Fayetteville, AR –-(Ammoland.com)- There is a meme floating around social media that quotes Warren Burger, former chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, saying:
“The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American People by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies—the militia—would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”
Advocates of gun control love that quotation. It fits in like a trading card to their deck of authorities who support their position that there is no basic right to own and carry firearms.
If Burger were available to interview today, I’d ask him what the Constitution means when it uses the phrase, the people, but as a writer who has spent almost two decades teaching students how to compose and interpret writing, I must say that the Second Amendment could have been written better. My own method of reading our foundational document, however, is to find in it the broadest protection for individual rights that the text will allow, basing that method on the principles that the framers claimed to believe.
What I quoted above seems to have been cobbled together out of an article that Burger wrote for Parade Magazine in 1990 and a segment of PBS NewsHour in 1991, but it is at least consistent with the justice’s thinking. And gun control advocates treat it as if it is the last word in a debate.
But they should be careful how much they’re willing to accept without thinking—especially if they are committed to the protection of other rights. Consider a case decided in 1986, Bowers v. Hardwick, that found a law in Georgia banning specific sex acts called sodomy to be constitutional. In a concurring opinion in support of the ruling, Burger also wrote that “in constitutional terms, there is no such thing as a fundamental right to commit homosexual sodomy.” He quotes the English jurist William Blackstone’s opinion that homosexuality is an “infamous crime against nature” that is somehow worse than rape.
In other words, Burger is remarkably consistent in his philosophy that when Americans are minding their own business, that’s not a protected right, as if Roger Taney needed competition for justices who miss the point of the Constitution.
Burger’s comment on the Second Amendment came as a bit of musing in his retirement. He’s quoted as an expert by advocates of gun control, and I’d hope that a chief justice of the Supreme Court would know what he’s talking about with regard to the law, but expertise is no guarantee that the person is correct. It simply means that someone identified as an expert is worth listening to. Any arguments that the person makes must be weighed on the merits.
And this is the point I am making by citing Burger’s opinion on sodomy laws. If we are asked to accept what he said on one case because he said it, it’s fair to ask whether we ought to accept something else he said for the same reason. Or better yet, we should require him to make sense each time, and with regard to the two sets of rights discussed here, he fails to meet that standard.
The question that supporters of gun control have to ask themselves is how much they’re willing to overlook in their mission to dispose of gun rights.
About Greg Camp
Greg Camp has taught English composition and literature since 1998 and is the author of six books, including a western, The Willing Spirit, and Each One, Teach One, with Ranjit Singh on gun politics in America. His books can be found on Amazon. He tweets @gregcampnc.