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Second Amendment challenge: When has it protected rights?

I commented on the Second Amendment during my Constitution Monday series. Today I want to issue a challenge in light of people say things like “The Second Amendment guarantees all others” and “The Second Amendment ensures that the government will be afraid of its people rather than the other way around.”

I would like gun advocates and/or historians to come forward with examples of how individual ownership and use of guns have defended any rights of the people against an American local, state or federal government. These examples should come after 1789 when the Second Amendment was ratified and include:

  • Date(s)
  • Location
  • Right(s) being defended against and which government was violating them.
  • A description of the events, preferably with a source, and whether the defense was effective.

My reading of American history, which I admit up front is not perfect, is that there have been few, if any, cases where individuals banded together against a local, state or federal government in the US and none in which the use of firearms secured their rights. In contrast, there have been many instances where state and federal governments have revoked peoples rights undaunted by any fear of reprisals. A partial list:

  • In 1798, the federal government passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, which criminalized dissent against the President and led to the jailing of at least one sitting Congressman. No armed resistance was offered.
  • During the Civil War, President Lincoln revoked habeas corpus in the North and shut down newspapers with impunity. None of these actions were opposed with guns at the time they occurred.
  • Post Reconstruction governments implemented Jim Crow laws without an armed response from the African American community.
  • In World War I, newspapers with “wrong” ideas were shut down. No armed response was offered.
  • In World War II, Americans of Japanese descent were put into relocation camps without offering an armed response.
  • In the 1960s, the federal government integrated Southern Schools, sometimes at gunpoint. Despite the fact that White parents felt this was an infringement of their community rights, no armed resistance was offered. Conversely, no African American gun owners attempted to reverse segregation efforts with their own guns.
  • In the 2000s under Republican and Democratic Presidents and Congresses, the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure was made a dead letter and all Americans are pretty much under any surveillance the federal government feels like. No armed response was offered.
  • In the 2000s, both Republican and Democratic Presidents have insisted that they have the sole right to determine who is an enemy combatant who then can be stripped of any Constitutional protections that might still exist. No armed response was offered.

My point here is that if the purpose of the Second Amendment is to intimidate any government body in the United States from efforts to strip Americans of their rights, it seems to have failed. But I’m willing to look at and discuss examples if you have them.

Because the Second Amendment is such an emotional target at the best of times, any comments not relating to the questions asked here will be deleted. I’m not going to have this post host tirades for either side. Feel free to vent on your own blog. 

Yes, Utah Can Use Gold Coins as Currency

When I first read that the Utah Legislature had authorized gold and silver coins as legal tender, my first through was “Hey! The Constitution prohibits states from issuing their own currency! They can’t do that!”

Actually, they can. Section 10, Article I of the US Constitution states (bolding mine):

No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

So states can make gold and silver legal tender. Whether this is a good idea remains to be seen, but it is a legal idea.

Although this post is not formally part of the “Constitution Monday” series, I’ve tagged it as such because it quotes the Constitution and shows the need for Constitutional literacy even among those of us who think they know it.

References:

Gold, silver coins to be legal currency in Utah. Missoulian. May 22, 2011 – http://missoulian.com/news/national/article_4c50526b-ee5e-5f31-86e0-ef3b2a60dc20.html

Transcript of US Constitution from National Archives – http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

Constitution Monday: No Pay Hike Without Election

Here is the 27th, and so far, final Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXVII

Originally proposed Sept. 25, 1789. Ratified May 7, 1992.

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of representatives shall have intervened.

This Amendment effectively says that Congress cannot get the benefit of a salary increase they give themselves until a vote for Members of the House of Representatives has taken place. In practice this could lead to salary increases that take effect for the candidate who defeated the House member who voted for the salary increase.

Take another look at the proposal date and the ratified date. This amendment has been around since the time of George Washington, but not ratified till 1992. This is the longest gap between proposal and ratification of any Amendment.

With the posting of the 27th Amendment, I have finished what I started to do back on August 17, 2009. You can review the whole series at http://alaskanlibrarian.wordpress.com/category/constitution-monday.

I hope this series has helped you take a deeper look at our Constitution. We hear much talk about the Constitution these days, but not much quoting from it aside from the First and Second Amendments. Tell your friends how much more of it there is. Tell them what is and is not in the Constitution. And if you don’t like something that is being done because of something in the Constitution or the way it has been interpreted, then start prodding your Members of Congress to change it. It’s happened 27 times before and can again.

Constitution Monday: If You Can Die, You Can Vote

Here is the 26th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXVI

Passed by Congress March 23, 1971. Ratified July 1, 1971.

Note: Amendment 14, section 2, of the Constitution was modified by section 1 of the 26th amendment.

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

This Amendment was ratified in 1971, during the Vietnam War. One of the rationales for giving 18 year olds the vote was that since 18 year old men were subject to the draft and trusted with rifles, they ought to have a say in their government. The new 18 year old voting age was extended to women as well.

Historically, the 18-21 (21 the previous voting age) has one of the lowest voter turnouts of any age group. A right unexercised is non-existent. No matter your age, please vote in your next election.

Constitution Monday: More Housekeeping and Cabinet Power

Here is the 25th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXV

Passed by Congress July 6, 1965. Ratified February 10, 1967.

Note: Article II, section 1, of the Constitution was affected by the 25th amendment.

Section 1.
In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Section 2.
Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.

Section 3.
Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President.

Section 4.
Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

Thereafter, when the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that no inability exists, he shall resume the powers and duties of his office unless the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive department or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit within four days to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. Thereupon Congress shall decide the issue, assembling within forty-eight hours for that purpose if not in session. If the Congress, within twenty-one days after receipt of the latter written declaration, or, if Congress is not in session, within twenty-one days after Congress is required to assemble, determines by two-thirds vote of both Houses that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall continue to discharge the same as Acting President; otherwise, the President shall resume the powers and duties of his office.

I find section 4 the most interesting part of this Amendment. It gives the Vice President and a majority of the Cabinet a constitutional means to set aside the President. If this happened with a hostile Congress, you could have a palace coup of sorts. It also could be a way to deal with insane Presidents, if one got into the White House. The movie Air Force One brought up the process of this Amendment as an option to deal with the situation of the President being taken hostage. It made good theater.

Constitution Monday: No More Poll Taxes

Here is the 24th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXIV

Passed by Congress August 27, 1962. Ratified January 23, 1964.

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

In the Jim Crow days, charging people for the right to vote was common. This amendment put an end to that for federal offices. To the best of my knowledge, no state was willing to have a separate election for state offices which could have been subject to a poll tax. Do you know differently?

Constitution Monday: Some Voting Rights for DC

Here is the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXIII

Passed by Congress June 16, 1960. Ratified March 29, 1961.

Section 1.
The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as Congress may direct:

A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State, but in no event more than the least populous State; they shall be in addition to those appointed by the States, but they shall be considered, for the purposes of the election of President and Vice President, to be electors appointed by a State; and they shall meet in the District and perform such duties as provided by the twelfth article of amendment.

Section 2.
The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Until the 1964 election, none of the residents of Washington DC had a say in who was to be President. They were citizens of the United States and many were not federal employees, but they had no input into the Presidency.

This was partially remedied in with this Amendment. I say partially because while they were given the right to have electoral votes, they were limited to the number available to the least populous state. Currently this means they have to have the same votes as Wyoming. Currently this doesn’t seem to be a problem as the District of Columbia ranked just above Wyoming and below Vermont in the 2000 Census, the last time electoral votes were apportioned. But it could become less fair in the future.

Reference:

United States — States; and Puerto Rico
GCT-PH1-R. Population, Housing Units, Area, and Density (geographies ranked by total population): 2000
Data Set: Census 2000 Summary File 1 (SF 1) 100-Percent Data
http://tinyurl.com/2000compareStates (Original URL took up several lines of text)

Constitution Monday: Roosevelt Amendment

Here is the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXII

Passed by Congress March 21, 1947. Ratified February 27, 1951.

Section 1.
No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President when this Article was proposed by Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Section 2.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission to the States by the Congress.

Until this amendment was ratified in 1951, there was no limit to the number of terms a President could serve if he or she kept getting reelected. President Washington could likely have been President for Life on the installment plan by running every four years. Thankfully he set us a different example by stepping down after two terms.

No President served more than two terms until the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who died in office during his fourth term.

The 22nd Amendment is often called the “Roosevelt Amendment” because it was passed to prevent future Presidents from serving more than two terms as FDR had.

Although my personal feeling is that most people are happy with the two-term limit for President, at least some have argued against it. James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn claimed in 2006 that the 22nd Amendment actually acts against accountability. What do you think?

References:

FDR Biography from National Park Service – http://www.nps.gov/fdrm/fdr/biography.htm

No More Second Term Blues by James MacGregor Burns and Susan Dunn, New York Times, January 5, 2006. – http://www.nytimes.com/2006/01/05/opinion/05burns.html

Constitution Monday: Constitutional Change Works!

Here is the 21th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XXI

Passed by Congress February 20, 1933. Ratified December 5, 1933.

Section 1.
The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

Section 2.
The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or Possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Section 3.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by conventions in the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress.

Here is further proof that our Constitution is flexible and that when people and politicians shift from grumbling about perceived faults and passing ineffective statutes to taking on the hard work called for by Article V, the Supreme Law of the Land changes.

This amendment repealed the nationwide prohibition on alcohol established by the 18th Amendment. Section two of this legislation preserves the right of state and local governments to pass their own prohibitions. That’s part of why Utah and some Alaskan towns can have restrictive alcohol laws even though Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

Constitution Monday: Shortening the Lame Duck

Here is the 20th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States:

AMENDMENT XX

Passed by Congress March 2, 1932. Ratified January 23, 1933.

Note: Article I, section 4, of the Constitution was modified by section 2 of this amendment. In addition, a portion of the 12th amendment was superseded by section 3.

Section 1.
The terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January, and the terms of Senators and Representatives at noon on the 3d day of January, of the years in which such terms would have ended if this article had not been ratified; and the terms of their successors shall then begin.

Section 2.
The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day.

Section 3.
If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

Section 4.
The Congress may by law provide for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the House of Representatives may choose a President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them, and for the case of the death of any of the persons from whom the Senate may choose a Vice President whenever the right of choice shall have devolved upon them.

Section 5.
Sections 1 and 2 shall take effect on the 15th day of October following the ratification of this article.

Section 6.
This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of three-fourths of the several States within seven years from the date of its submission.

Prior to the passage of this amendment, the President and Vice President did not take office till March. If you think that waiting from November to January is a time of worry, be glad the 1930s Congress decided to shorten the transition time.

This amendment also addressed what to do if either the President or Vice-President keeled over dead before taking office.

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