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Few constitutional rights have shaped American culture or inspired so much debate as the Second Amendment: the right to bear arms. For opponents of this constitutional right, the Second Amendment is old fashioned and it has been interpreted incorrectly. It has been stretched to mean things it was never intended to mean. It has led to an unpleasant and dangerous national gun fetish with individuals brandishing weapons as a supposed right on every street corner in America. But for proponents, the second amendment is an upper tier constitutional right intended to affirm personal freedom and protect people from the tyranny of a state that monopolizes the use of force. The fact that the second amendment has been so bitterly debated may indicate that the freedom it guarantees is a controversial one. Indeed, where freedom is involved there is always much to discuss and much at stake. This essay will take a look at this issue in more depth.

The debate about the second amendment has gone back and forth over the years, with the courts offering many different interpretations of exactly what sort of rights this amendment actually provided to the American people. Many critics of America’s gun laws point to the high amount of gun ownership and the high amount of gun crime and suggest that laws need to be stricter or guns need to be confiscated altogether. In her article about handguns Nan Desuka suggests that a ban on handguns would dramatically reduce the amount of violent crime in American cities. She says that just the presence of weapons on the streets of American increases the chances someone will be injured. Even law-abiding citizens who keep such guns in their homes risk the chance that they will accidentally go off. Not all gun crime is intentional, she argues. To those who argue guns should be allowed for self-defence, Desuka writes, “one should remember that at beast 90 percent of America’s burglaries are committed when no one is at home. The householder’s gun, if he or she has one, is in a drawer of the bedside table, and the gun gets lifted along with the jewellery, adding one more gun to the estimated hundred thousand handguns annually stolen from law-abiding citizens.” She stakes out the hard left position in this debate, that of strict prohibition.

On the other side of the debate is Sarah Thompson who suggests that guns actually lower the crime rate. This is at first a counterintuitive argument but one she provides serious evidence for. Concealed carry laws make it impossible to know who is carrying a gun and who is not. Therefore people are much more cautious about committing crimes as they do not know when or if they could be shot. These sorts of laws actually create a more polite society. People respect one another. Self defence is a constitutionally protected right such proponents argue and that right should permit people to carry guns on them at all times should they wish to do so. They should also be permitted to conceal these weapons should they so desire to do so.

The debate has changed a bit recently as the definition of the second amendment has become clearer. This is an interesting constitutional right to discuss especially because of the Supreme Court ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) which for the first time in a long time finally clarified how the Second Amendment should be interpreted. Because there are two version of the amendment and because the punctuation is somewhat ambiguous, the amendment has been able to support different interpretations for many years. As well, people tried very hard to import their own political opinions into the brief sentence that makes up the amendment. A liberal interpretation of the clause allowed places like the District of Columbia to make sweeping laws that implemented hand gun bans, for example. In their recent ruling, however, the Supreme Court decided that such a ban would be unconstitutional.

[T]he Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home [and] that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.

A large part of this debate centres around the question of what kinds of infringements to the right to bear arms are constitutional and which are not. This is indeed a difficult subject, but one the Constitution is well-suited to answer. While the Court might believe all guns are legal, the American people are clearly not behind this.

America needs a careful and considerate policy towards guns which does everything possible to keep them out of the hands of criminals and dangerous people. But gun control policy should focus on the criminals and on illegal guns and leave people who only want to protect themselves alone.

Code: Sample20

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