Solomon: Common law language matters in Second Amendment discussion (column)
I would like to think I am pretty rational and capable of having an open conversation on a variety of topics. In order to do that, though, a few things must exist and be agreed upon: no emotional or reactionary commentary, no bending of facts to match beliefs, no name calling and all parties must listen and try to understand one another. Without any of the above, then there is no conversation; it becomes one or more people demanding to be heard with no forward progress.
I learned a few years ago not to read Rohn Robbins’ column when he is discussing firearms because he has proven time and again that he doesn’t know what he is talking about. Despite sincere efforts on my part, he has established that he doesn’t want to have a conversation, either.
When I see his column (“The Second Amendment’s plain wording and what that means in the Constitution,” Rohn Robbins) and a letter to the editor on the same day (“Second Amendment fraudulently interpreted,” Liz Gauthier, Wednesday, March 14), making the same errors, I feel that it warrants some clarification.
I will give both writers some credit, as the discussion for defining “militia” has been debated since the Federalists and anti-Federalists formed more than 200 years ago; however, both parties agreed on the English Common Law use of the term in our Constitution’s amendment.
Before we get into the idiosyncrasies of language, let’s look at the first “gun control law” in the history of the world for some context, as noted in “The Second Amendment Primer,” by Les Adams (available on Amazon or ordered through any of our local book stores).
When Charles II, of England, was concerned about the strength of his monarchy, he passed acts in 1661 and 1662 that required gunsmiths to record and report to the crown a record of all guns manufactured and to whom they were given. Additionally, he authorized “the seizing of arms from any person whom they judged dangerous to the peace of the kingdom.” (Sounding familiar?)
This practice of disarming the population continued, and in 1671, he declared nobody could own any arms, unless they owned land, were approved and they were for hunting purposes. By the time William was declared king in 1689, the populace was disarmed and frustrated.
On Feb. 12, 1689, the first gun-control measure was officially passed as law, in England. It stated: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defense suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” Thank goodness we are not living under a monarchy, but are some of the circulated suggestions today very far off from this law in 1689?
To address the interpretations of the Second Amendment language, as written in the paper last week, the definition of “militia” according to a 2018 dictionary is not applicable to the effort of defining language used in the 1700s. Whether giving legal council in a free newspaper or making an effort to support your truth, one must be accurate and factual during the discourse of the information exchange.
Chief Justice Howard Taft observed, “the Framers of our Constitution were born and brought up in the atmosphere of the common law and thought and spoke its vocabulary. They were familiar with other forms of government, recent and ancient, and indicated in their discussions earnest study and consideration of many of them; but, when they came to put their conclusions into the form of fundamental law in a compact draft, they expressed themselves in terms of the common law, confident that they could be shortly and easily understood.”
We have to read with a knowledge of English common law and language at the time of its writing in the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson also stated that we should “carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted” when properly reading and understanding its meaning.
The term “militia,” as referenced this week, does not mean a government-run military. Don Kates, one of our leading Second Amendment scholars, states: “The ‘militia’ was the entire adult male citizenry …” Richard Henry Lee stated, “A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves …”
As Sir Walter Raleigh says, “(It was the basic principle of a tyrant) to unarm his people of weapons, money and a means whereby to resist his power.” Gun control, taxation at every corner and calls for government protection for your safety are what he speaks of — the Constitution that governs our Republic is supposed to prevent tyranny by an individual or by a party.
The sword of free speech does not have to be swung to be impactful. Before “we the people” blindly and loosely throw around interpretations of the law, let us take some time to exercise our First Amendment right — by listening and learning.
Take some time to learn the true history of “gun control” and how our Constitution reads in its intended common law and language — not how it is interpreted by our politicians, newspaper columnists and neighbors. Responsibility is something taught and learned, something our culture needs to address before we give up and give in to a government that is insecure (as it should be) and wanting more “control” of its populace.
Please don’t attempt to force your opinion on someone else just because you are passionate about it. Use that passion to be an active participant and channel that passion in a truthful and productive manner.
Matt Solomon is the founder and manager of Alpine Arms, located in Eagle.