Atty. Ralph D. Sherman
130 West Main Street New Britain, Connecticut 06052
tel. (860) 229-0213 fax (860) 229-0235 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill of Rights still relevant
Letter to the Editor
published in The (New London) DayApril 26, 1998
To the Editor:
Elizabeth Rablen's claim (in her letter published April 15) that the Second Amendment grants a right to the states, not to individual citizens, may seem convincing at first. But during the past decade or so, that position has been discredited by dozens of legal scholars and historians.
Although the U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on a Second Amendment case for most of this century, the court did note in a 1990 case, U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, that the Bill of Rights grants rights to individual citizens by its use of the words "the people." It would be ridiculous to claim, for example, that the First Amendment "right of the people peaceably to assemble" is guaranteed to the state governments.
Some have argued that the Second Amendment no longer has meaning, because the clause about "a well-regulated militia" appears to be out of date. But many constitutional provisions written in the same era contain similar justifications. For example, the 1842 Rhode Island Constitution (the state's first) begins its guaranty of freedom of the press with the words, "The liberty of the press being essential to the security of freedom in a state..." Few today would argue that the publication of the National Enquirer is essential to the security of freedom in a state. Yet we hold that the rights of free press and free speech still exist.
Rulers of every land and era, from King George to Adolf Hitler to Bill Clinton, have been uncomfortable about an armed citizenry. A critical press tends to make them uncomfortable, too. Both are exactly what the founding fathers intended.
Ralph D. Sherman
[Note to Internet readers: I am indebted to Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law School, for the results of his research on constitutional provisions like the Second Amendment that begin with "justification clauses."]