Today's Paper Latest Coronavirus Cooking The Article Families Core Values Story ideas iPad Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive

OPINION | MIKE MASTERSON: Secure our rights

by Mike Masterson | April 6, 2021 at 3:01 a.m.

Arkansans who value their right to bear arms should pay close attention to--and wholeheartedly support--the proposed state constitutional amendment known as Senate Joint Resolution 13, offered by Sen. Jason Rapert of Conway and Rep. Jimmy Gazaway of Paragould.

The amendment is timely, considering how the Biden administration has ramped up internal discussions on executive orders regarding gun control.

The president also is on record calling for Congress to adopt new measures to seriously restrict gun rights. With Democrats controlling the House, Senate, and White House, the stars seem aligned.

In Arkansas, the Legislature has adopted some new laws aimed at protecting citizens' gun rights. Yet even these are at risk without adopting a constitutional amendment that clearly articulates that the right to bear arms is an individual right and not only for "militia" members.

Accordingly, SJR13 remains under consideration by the Senate. I believe it's critical for citizens to take the strongest stand possible for effectively protecting our Second Amendment rights in this tumultuous period.

Arkansans need a constitutional amendment due to 1842 Arkansas court case State v. Buzzard, cited as the "Arkansas Doctrine" of the U.S. Second Amendment interpretation. It basically says the U.S. Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in 1842 belonged only to people in a state militia, while not conferring upon a citizen any individual right to keep and bear arms.

Buzzard has even been cited in federal jurisprudence as one of the three American cases holding that the right to bear arms belongs only to members of a militia.

This is precisely why we in Arkansas need to alter our Constitution to make it explicitly clear we the people intend that the ability to keep and bear arms is a fundamental individual right. "Fundamental" means any government-imposed restriction must further a legitimate and compelling governmental interest. "Individual" means the right belongs to individual citizens (rather than the state) in order to field an armed militia.

SJR13 also secures an individual's right to ammunition. Brilliant move! For what benefit is any firearm without ammunition?

By adding clear, directly worded changes to our state's Constitution, we will protect gun rights legislation passed by the Legislature. Equally important, a constitutional amendment also could provide the greatest level of protection against federal court interference, since every state's constitution is its most significant document.

It perches well above all state laws. Thanks to former President Trump's administration, we may finally have a Supreme Court that respects the 10th Amendment, which reserves powers for the states.

A high court recognizing the important constitutional role states hold in the nation and the balance of power between states and the federal government is long overdue. I believe, as do others, the current Supreme Court likely would be hesitant to reach into a state's constitution under most circumstances.

Back to SJR13. In Arkansas, the Constitution can only be amended by a vote of the people. For this to occur, the population can either gather tens of thousands of signatures (a cumbersome task at best) or the General Assembly can refer up to three amendments to the voters for consideration in each regular biennial session.

I'm certain we've allowed provisions into our Constitution that arguably shouldn't be there. However, this is one crucial amendment citizens who value gun ownership and its relevant rights can't afford to miss approving.

Look around, valued readers. See how our rights are under fire in Washington and from the tyrannical cancel culture like we've never before witnessed.

We need proactive legislators willing to secure and fortify our rights. This amendment provides our best chance to withstand federal court oversight, utilize states' rights and stand up to the current administration's plans.

It also is a chance to overcome the lingering impact of a 179-year-old court case that defined what gun rights mean in Arkansas. Never before have we needed an amendment as badly.

Currently there are a whopping 43 proposed amendments before the Legislature, many pushed by big money and special interests, since this is far easier than gathering signatures like we the voting masses without lobbyists must do. When discussing amendments last week, Rapert hit the bull's-eye when he said we need to send out amendments that people actually want to vote on.

Hats off to Senator Rapert and Representative Gazaway for leading this important charge. I'd urge you to contact your senator today and ask them to support this proposed amendment.

Let them know you want the opportunity as a citizen to vote on SJR13 and protect our gun rights in Arkansas ... before the opportunity slips away.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at


Sponsor Content