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With the growing savagery of gun slaughter and the unwillingness of government at any level to do anything, Americans are reaping the fruit of one of the most successfully laid plots in history--the purchase of government by powerful interests and the re-interpretation of 225 years of constitutional law to enrich those interests.

I'm speaking specifically of the National Rifle Association, of which I was once a member, although the purchase of government leaders by other great moneyed interests can be seen everywhere, from Washington to Little Rock.

Let's recount a little history. When the 13 colonies ratified a new constitution to create a strong national government capable of raising a federal army, they adopted the Second Amendment to reassure some states that the federal government would not abolish their citizen militias, which they needed to control slaves, Indians and rebellions or attacks by foreign groups from the western territories.

It said: "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." The first 13 words spelled out the purpose of the final 14 words.

State militias, sometimes brought into federal service, formed the brunt of American defense until after the Spanish-American War. State militias were then formalized as the National Guard, under mixed state and federal control, and became a reserve military force sometimes deployed in foreign wars. Federal, state and local governments often passed laws regulating the sale and use of guns.

That is how the Second Amendment was viewed by courts everywhere until 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court held, 5 to 4, in District of Columbia v. Heller that it meant more--that people had a right, though not an absolute one, to carry guns into battle outside any formal military force. Even the court's majority said government could regulate their sale, possession and use.

The NRA was founded in 1871 as a sportsmen's club to promote and encourage safe rifle shooting on a scientific basis. It would be another century before it mutated into a radical political organization, basically run by the arms industry.

In 1934, Congress passed the Migratory Bird Act, which limited the size of shotguns used for killing birds. It restricted the shell capacity to three. The same year it passed the National Firearms Act, which banned machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. The NRA opposed neither. Those gun restrictions are still the law.

In 1968, Congress passed the Gun Control Act, which banned the import of military-type weapons and barred dangerous people from having them. Since it banned foreign imports, American gunmakers and dealers (and the NRA) supported it.

The NRA re-organized in 1977 and became a political organization. Its new headquarters emblazoned across its portal the last 14 words of the Second Amendment--but not the first 13. It began to raise money to elect gun advocates and influence legislative bodies. Campaigning for president in 1976, Gov. Ronald Reagan of California gave voice to the new creed: The Second Amendment prohibited any regulation of guns.

By 1993, rising gun violence seemed to require a government study of its causes and how it could be reduced. U.S. Rep. Jay Dickey of Pine Bluff attached an NRA amendment to a government-spending bill, prohibiting the National Institutes of Health or any agency from studying gun violence. Dickey later regretted it and in 2015 pleaded with the House of Representatives to repeal his rider. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi tried but was rebuffed by the House speaker, Paul Ryan.

In 1994, President Clinton insisted that Congress pass a law banning the manufacture and use of semi-automatic assault weapons, the kind used in mass killings. It did, but it was to be limited to 10 years. In 10 years, under President George W. Bush, the ban was allowed to expire, and assault weapons flooded the country. Bush also signed an NRA bill giving gunmakers and dealers broad immunity from lawsuits over the misuse of their weapons.

In 1998, after mass shootings, Australia banned certain semi-automatic self-loading rifles and shotguns, imposed strict licensing regulations, and mandated a government buyback of banned firearms. People sold back 6 million prohibited firearms and 60,000 non-prohibited weapons. Gun deaths fell dramatically.

In 2008, the Supreme Court rendered the Heller decision. Written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the majority opinion struck down an ordinance by the District of Columbia prohibiting handguns and requiring that lawfully owned rifles and shotguns be kept unloaded, disassembled or else bound by a trigger lock. It said the regulations were too burdensome under the closing clause of the Second Amendment, even though they had nothing to do with a militia. It was the first time in history the amendment had been so construed.

Two years later, the same five justices ruled in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that a corporation had the same fundamental rights as a human and that government could not restrict how and how much they could spend independently to elect or defeat politicians or an issue. It opened the floodgates of "dark money" for corporations, including the NRA, to elect or defeat candidates who might embrace or oppose the group's causes.

In 2013, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California introduced a bill banning assault weapons, similar to the congressional act signed by Clinton, but without the 10-year limit. The NRA killed it.

Shortly after the Las Vegas massacre a year ago, in which a gambler with an arsenal of assault weapons with bump stocks and 100-round magazines killed 58 people and injured 851, Pelosi approached House Speaker Ryan about cooperating on a new gun law that would control such weapons. Ryan said he and the Senate majority leader agreed that tax cuts would consume Congress' time and there was no time for gun legislation.

In 2016, the NRA gave notice in its publication The American Rifleman that it was increasing its dues to strengthen its voice in the presidential election. It said the election would determine whether American freedoms and gun rights would end. Gunmakers also made pleas in other publications to support the NRA's political efforts.

Federal Election Commission reports show that the NRA's PAC and the nonprofit corporate divisions spent $54 million in the 2016 elections. They paid rich dividends in federal and state elections. At the NRA's convention in 2017, President Trump declared: "You came through for me and I am going to come through for you." The NRA pledged $1 million to support Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

Trump displayed some concern about gun violence this spring by signing a bipartisan law allowing a government agency to research gun violence, but without any money--a weak compromise to which Pelosi and Democrats finally surrendered.

Here, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, is the NRA spending on politics in 2017-18:

Independent spending: $1,695,741

(For Democrats: 0) (Against Democrats: $416,105)

(For Republicans: $1,414,092) (Against Republicans: $44,591)

Lobbying: $7,128,000

Outside spending: $1,894,788.

According to the center, here is the spending on Arkansas' current congressional delegation since their inceptions:

Sen. John Boozman (since 2001) $82,352

Sen. Tom Cotton (2012) $1,968,714

Rep. Rick Crawford (2010) $8,977

Rep. French Hill (2014) $1,089,477

Rep. Steve Womack (2010) $9,500

Rep. Bruce Westerman (2014) $9,504.

Hill and Cotton were the two top recipients of NRA money in Congress last year.

Arkansas does not have readily available records of the political support from the NRA for state officials. Governor Hutchinson, a former hired NRA consultant, has posed for ads with assault-type weapons and was shown shooting a pistol on a firing range with NRA letters in sight.

A candidate for the state Supreme Court displayed his NRA membership in campaign materials. NRA lobbyists are familiar in the legislative halls. It would help if the public knew the nature of their business and their wants.

An Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial in April examining new Vermont laws banning bump stocks and improving background checks said people were looking for "common-sense gun laws" and mentioned that the changes were about as common-sense as you could get.

The NRA continues its slogan that the Second Amendment does not allow any person's gun rights to be abridged for any reason. Several weeks ago, an ad in the local papers featured the "NRA Gun of the Week": a short-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with a pistol grip that accepted six shells, very similar to a military weapon used by our special forces.

Nothing will happen until the people find a way to cry out for sensible laws that will reduce gun deaths by mass acts of terrorism and individual acts of homicide and suicide. One way is the ballot box.

Jack W. Holt Jr., 89, is a former Arkansas attorney general and chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, 1985-95.

Editorial on 10/21/2018

Print Headline: The second amendment


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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    October 21, 2018 at 7:32 a.m.

    An excellent column today by former Chief Justice Jack Holt Jr. on how the Second Amendment has been morphed into a tool for the gun crazed culture we have today. A look back at the founding documents and the discussion leading up to Heller is the basis of Holt's commentary. The purpose of the amendment was for the establishment and maintenance of a militia, not a reason to amass a personal arsenal not supportive of the common good.
    Even looking at the structure of the amendment destroys any claims by gun rights advocates who seem to drop the first part of the statement, indirectly substituting a semicolon for the comma following the statements, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State." It is as if the first part of the amendment never existed in their minds and such was the case in the activist ruling of the Court in 2008 and the equally activist opinion of Justice Scalia.
    Holt provides probably one of the most concise and fact-based writings on this matter I have seen in a while. His expertise in legal matters helps lay the foundations for how the amendment has been distorted and morphed for the express purpose of an industry and has led to the dangerous environment we have today. To listen to a gun rights advocate, we can never have enough guns because when someone else has a gun they need a gun to counter.
    I'm quite sure this column, as thoughtful as it is, will elicit the irrational comments of those on the right in here. It will be met by ad hominem attacks and baseless rhetoric. Personally, I've said my piece on it even if others attack me as well. Holt said it for me and said it well. His column drove me to re-examine this argument and I stand with him.

  • rodrigo
    October 21, 2018 at 3:31 p.m.

    I tried posting a letter on this web page but keep getting this warning.
    Watch your mouth! The word "h--p", "w--." and ".--g" is not allowed here.

    I tried to post a link to this highly suppressed US Government document on THE RIGHT TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS.

    Precisely what am I doing wrong as I have a well enough command of the English language to not need to watch my mouth.

  • rodrigo
    October 21, 2018 at 3:55 p.m.

    I see the problem is the link. This page thinks the prefex and suffex are dirty words so give warnings to "watch your mouth".

    Google SENATE REPORT ON THE RIGHT TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS, 97TH CONGRESS. You won't get the complete report but you will get enough to see why it is suppressed.
    "The conclusion is thus inescapable that the history, concept, and wording of the second
    amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as well as its interpretation by every major
    commentator and court in the first half-century after its ratification, indicates that what is protected
    is an individual right of a private citizen to own and carry firearms in a peaceful manner."

    Case laws from the early 1800s show what jurists thought of the 2nd back then.
    16. *
    Wilson v. State
    , 33 Ark. 557, at 560, 34 Am. Rep. 52, at 54 (1878).
    "If cowardly and dishonorable men sometimes shoot unarmed men with army pistols or guns,
    the evil must be prevented by the
    penitentiary and gallows, and not by a general deprivation
    of constitutional privilege.

    19. *
    Nunn v. State
    , 1 Ga. (1 Kel.) 243, at 251 (1846).
    "'The right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.' The right of the whole people,
    old and young, men, women and boys, and not militia only, to keep and bear arms of every
    description, and not such merely as are used by the militia, shall not be infringed, curtailed, or
    broken in upon, in the smallest degree; and all this for the important end to be attained: the rearing
    up and qualifying a well-regulated militia, so vitally necessary to the security of a free State."

    Add your own letters to the front and back to prevent the "Watch your mouth warning.

    They obviously knew the original meaning of the 2nd, and not the tortured version libs wish to foist on us beginning in 1962.

  • RBear
    October 21, 2018 at 4:38 p.m.

    ROTFL @ Rodrigo. Actually, you could have just gone to Heller to get the summation of all that activist language. It is one of the greatest con games of our nation's judicial system in how the NRA helped work with the judiciary to reshape the meaning of 2A. Easy way to dig into this sham of a discussion is just Google up Individual vs collective rights.
    So, while the interpretation by Scalia has been laid down it will remain for a long while with Kavanaugh on the bench. He'll buddy up with Thomas on this matter and keep the activist interpretation intact. Now, the NRA's next big challenge is to redefine the regulated part of 2A. Scalia left that in place saying that states still retained the right to determine what is legal and not with regards to firearms. But the NRA is working hard to completely nullify that point and we'll probably end up with another activist word soup to push that concept.

  • abb
    October 21, 2018 at 5:43 p.m.

    Democrats: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!!!! talk of more gun control and banning modern sporting rifles and their standard capacity magazines! PLEASE talk about banning guns! PLEASE!

  • rodrigo
    October 21, 2018 at 7:37 p.m.

    I find it interesting that in the "evil" Dred Scott vs Stanford Decision (1857) they found that if persons of the Negro race were to be considered "Citizens", they would have the same rights that white folks had one of which was..."The right to keep and carry arms wherever they went."

  • Packman
    October 21, 2018 at 8:31 p.m.

    Jack Holt is an idiot. Sensible laws already exist which, if followed would address every single issue he raised. There is absolutely nothing “sensible” about passing laws that only burden law-abiding citizens when there are already laws on the books to address the problem.
    It’s also quite telling Holt makes no specific “sensible” proposal. This article is bullsh*t. Pure bullsh*t.

  • ClydeBailey
    October 21, 2018 at 9:20 p.m.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the column today by Jack Holt on the Second Amendment. I hadn't realized how recently (2008) the supreme court had decided to officially disregard the first clause of that amendment. I'm glad to see this sort of piece in the Democrat-Gazette!

  • RBear
    October 22, 2018 at 6:36 a.m.

    Interesting point, Rodrigo. Thanks for sharing. While it is an interesting part of the Scott opinion, I would offer that Court was fishing for reasons to justify its decision and that the position taken was never offered again until Scalia's rambling activity word soup in 2008. But it does offer a stronger position in the individual vs. collective rights debate.
    abb and Pack I would suggest you might take a cue from Rodrigo who has FAR surpassed both of you in providing rational counter to the argument. Abb just throws out MOB mentality of threats and Pack is just a shallow right winger full of ad hominem attacks with no factual counter. I'll have to pay more attention to Rodrigo who definitely is in a deeper class of the right than either of you.

  • UoABarefootPhdFICYMCA
    October 22, 2018 at 6:51 a.m.

    Word soup.
    Yet here we stand at the buffet. ^_~