The Constitution is not the Bible. It does not lay down the edicts of an omniscient god. It was the work of men responding to the failures of the Articles of Confederation. It was the work of men acknowledging the realities of their time and searching for a solution, a solution to the difficulties of creating a just and free society out of a plurality of ideas and beliefs. The need for a new founding document was so intensely felt, the inadequacies of the Articles so palpable, that the founders ignored the amendment procedure set forth by the Articles and simply scrapped it and began fresh. If the founders had viewed the Articles the way many today view the Constitution, there would be no Constitution. And in drafting a new covenant among the states, the founders themselves recognized that they were not infallible and wisely included a method for amending the Constitution, a method for allowing the people to adjust to new circumstances, new challenges, to allow the people to adapt the Constitution to a future the founders could not possibly foresee or account for completely.
The founders recognized that a nation is not a static entity immune to change. Their history taught them this. Their recognition that the rule of England was no longer bearable, no longer just, led to the revolution. Their recognition that the Articles was inadequate to the needs of a nascent nation of independent states led to the Constitution. And their recognition that future generations should not be irrevocably bound to a past that no longer provides answers to contemporary crises led to the creation of Article V of the Constitution. Change is inevitable, and Article V guarantees that the people are always and forever the stewards of their government.
"We the people," the three simple words that ushered forth a new nation, is redefined each day, each hour. We are "the people." Not George Washington, not Benjamin Franklin, not Thomas Jefferson. Not the slave owners who were only appeased when their right to subjugate an entire race was guaranteed to be inviolable until 1808. We decide what is best for our country and its future. We are responsible for establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity. But as you read through those responsibilities and duties of the people, do not mistake the blessings of liberty for an unbounded freedom. Liberty must be read in the context of the Constitution's overarching purpose as explicitly, unambiguously, outlined in the preamble. Securing liberty is but one facet of that purpose. We cannot both establish justice and simultaneously claim a liberty beyond restraint. Establishing justice necessarily entails abdicating some freedom, as does insuring domestic tranquility. And the responsibilities and duties outlined in the preamble are ours. They are not those of the Constitution - ink on a piece of parchment - or of founders long dead. They are ours. The ratifying of the Constitution did not suddenly, miraculously, relieve the people of their role in creating a more perfect union. The process of perfecting goes on. There are more liberties to secure, a greater tranquility to be had, and a more abundant, inclusive, and benevolent general welfare to promote.
Yet our failure to insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare becomes more painfully evident each day - a failure that grows more and more shameful and inexcusable in the shadow of a rising tally of innocent lives violently and senselessly taken. But adamant recitations of the Second Amendment and of platitudes such as "guns don't kill people, people kill people" merely squelch discussion before it has even begun without providing solutions. Such obstinate reference to the Second Amendment should not be the beginning and end of debate, while "guns don’t kill people, people kill people” misses the point entirely. The issue is not causality but carnage. The same day as the Newtown massacre, a man entered an elementary school in China with a butcher knife. While there were grisly injuries, there were no fatalities.
Guns are different. And our laws banning felons from possessing guns but leaving them free to own knives and bats and any other instruments of violence demonstrates recognition of that difference. If you were a store clerk, would you rather be held up by a knife wielding or a gun wielding assailant? How many people have been accidentally stabbed to death? How many children have been killed by a stray knife flying through their living room window? Just posing the questions exposes the absurdity of painting guns as irrelevant. Guns are not the source of the problem, but they do lead to more catastrophic and heart wrenching consequences. Whether any legislation can in fact make a difference is a different discussion. But that discussion must occur.
Does clinging to an amendment adopted more than 200 years ago – an amendment whose meaning and extent is at best uncertain - insure domestic tranquility in the age of assault rifles and non-existent care for the mentally ill? Do we need to shoot six bullets a second to defend ourselves, our homes, and our families? Can’t we protect ourselves from home invaders, muggers, and rapists with a revolver? Do 30 round magazines really make us safer, or are six, or eight, or ten bullets sufficient to protect ourselves, to repel those who would do us harm? Can we in fact resist tyranny through armed rebellion when our government is in possession of fighter jets, drones, tanks, and nuclear weapons? Or is defending assault rifles as guarantors of freedom in reality to defend them for a purpose they cannot fulfill? If a leader did attempt to impose a dictatorship and suspend elections, do we really believe that our armed forces, who are themselves citizens, would shed the blood of Americans, the blood of their friends and family? Or would they, like the rest of us, revolt against such tyranny?
These questions must be discussed, not simply ignored because, after all, the Second Amendment! We are “the people” of the preamble. We must vociferously exercise our right to free speech and, through our right to petition the government for a redress of grievances, require a thorough discussion of the issue and not merely surrender our tranquility and welfare before such a discussion has even occurred. We must not simply surrender as though the Constitution forecloses the possibility of change, as though the Constitution were brought forth from the heights of Mt. Sinai.
There are far too many questions to be answered before the best course of action can be decided upon. Certainly, like the founders, we are not infallible. We might get it wrong. We might go too far or not far enough. But that's the genius of our Constitution. Missteps can be corrected. Outdated notions can be revamped or entirely replaced by the consent of the people, that ever changing amalgamation of individuals. But just as the founders didn't allow the Articles to prevent them from creating a more perfect union, we should not allow the Second Amendment to prevent us from insuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare in an age that bears no resemblance to 1791. After all, we are "the people."