Guns and Commas

Guns and Commas

I am glad that the large pro-gun rights rally in Richmond on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day ended without any violence as had been threatened by some people around the US.  That is nice, but it does not end the unpleasant situation legal situation that has arisen here in Virginia.  As of now 93 jurisdictions, mostly counties, have declared themselves “gun sanctuaries” where any gun control legislation passed by the Virginia government will not be enforced.  The bills currently having received majority support in the Assembly and Senate with support from Governor Northam include requiring uinversal background checks for all gun sales (while allowing intra-family gun transfeers without that), a one-gun per month limit on gun purchases, and an especially controversial “red flag” bill allowing for a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others to have their guns temporarily taken.

I am located in the Shenandoah Valley where this “gun sanctuary” movement got going, with neighboring county to the south of me, Augusta, getting highlighted in an article about this in The Economist recently.  VA is the only state where cities and counties are distinct and separate from each other.  So I live in the City of Harrisonburg, which is surrounded by Rockingham County, which supported Trump with over 70 percent of the vote.  Rockingham County has joined Augusta in becoming one of these on a unanimous vote of its Board of Supervisors, although I know at least one of those not happy about this. But an angry gun-toting crowd showed up at the meeting.  In Harrisonburg such a crowd showed up at the city council, but left angrily after the council refused to go along with this garbage.

 I shall note here that this absolute defense of gun rights follows the 2005 Supreme Court ruling written by the late Justice Scalia on Heller versus District of Columbia  when the SCOTUS ruled against DC’s banning of handguns on grounds of a nearly absolute individual right to own a gun.  This ruling overturned over a century of legal rulings that put limits on the right to own a gun given the apparent tie in the Second Amendment between this right and the need for a “regulated militia. “This is where commas come in.  What separates the two clauses of the Second Amendment is a comma, which in standard grammar inexorably links them.  That individual right is clearly tied to the need for a regulated militia, and the history of this is known.  At a minimum for Scalia to make his case, there should have been at least a semi-colon, if not a period.

Of course, even the need for a regulated militia itself is strained.  The historical origin of this demand in the amendment as written by James Madison dates back to a debate in Richmond in which Patrick Henry insisted on the need for armed militias at the state level so that slave revolts could be put down.  This is the ultimate origin of the Second Amendment.

Barkley Rosser