The Second Amendment: Do You Really Have a Personal Right to Bear Arms?

Joel Eisenberg

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“Partisanship aside.” In disclosure to those of you who may be new to my writing, I am a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, a former school teacher who is presently a working writer-producer for film and television, and in favor of gun control.

Read on, however. I do not want to take away your guns, surreptitiously or otherwise, and other than an explanation as to that partisanship my personal perspectives will have little to do with this article.

The Second Amendment is worded as follows: 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.

That wording, which was adopted as part of the Bill of Rights and ratified by Congress on December 15, 1791, has long been problematic and remains a top-tier issue that both defines and divides our two main political parties.

Two questions: First, what is a “well-regulated Militia,” exactly? And second, is the concept of such a well-regulated Militia even pertinent in 2019, over 200 years following its formal definition?

In the Revolutionary War era, “militia” referred to groups of men tasked to protect their communities, towns, and colonies. Armies, as it were. Men, not women, notably, as considered back in that more casually misogynistic era. Once the United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, such protections extended to the individual states.

Research tends to agree on the intent of the Framers of our country in drafting the Constitution: They intended to separate an individual’s rights from those reserved for the state, and provide measures to do so.

My Perspective, and Why

I was a former school teacher who over a decade ago executive produced a film about the Columbine High School tragedy. My reasons for getting involved in this film, with a company I used to co-own, are personal.

Since my film’s initial release in 2009, however, there have been nearly 250 more school shootings in the United States alone. See here.

As that number continued to increase, I took my film out of circulation.

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Part of that decision stemmed from an uncertainty as to what exactly to do with it while these nightmares were playing out over and again in real life.

Subsequently, after months of endless new incidents and ongoing debates about gun control, 17 high school students and adults were shot and killed, and many more injured, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. Similar to the high-profile Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 14, 2012, in which 26 people were killed and numerous more injured, this incident evoked a national outrage that continues to this day. And yet, though the Parkland shooter had attained 10 firearms, on a government level — though some have tried (and they have been effectively blocked) — little has been done.

On February 21, 2018, following a White House meeting with survivors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, President Trump said about his considered proposal to arm teachers: “It only works when you have people very adept at using firearms, of which you have many.”

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I fiercely disagreed. Regardless of license and experience, arming classroom teachers is a recipe for disaster. I want to be clear: There are always exceptions to every stance. However, as a former special education teacher of at-risk children and adults (gang members, drug addicts and alcoholics, and the “severely emotionally disturbed” — not a personal judgement, but a population designation for those unaware), dynamics in such classrooms would severely jeopardize the safety of both students and educators if the latter are allowed to open carry while teaching.

Most recent school shootings, however, have not emanated from special education classrooms, nor from students under that banner. Mainstream students — primarily Caucasian, and in some cases privileged — have most frequently perpetrated these crimes. This only adds another level of complexity to these tragedies.

Analogous to our recent insurrection, it appears.

That said, though this may ultimately become a voluntary effort, I strongly believe that the majority of our nation’s teachers would be psychologically ill-equipped to handle the responsibility.

My teaching experience totaled nearly 11 years. During my final year in the profession, I was assaulted by one of my students. He was an intelligent kid with no supportive family unit, as well as a natural leader — an innate quality cultivated from months of survival on the streets of downtown Los Angeles after his father was jailed for armed robbery.

The son ran away from home before his father turned himself in.

The year was 2003. My physical conditioning, though notable at the time, will prove moot in the context of what follows…

My student, one of 16, had issues with drugs, alcohol, and rage. He was consistently fighting and he had been suspended more than once.

One day in the classroom, he started pacing back and forth. I was still seated, and found out later that he had tested positive for meth. He asked the other students — save for one — to stand and back off; they complied.

He asked the remaining student to block the door. That student complied… then I lost sight of him. Imagine what was going through my mind at that moment.

I’ll help: Chaos.

The aggressor told me to shut my mouth, and not say a word. I asked him to sit down. He repeated his words. I repeated mine. He then took my desk and tried to flip it, and then balled his fist and slugged me in the jaw.

I stood up, and immediately said, “I’m pressing charges.” He tried to slug me again, but a crisis interventionist — a school employee trained to handle incidents such as this — managed to enter the room and restrain him.

The student who was asked to block the door told me after the incident that he ran out and called for the interventionist. When he was asked to block the door, he took advantage to help me.

About 30 minutes later, I sat in the cop car with the student who assaulted me. He was sobbing and apologetic.

He said through tears, “Of all people I can’t believe I did that to you.”

This student and I had a bond. I told him I forgave him, but the charges will remain as he needed to learn some tough lessons.

Here’s how I really felt: I wanted to knock him on his ass. He was considerably taller and heavier than me, but I‘m a fighter by nature. I was ready to go. But I also had control, barely. I don’t believe everybody would have. If the crisis interventionist did not come in, I may well have defended myself.

Because I’m human.

And that’s the point. Teachers are human. Arming teachers with guns, even voluntarily, is a sure recipe for disaster. I doubt that the majority of teachers would be able to psychologically handle it. Conflicts are common. As a close family member said, “Can you imagine my wife (a teacher) with a gun? Me neither.”

It will never happen, nor should it. Armed guards, sure. Metal detectors, sure.

Teachers? Hell no.

For those who believe more guns would help, you really need to look at the psychological factor here. No one who argues the cause, regardless of political affiliation, celebrates a new school shooting. Most seem to mean well, though offering “thoughts and prayers” has become cliche and convenient. And too many of those who argue about arming teachers do not understand the dynamic of running a classroom. They do not understand the psychological tug of war when it comes to wanting even the most difficult of students to succeed — regardless of your personal feelings toward them.

But, more importantly, they simply do not seem to grasp the emotions of being a teacher. Carrying a gun in class may well blur the outcome of a simple conflict. Further, a student could take the gun; a shot could go awry.

Some may take offense at this comment, but I stand by it: There is far too much to lose by arming teachers. It is far too great a risk.

Let’s get those budgets properly handled for real security, but never ask for a teacher to be put into a position where they are responsible for pulling a trigger on a student. Arming an educator doesn’t solve this scourge. There would be far too many psychological conflicts there, and the average teacher would be vulnerable to a stronger child.

To the obvious retort here, no one is aiming to take away your Second Amendment protections, and to infer so is idiocy. Cops, farmers, the military, and those who hunt for their food… they need their guns. I’m not arguing that.

This is not a moral issue. It’s a safety issue.

A teacher is trained to educate. That responsibility is tough enough. Allow them to focus on their jobs, and let’s pressure those decision-makers who can influence real and lasting change. Neither “prayers” nor “best thoughts” will end the madness.

Some countries outside of the US arm their teachers as a rule. If you want to, send your student to a military zone every morning — go ahead. Please do so.

I prefer my wars, and my Wild West, on television.

Intelligence, not emotion, should dictate our actions on the matter.

I maintain that such an action would be considerably more dangerous than not arming teachers at all.

Tragedies such as the above continue to impact my political leanings, which have led me to become a strong proponent of common sense gun laws.

The U.S. Supreme Court

My political disclosures aside, once again the purpose of this article is to derive and share, in nonpartisan fashion, a better understanding of our oft-misunderstood Second Amendment.

To date, there remains no written imperative or definitive resolution as to a singular interpretation of the Second Amendment. In that regard, and perhaps not so ironically, perspectives thereof are somewhat akin to “The Bible” in that no two entities can seem to fully agree on its meaning.

In this case those entities are, of course, Democrats and the GOP.

Sure, the Right will largely insist that the right to bear arms is personal and unequivocal, while the Left will say that limitations are indeed definitively in place.

Both are somewhat right, one slightly more so than the other.

Over the course of the last 200+ years, U.S. courts have argued about the true meaning of “the right to bear Arms.” In its 16th Century context, American revolutionaries and settlers were ensured they could grab their muskets and either join with or fight against the military establishment if necessary.

As we no longer use muskets, we need to consider the question as to whether the Second Amendment guarantees modern-day citizens (of all bearings) the right to bear arms ... whatever arms they choose in their sole and exclusive judgement.

In the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that all citizens comprise a de facto militia. Therefore, the Second Amendment indeed expresses a protected individual right that allows for any lawful claim of bearing arms for self-defense, and both open and concealed carry are generally viewed as equal individual rights within those states that formally allow them both.

Where some falter in their defense of the Second Amendment rests in an insistence that their right to bear arms cannot be taken away, an idea that is simply not based on fact. States have their own laws on the books, and many former gun owners do, in fact, lose their right of possession. If one is convicted of a felony, for example, they risk permanent termination. Though some states do provide opportunities for a felon to regain his or her right of possession, most states make that possibility immensely difficult if not impossible.

For example, in California only a governor’s pardon can reverse that order, and only if the felon’s crime did not involve the use of a dangerous weapon.

Others who risk gun prohibition include fugitives, convicted drug dealers, drug users and addicts, illegal or undocumented aliens, those convicted of domestic abuse, dishonorably discharged military veterans and minors.

Gun ownership loopholes thrive, at gun shows and elsewhere, and whether one purchases a weapon through a show, at a shop or on the street, though certain states maintain stricter gun laws than others, in the U.S. it remains relatively easy to purchase a firearm.

Though not just any kind of firearm, which is an issue regulated by state and federal laws. One cannot legally own bombs, grenades or missiles, which most would consider acceptable as law. However, other illegal weapons — though only in certain jurisdictions — include various sawed-off rifles, and semi-automatic assault weapons (bans effective in California — since the Department of Justice typically only issues Dangerous Weapons Permits to highly-trained professionals, state laws for the average citizen effectively amount to a ban — Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York).

On repeat: privately-owned semi-automatic assault weapons, seemingly the gun group of choice for mass shooters, are considered in several states (not all, not most) to be unlawful.

And, such as with California, one does not always require a permit before lawfully purchasing a gun for protection, though any purchase or transfer must be made through a state-licensed dealer followed by a 10-day waiting period. The extent of background checks vary state-to-state.

Post-Heller

In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees the right of a responsible, law-abiding citizen to carry a firearm in public for purposes of self-defense (Peruta v. County of San Diego).

More grist for the mill of Second Amendment advocates who believe anything less than free carry for self-defense is a crime in and of itself, but then there’s this: Do we have in place a fool-proof system to determine who is “responsible,” and “law-abiding?”

No, we do not, and I for one am tired of hearing about those who committ atrocities with their weapons … only to hear from their friends and neighbors that the shooter caught them totally by surprise. “He was so nice and quiet,” is a common refrain.

Well, not so nice and quiet to plan a mass shooting, apparently.

A general statement, meant as food for thought.

Conclusion

Those who argue that their “Second Amendment rights” would be violated if confronted with an increase in common sense gun laws nonetheless will not lose their guns ... unless they commit a crime. The Supreme Court has seen to that.

In that regard, they win, as long as they are “responsible.”

So why the fuss? Why the paranoia? If one is a “law-abiding” and “responsible” citizen, what is wrong with tougher gun restrictions (primarily on the purchase level for those who do not yet own)? Is this preventive measure not a better alternative than ultimately doing nothing following another shooting?

And if a crime is committed and a weapon is seized, why should the convicted felon regain possession of a firearm? If that measure is part and parcel of a collective of stronger laws, so be it.

And yes, a “good guy with a gun” can still be overtaken by “a bad guy with a gun.” That argument of “arming the good guys” falls flat because we cannot ever know who’s who. As in, who are the “good guys,” exactly, when so many are surprised by the perpetrator of the latest mass shooting? You remember, the nice, quiet guy …

In conclusion I was, as stated, a special education teacher of at-risk children and adults. I assumed this role for 10 years. Some have overcome their demons. Others have gotten worse.

I for one would not want those weapons to fall into the wrong hands.

Those wrong hands.

Again.

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I am an award-winning author, screenwriter for film and television, and producer. My mission on News Break is to share socially important perspectives on both culture and pop-culture. Member of PEN America, and the WGA.

Northridge, CA
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