Columbia, MO October 25, 2010
by David Rosman
Second Amendment: 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.
This is about Tasers, the Second Amendment and your vote on Nov. 2. Proposition 2 would ban the use of a Taser, stun gun or other electrical device by anyone, including the police. An offender would be charged with a misdemeanor. Dan Claxton’s column last week asked, in part, if the Taser is an “arm” as defined by the Second Amendment. The answer made our “right to bear Arms” a more complicated argument than most contemplate.
I will be voting “No” on Proposition 2. I see the Taser as a tool that has reduced injuries to police officers and suspects. Yes, the Taser has been associated with injury and death, but so have batons. And, for that matter, butter knives.
In my mind, the Second Amendment argument may be an English 101 problem, a question of definitions and grammar. To set this up, there was no standardization of spelling or punctuation in the late 1700s. Commas seem to be thrown in willy-nilly, “Hooked On Phonics” would have had a field day and words have changed meanings in the last 220 years.
“Militia” – Citizen Soldiers. In the late 1700s, the militia was the citizen army sanctioned by the state and included all free men, the “people.” Today our volunteer civilian Army is the National Guard. Militia does not mean the wackos deep in the forests, hiding their activities, and working contrary to the interests of the state.
“Arms” – Weapons. The Founders had single-shot pistols, hunting rifles and shotguns, the standard issue of the day to bring food to the table. Today, we have redefined “Arms” to include semi and full automatic firearms as well as the Taser. This proposed Amendment would prevent a civilian from owning a Taser for self-protection but would allow that person to own a pistol. What is wrong with this picture?
Further complicating the discussion it appears that people on both sides of the argument forget one small section, “being necessary to the security of a free State.” The Second Amendment allows for the citizen soldiers, “the public,” to “keep and bear Arms” to protect the state and its citizens. In 1774 through 1787, the citizen soldier brought his own rifle. Today, though you can by a civilian version of the M-14, the citizen soldier’s arms are supplied by the state.
Note, the Amendment does not say “own Arms,” something today’s proponents and opponents fail to mention in their collective discussions. My argument is that if the arms are distributed by the military or sanctioned paramilitary organization, its members should be able to keep and bear those weapons for the defense of the country and citizens. Did the Founders mean, “own, keep and bear arms?” If they did, why didn’t they write that?
Let’s get back to Proposition 2. Prop 2 would make it “Class A misdemeanor for individuals, including police officers, to use or threaten to use tasers, stun guns or any other conducted electrical device against any person within the City.” The proposed Amendment includes civilians who want a Taser or stun-gun for self-protection and extends sheriff’s deputies and state troopers.
We generally agree that a Taser is a weapon. If we also agree that police and other government-sanctioned paramilitary and public-safety organizations provide this weapon to its members in the name of public safety, then the banning of the use of Tasers would appear to be possible contrary to the Second Amendment.
This issue will not stop with the November 2 vote. The NRA and the ACLU, along with Taser Free Columbia will continue to battle, filling the airways and cyberspace with their sometimes zealot messages. “Chaos will take over the world if we…” One side screams “Band Tasers,” while the over screams, “Allow Tasers.”
We should never allow the NRA, the ACLU or any other group to put fear in our hearts when it comes to making a moral and legal decision like our vote on Proposition 2.
For me, “No” on Prop 2 is the right call, with all due respect to the fears and anxieties raised by the folks with Taser-Free Columbia. In this case, fears do not outweigh the Constitution.
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David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.com.