Apparently You Can Have That TankCopyright © 2005 Steven L. Van Dyke, all rights reserved
Something very interesting has been sneaking around in the news of late. The Justice Department did a big study and then rather quietly released their report. It's been out for a few months now but it's just barely starting to show up. So far no one seems to be looking at it's implications.
So. What's the big story that no one's covering? Basically, the Justice Department took a long hard look at the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution - "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." They concluded that it means just what all the "gun nuts" have always said: the right is an individual right and is merely recognized by the Constitution, not granted. It's one of those "inalienable" rights.
Now, the framers of the Constitution thought that the right to speak your mind (First Amendment) was the most important thing. Because it's the Second Amendment, they apparently thought the ability to defend yourself from those who disagreed with what you said - including the Government - was pretty darn important too. Considering the war they had just fought over these very issues, I can see their point.
People who think "the Government" should take care of things have been pushing their interpretation of the Second Amendment on us for a long, long time. The Supreme Court has spent this time mostly avoiding the issue so you can see why folks are finding this report a bit surprising.
The Justice Department's team looked at everything - published writings by the framers, common meanings for words at the time, anything they could find to clarify that simple seeming sentence. They concluded - as many others have - that the opening clause is merely an explanation, not a condition, and that (just as in the other amendments) "the people" means individuals, not states.
Just as "gay" used to mean "happy", "militia" has had it's meaning change over the years. Nowadays it's generally taken to mean an organized group with a "well-regulated" militia implying one with formal training such as the National Guard. Back then "the militia" was that part of the population that could be called up as needed and "well regulated" meant they already knew how to use their weapons. Switzerland is the only modern state I know of still using this system. Most folks agree that it's a quiet and peaceful place, they just don't agree if it's in spite of, or because of the military issue full-auto rifles in every home.
The report also acknowledged that it was the framers' intent that "the people" not only be a match for any standing army, but that they be far more than a match. "The people" will always vastly outnumber any army, but firearms make numbers much less important. The framers knew this and fully intended that "the people" have the same sorts of weapons as the army. If it sounds like they wanted to make it impossible for the Government to suppress a rebellion, well... Yes, that is what they intended. They had a basic faith in "the people" and knew that while there will always be small bands of malcontents, no group can stand against the united will of the nation as a whole - even if that group has managed to gain control of the Government.
It will be interesting (to say the least) to see how all this shakes out. From my simple, non-lawyer perspective it would appear:
A) Pretty much all 'gun control' laws are out, including the National Firearms Act of 1934, the gun Control Act of 1968, the 1986 Import Ban, all the state and local laws regulating Concealed Carry - the works. Remember, the U.S. Constitution overrides everything else in U.S. Law - that's why you can't restrict free speech at the local level.
B) Because of A, you apparently can have that tank you've always wanted. Go ahead - the Founding Fathers would have wanted you to. Of course, you'll have to find someone who legally owns one to buy it from, and I strongly suspect that you'll have a hard time finding a place you can legally drive it. And don't forget that when you fire it you'll need to have permission from every property owner in the area and that there may be local ordinances about noise and such. Just because you can afford a tank doesn't mean you can tear up the roads or blow up other people's stuff. But hey, if you have (at least access to) a large enough piece of property you're all set! Heck, if you can afford an M-1A, what's a few thousand acres?