strengthening the Second Amendment. Modern American cities probably suffer more violent crime than in 1791, rendering self-defense and arms training for law-abiding citizens more vital. Modern medicine makes it easier to remedy accidents arising from the legitimate use of weapons.
What about knowledge acquired since 1791?
We know that criminals sometimes use weapons to attack others and that armed citizens can stymie those attacks. But the Founders knew those facts, too. Recent international experience tells us that an armed citizenry can help resist foreign invasions and domestic tyrants. But the Founders knew that as well.
So it’s clear that the Founders were right to adopt the Second Amendment. It's even clearer that we need its protection today.