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The Price of Freedom: Is the Second Amendment Worth It?


When we began our research into the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, we thought it would be easy to make sense of the historical intent its framers. The colonists at the time were very touchy about their guns because the British wanted to disarm them so they would not be able to revolt. The colonists wanted to be able to defend themselves against tyranny (cruel or unjust practice of absolute power) and foreign invaders (a.k.a. the British).

When it came time to write a Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, they naturally wanted to make sure it mentioned the right to defend themselves from tyranny. This meant they wanted the Constitution to specifically state that they had a right to create armed militias, and that the federal government would not be allowed to disarm these militias. Many people of the time feared that the federal government itself could become tyrannical if its powers grew too big. Therefore, they felt the "right to bear arms" should be protected.

That all makes sense, especially when you read what the 2nd Amendment actually says, "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." Unfortunately, things get very complicated when you fast-forward to the year 2000.

Some people argue that the 2nd amendment grants an individual the right to bear arms. While other people argue that the 2nd Amendment only guarantees the right of people as a group to have a well-organized state-run militia, and to be armed only in such an organized manner.

Even looking at the first drafts of the 2nd Amendment is not very helpful in getting a clear understanding of the original intent, because different drafts support both arguments. James Madison's first draft of the 2nd Amendment read:

"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render service in person."

While a congressional committee later made this re-draft:
"A well regulated militia, composed of the body of people, being the best security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms."

Regardless of what people think the original intent of the 2nd Amendment is, gun violence today is a very modern problem. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) considers gun violence a public health issue, just like drug abuse or disease. If that doesn't make sense to you, think about this: the CDC reports that over 30,000 people die each year from firearms, with numbers as high as 39,000 in 1993. These statistics only get worse when we look at children and youth. According to the CDC:

The U.S. has the highest rate of overall gun death for children under 15 years of age, as compared to the rate for 25 other industrialized countries combined. The same is true for the U.S. death rates for children under 15 years of age from gun suicide, gun homicide and unintentional gun deaths. Compared to these 25 other industrialized countries combined: The U.S. overall gun-related death rate is nearly 12 times higher; The U.S. gun homicide rate is nearly 16 times higher; The U.S. gun suicide rate is nearly 11 times higher; and The U.S. unintentional gun death rate is 9 times higher.

To put it all into perspective the CDC reports that a teenager is more likely to die from a gunshot than from any naturally occurring disease. It's enough to make one wonder, is the supposed "right to bear arms" worth the cost in human lives?

It doesn't help that the media portray guns in a glamorous light in our popular culture. Many movies, TV shows, video games, and children's toys promote gun violence. Even the news sensationalizes gun violence in a way that makes it glamorous, while neglecting to report on the more ordinary gun violence that affects all of us every day. This causes us to never realize how much we are affected personally, even as we see it on the news each night. Is it any wonder then, that violence has become the problem it is today? Even as national crime rates go down, youth crime rates stay high. So the question you may be asking is: how can you make a difference?

Learn! Guns and violence have a daily impact on everyday life, much bigger than just the super-hyped reports like the Columbine shooting. Educate yourself with daily news updates and spread the knowledge about what happens across the country.

Be an example! Hands Without Guns believes that "no one can convey solutions to guns and violence to America's youth more effectively than their peers." Sign the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence. Encourage everyone to take an active stance in reducing gun violence.

Write Congress or your local representative! Tell them what you think about guns in your schools and neighborhoods. To find their addresses, click here!

Get involved! Find a local activist group on gun violence prevention. Or organize your own demonstration against gun violence. Find out how one teen turned her 15th birthday party into group protest.

Take part in the debate! Learn what people have to say about the "right to bear arms" and the 2nd Amendment. For views on both sides, check out Handgun Control and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) for various links.

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Nick - Shave, grease up, and put on a skirt, there's a war on!
Daphne - Letters from the trenches of the revolution
Kevin - Slaves fighting for American freedom? What's up with that?
Teddy - Blowing the British confidence to smithereens
Nick - The real revolutionaries at the battle of Yorktown
Stephanie - War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing! Huh!
Stephanie - Fearless Females
Rebecca - One man rises above to prove all men ARE created equal