Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

The Second Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

Over the last 50 years, the NRA has gone from reasonable to absolutists, reinterpreting the constitution for all of us along the way.

Kurt Andersen: We all now know about the Second Amendment. We hear about it all the time. It is a huge driver of our politics on the Right. What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment.

Here’s the Second Amendment: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state—“ Let me repeat that: “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.”

Well, first of all: what did that mean, the Second Amendment, back in the 1780s and 1790s when the Constitution and its first amendments were written?

It meant, because the new United States would have no standing army, that any armed defense of the States or the United States would depend on militia who would be mobilized to fight the fights they needed to fight. So there’s that. Another important fact about the state of play when this amendment was written was the nature of arms themselves, of guns. A really good shooter could fire three or four rounds a minute—and that’s a really good one with these poorly aimed muskets and early rifles that they had.

So that was what was being regulated. It was, “Oh, let’s have a militia and they can use these guns,” which were the state of the art, but compared to many, many, many rounds per second firearms that we have today, it’s the same word but virtually a different machine.

So fast forward—or slow forward. For centuries of the Second Amendment didn’t really come up. People had guns; they hunted. Not everybody, but that’s what happened, they used them for protection in rare cases, but it wasn’t a big deal until starting in the 1960s when suddenly in a matter of months and a few years a presidential candidate, the great leader of African America and freedom Martin Luther King were killed, and other people attacked by assassins. Suddenly it seemed to reasonable people that, “Oh, we should have some controls on who can get guns how easily.”

So we enacted some very modest regulations about registrations and limiting certain kinds of cheap weapons and so forth. And back then in the late '60s and even in the early ’70s the National Rifle Association was reasonable, was fine. Okay yeah they negotiated these laws but they were okay.

Then, as so many things were going haywire in the national discourse in the late '70s, the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby more generally went out of its mind, to be blunt, and decided to be absolutists, that there would be no regulation of guns and we would fight any regulation of guns, and, moreover that was all driven by a fantasy that the Federal Government was about to confiscate all of our guns that every individual had.

So suddenly the Second Amendment became a thing that people were aware of and it was driving this passionate, fervent political faction. The NRA, by the way, changed its motto from one about safe sporting and so forth to quoting the Second Amendment.

But still for a while, for 20 years, the courts weren’t buying this idea that the Second Amendment meant that we could not regulate the ownership of guns or the sales of guns. And by the way, we'd allowed: ”Oh, you can’t buy machine guns, you can’t have a sawed-off shotgun.” Those things happened over the course of the 20th century, and nobody said boo. But suddenly at the end of the 20th century we had this ferocious and powerful faction interpreting the Second Amendment in a new way, interpreting the Second Amendment in a new way that the retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the '90s, after he retired, Warren Burger—a Republican, put in place by a Republican president—said, “This is a fraud that people like the NRA are committing. This is not what the Second Amendment means, it’s a fraud,” he said.
But they kept at it and it became more and more respectable, this idea that the Second Amendment was absolute and applied to individuals who weren’t members of the National Guard or any other well-regulated militia.

And finally in 2008 and 2010 in two decisive, definitive, absolute decisions the Supreme Court decided this new interpretation of the Second Amendment that had not existed in respectable legal circles 20 years earlier was the law, is what the Constitution meant.

So that’s now what our Constitution means. So as a result any, I think, really meaningful regulation of the ownership of guns at this point is a political fantasy as a result, ironically, of the Second Amendment absolutists and re-interpreters and revisionists and fantasists having imposed their interpretation of the Second Amendment on all of us.

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it’s the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
Keep reading Show less

White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
Keep reading Show less

"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
Keep reading Show less

Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
Keep reading Show less

How to catch a glimpse of Comet NEOWISE before it’s gone

Unless you plan to try again in 6,800 years, this week is your shot.

Image source: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash
Surprising Science
  • Comet NEOWISE will be most visible in the U.S. during the evenings from July 14-19, 2020.
  • After July 23rd, NEOWISE will be visible only through good binoculars and telescopes.
  • Look in the northwestern sky below the Big Dipper after dusk while there's a chance.

UPDATE: NASA is broadcasting a NASA Science Live episode highlighting Comet NEOWISE. NASA experts will discuss and answer public questions beginning at 3PM EST on Wednesday, July 15. Tune in via the agency's website, Facebook Live, YouTube, Periscope, LinkedIn, Twitch, or USTREAM.

Before last evening, July 14, 2020, the easiest way to see Comet NEOWISE — the brightest comet to zoom past Earth since 1977's Comet Hale-Bopp — from the United States was to catch it about an hour before sunrise. Now, however, you can see it in the evening, where it will remain for until the 19th. This is a definite don't-miss event — NEOWISE won't be coming back our way for another 6,800 years. It's the first major comet of the millennium, and by all accounts, it's unforgettable.

NEOWISE just got back from the Sun

Comet NEOWISE is named after the NASA infrared space telescope that first spotted it on March 27th. Its official moniker is C/2020 F3. It's estimated that the icy comet is about three miles across, not counting its tail.

NEOWISE is now heading away from our Sun, having made it closet approach, 27.4 million miles, to our star on July 3. The heat from that encounter is what's given NEOWISE its tail: It caused gas and dust to be released from the icy object, creating the tail of debris that looks so magical from here.

As NEOWISE moves closer to Earth, paradoxically, it will be less and less visible. By about July 23rd, you'll need binoculars or a telescope to see it at all. All of which makes this week prime time.

An evening delight

star constellation in sky

Image source: Allexxandar/Shutterstock/Big Think

First, find an unobstructed view of the northwest sky, free of streetlights, car headlights, apartment lights, and so on. And then, according to Sky & Telescope:

"Start looking about one hour after sunset, when you'll find it just over the northwestern horizon as the last of twilight fades into darkness."

It should be easy to spot since it's near to one of the most recognizable constellations up there, the Big Dipper. "Look about three fists below the bottom of the Big Dipper, which is hanging down by its handle high above, and from there perhaps a little to the right." Et voilà: Comet NEOWISE.

Says Sky & Telescope's Diana Hannikainen, "Look for a faint, fuzzy little 'star' with a fainter, fuzzier little tail extending upward from it."

The comet should be visible with the naked eye, though binoculars and a simple telescope may reveal more detail.

You may also be able to snap a photo of this special visitor, though you'll need the right gear to do so. A dedicated camera is more likely to capture a good shot than a telephone, but in either case, you'll need a tripod or some other means of holding the camera dead still as it takes a timed exposure of several seconds (not all phones can do this).

Quantcast