Monday, May 1, 2017

What Does the Second Amendment Imply About Gun Ownership?

As I have been studying the US legal system recently, I thought it would be appropriate to explore a bit of law interpretation today. The law we will be discussing is one of the most debated of all time, the second amendment to the US constitution. It states: 

“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.”

Over time, this law has mainly been interpreted in two ways. The first claims that the right of gun ownership should be given only for the purpose of a state organizing a military group. The second argues that gun ownership is not only a right of the militia but also the people. Which of these is more relevant and accurate today? To better understand the second amendment and its current implication, we must examine each of the arguments in further detail. 

The first statement we discussed is often associated with a liberal standpoint. It implies that there should be strict regulations on firearms and who may use them. Basically, the right of gun ownership should be for members of a state military group.

This is such a common interpretation of the second amendment for the following reason. When looking at the law, one may notice the phrase that begins it. “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This part is called the prefatory clause. It appears to put a limit on gun rights by specifying who can carry a gun. Some historians have said that the framers of the Constitution intended this when they wrote the Constitution. They wanted to make sure that the states could defend themselves, not that individuals could defend themselves. Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens supported the latter in his dissent, in the famous case of DC v Heller, which gave citizens the individual right to own firearms. He said:

“The second amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several States to maintain a well-regulated militia. It was a response to concerns raised during the ratification of the Constitution that the power of Congress to disarm the state militias and create a national standing army posed an intolerable threat to the sovereignty of the several States. Neither the text of the Amendment nor the arguments advanced by its proponents evidenced the slightest interest in limiting any legislature’s authority to regulate private civilian uses of firearms. Specifically, there is no indication that the Framers of the Amendment intended to enshrine the common-law right of self-defense in the Constitution.”

It seems liberals might be on to something when it comes to protecting our nation.
However, conservatives may have an argument that is just as supported. The second statement we discussed is attributed to them. Gun ownership is not only a right of the militia but also the people. 

The second clause in the second amendment, called the operative clause, is the main source of the conservative interpretation. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

What one can infer from this, is that gun ownership is a right of the people, meaning everyone, for self-defense and protection. Supporters of this interpretation will say that the prefatory clause is a merely a reason for giving access to all. The amendment could possibly be rephrased to emphasize this important factor. Perhaps a bit like this:

Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. 

In 2008, DC v. Heller promoted this viewpoint and turned the country in a more conservative direction. This is not surprising, considering the conservative Chief Justice, John Roberts, who presided over the case. 

Now, let’s go over everything one more time to clarify. Liberals say that people should only be allowed to own firearms if they are serving in a state militia. Conservatives say that everyone should be allowed access to a gun for personal uses like self-defense. Although the government is promoting the conservative opinion currently, we are likely to see shifts in the future. There are a lot of people talking about this issue who are willing to act on their beliefs. Current events and new court decisions may shape the gun control issue, as well. 

I hope I helped you to better understand these interpretations of the second amendment. Please take a few minutes and leave a comment down below about your opinion on gun control and how you think the government should be handling it. Be sure to be respectful of other readers and their comments, so that nobody comes out feeling hurt. I may remind you that people who don’t like your nasty comments have gun rights as well. Thanks for sticking with me on these government-related adventures! See you next time! 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

While past topics on this blog may have felt removed from the every day, today we are going to address a problem that puts government into your hands. 

Most Americans are, or have been, involved in public education. In various states and times throughout U.S. history, the standards and curriculum for public education have come from different places. Currently 42 of the 50 states use a set of standards called Common Core. Common Core was created by a group of state legislatures and is encouraged nationally (through funding) by the Department of Education. In the 8 states which rejected Common Core, the school standards are developed closer to home, by state and local governments. Consider the following question:

Should we place educational decisions in the hands of the national government or with more local leaders?

Those in favor of federal education standards use these three main arguments:

First, enforcing education standards on a national level advances equity for students and holds them to the same high standards. For example, children in disadvantaged neighborhoods learn the same subjects, take the same tests, and receive the same level of education as children in wealthier areas. In fact, the idea of equal opportunity comes from the founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence itself!
Another reason why people argue in favor of federal school standards is that, if everybody is learning the same thing simultaneously, teachers can collaborate on the internet and at conferences. Sharing ideas that can be used right away everywhere strengthens the educational community. 

Lastly, because the federal government oversees interstate commerce, and education is related to interstate commerce, Washington can enlarge its power using the elastic clause.  As an example of how education is impacted by interstate commerce, lots of Americans move often, traveling around the country for work. If these migrant citizens have school-age kids, the government wants to ensure that there are no holes in those students' education. 

Although these arguments seem persuasive, others argue that locally developed standards provide a better education for our students.  Their arguments include the following: 

First, programs like Common Core are unconstitutional, they argue, because the constitution does not give the federal government control over what schools teach. Any power not given to the federal government in the Constitution is left automatically to the states in the 10th Amendment.  So the fact that Common Core (or any past standards) are nationally managed should not be allowed. 

Additionally, because federal bureaucrats are busy in Washington, they can't know everything about the lives of people in each individual state, city, or school district. Local leaders have more perspective than than the federal government about needs and interests of local communities. Districts can create special programs to emphasize jobs that are popular in the local economy.  Students can read local authors and study local geography.  Teachers can respond quickly to shifts they notice among their students.  While b
ureaucrats can make “educated guesses” (no pun intended), they can't have the accuracy of people who live near and interact daily with students. 

Who would you like to see handle U.S. school standards? If you haven't thought about this before, I hope this helped you to better understand one part of the ongoing debate about schools.  This is truly something that affects all of us!  

If you have any additional thoughts on this topic that you’d like to share with me, or topic ideas for the future, let me know down in the comments. I’d love to hear from you! Just remember to be considerate and have fun! 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Let's talk about congress!

    In the eyes of many Americans, congress is nothing but a big, confusing joke. Whether you are completely new to the idea of legislation, or know the facts like the back of your own hand, you may have heard some arguments about why the American congress works so slowly. Mostly, we know why this happens. Our congressmen are literal monkeys. No, not really. The main job of congress as a whole is to make bills (ideas for laws) into actual laws. There is an extremely complicated process for doing so, with layers and layers of committees, voting, vetoing, and debate. (If you aren’t already familiar with these terms or you would like to know more, I am including the link to a helpful article about the congressional system below.) 

    So, after all that, what we really want to know is: “Is all this voting, vetoing, and debate a problem? Or, is it protecting our country in a way that is even deeper than it looks?” 

    But, before we start exploring America’s response to this puzzling question, close your eyes, and imagine a very tall wall. Imagine you’ve never seen the other side. Done? Great! Keep that picture in your head as you read on. 

    In 2013, says an article on, 78% of Americans stated their disapproval of congress and it’s decisions. When asked about the reasons for this conclusion, 59% answered that they were unhappy with the “gridlock” in congress, and wished that less bickering would occur. In addition to this, The Center on Congress at Indiana University published a list of the top 15 complaints about congress. #4 was: “Members just bicker and don’t get anything done,” and #13 stated: “The legislative system is too complicated!” While looking at these everyday concerns from a more political standpoint, we can see the roots of the problem. 

    We’ll start with the bickering and why it happens. Lobbyists play a huge part in making sure that members of congress don’t get along, by donating gifts, campaign money, and helpful information to anybody who will take it. In return, these wealthy people and interest groups are getting their opinions heard and voted for out on the floor. But, there are a lot of opinions, if you consider that each congressperson may be representing an individual organization or cause! Additionally, congress is all about re-election. Representatives want popular support from their state and plenty of media coverage, so often they are willing to say things that are quotable and memorable even if they aren’t the full truth. This oversimplifies debates and leaves us wondering: “What are we actually supporting?”

    Now a bit about the legislative system itself. Parties have been involved in congress almost since congress was a thing. Not birthday parties, political parties. There is a lot of evidence that these are not quite as fun, and have gotten way out of hand. It is has become important to please the members of your political party, especially the speaker or committee chairs, because if you do it’s easier to get benefits and become likable with everybody, thus getting re-elected! (Do you think there’s maybe a pattern here?) Additionally, some Americans argue that because of our divided government (with power split between the legislative and executive branches), progress is slow due to lack of compromise. Even if every member of congress agreed on a bill (which would probably never happen anyway), the president can still refuse to sign it. This is an especially large problem when the president is republican and the democrats have a majority in congress, or vice-versa. The two parties go head to head on many issues and it takes forever to pass anything of real significance.  

    On the other hand, Maybe congress and its processes aren’t all that bad.
Now that we’ve heard the voices of millions of Americans, who think congress is broken and can be fixed, let’s take a look at the other side of this popular debate. 

    The founding fathers of the United States took some important safety measures, in order to protect the nation from shallow decisions. Some of these safety measures are principles mentioned in the last few paragraphs to be making congress slow and inefficient. Don’t get me wrong, there some unhealthy things going on on capital hill, but we may have overlooked more meaning in these procedures than we thought. Take re-election for instance. The first congress was not in session too long after we broke away from England, and became our own democracy. A reason many colonists protested against Britain was because it was ruled by a king, who reigned until the day of his death, and then the throne was taken over by his children. A government like this isn’t going to spend a great deal of time on re-election but they are going to make a lot of the same kinds of decisions over and over again. If these decisions are not well thought out, this government can suffer. To make sure that our laws are just and keep everybody’s best interest in mind, we require that almost every position in the government (especially congressmen) be re-elected. No one wants a congress full of people who don’t represent us and are stuck there for the rest of their lives. 

    Checks and balances are another precaution that we may not see at first glance. Although it requires patience on our part, by giving branches of government power to stop one another, we keep officials from doing anything rash or without permission. 

    The list of these political nets goes on and on, including the bi-cameral congress (meaning bills have to pass the house and the senate), Committees, Majority votes, filibusters… I’m not going to keep you here all day. But all the things we listed make sure that all ideas are carefully discussed. The congressional plan has been designed by our founders with wisdom and skill to keep us same from harm and perhaps even tyranny as well. 

    Do you still remember the wall you have pictured? Come back to the spot where you stood before. One thing has changed, however. A ladder is leaning against the wall. You decide to climb it. When you reach the top, you find you can see over the edge, and there stands a cliff leading down the the jagged ocean below.  Have you found the analogy yet? 

In my opinion, congress was created in such a way that it is a method of protection, like mentioned before. Even if you have come to the opposite conclusion, the wall still works. There are ways to reach the ocean, the goal of efficiency, from narrow staircases across the cliffs and repelling down the rocks. Whatever you see, you can personally do something and be the change you want. I see a American future full of hope and progress appearing on the horizon, but I’m going to need your help.

    Let me know down in the comments what you think about this subject. I really enjoyed researching and thinking about it, and I am so grateful for your time! Just, remember to be kind in regards to the views of others. Also, if you have any thoughts about what you want to see from me in the future, tell me, please! I am always looking for inspiration and I want these to be interesting for you too. 

Peace out