This great commentary on the Second Amendment appeared in the Christian Science Monitor:
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. Yes, the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the “right to bear arms.” But if that means individual citizens – as opposed to state militias – can carry firearms anywhere they want, someone forgot to tell our 19th-century forebears. As law professor Adam Winkler has found, 10 states passed laws in the 1800s barring the possession of concealed weapons.
One of them was Texas, the lodestar of the gun-rights movement today. But as the Lone Star governor said in 1893, “the mission of the concealed weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law abiding man.”
Founded in 1871 as a hunting organization, the National Rifle Association supported waiting periods for handgun buyers and a wide array of other state restrictions. It also backed the first major federal gun regulation, the 1934 National Firearms Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in a unanimous decision five years later.
As US Solicitor General Robert Jackson told the Court, the Second Amendment did not protect the right of individuals to possess guns for “private purposes.” Instead, it was “restricted to the keeping and bearing of arms by the people collectively for their common defense and security,” wrote Jackson, who would join the Court himself in 1941.
Only in the 1970s would the NRA and conservatives start to argue that the Second Amendment guaranteed individual gun possession. Piggybacking cleverly on the minority and women’s rights revolutions, the NRA claimed that gun owners, too, were endowed with “rights” that were protected by the Constitution. The group also created a giant lobbying and publicity apparatus to spread this new doctrine. Reflecting on the NRA's politicking, Chief Justice Warren Burger said that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word ‘fraud’ – on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
Today, millions of Americans take it for granted that the Constitution protects individual gun rights. So do their legislatures and courts, which have discovered a meaning in the Second Amendment that earlier generations never imagined.
But one cannot say that our foreparents intended to give everyone the right to own a gun and carry it wherever they wished. That’s a fraud, to borrow Justice Burger’s phrase. I repeat the word: fraud. Saying it over and over again won’t make it true.