The May 9 Against the Grain commentary, "Gunning Down the 2nd Amendment", attracted some serious incoming artillery.
I suggested that the debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment will never be settled and that it obscures rather than illuminates real issues relating to guns in modern America. I didn't take sides in the interminable debate over whether the Constitution grants individuals or only a collective "militia" a right to bear arms.
Rather I proposed that the fundamental question -- "should individuals have the right to own guns" -- be determined by fundamental means -- democracy, through the ratification process. That entails repealing the Second Amendment and replacing it with something clearly stating whether or not gun ownership is a basic right. May the best side win.
Well, gun rights people were not happy with this. I got hundreds of e-mails and very few expressed agreement. Many were erudite; others were unprintable.
The vehemence -- or perhaps wrath is a better word -- of many of these communications from the right to bear arms crowd may be of interest to viewers new to the debate.
From Bob Weir: "I am more than willing to stand against you and walk ten paces. The right of the people to own and bear arms is one of the original ten amendments to the Constitution, none of which should ever be repealed."
From Chris Wooddell: "YOU should be lined up, blind folded and shot for treason (with one of the guns I own under the protection of the U.S. Constitution). Who are you to tell honest, law abiding Americans what they can or can't own? The Constitution secures my RIGHT as an American to own firearms BECAUSE of people like you. People who would see citizens follow the feel-good, socially destructive and socialist policies set forth by Marxist policymakers. The government exists to serve the people. Not to dictate the actions of the people"
These two were fairly typical, though the most common single sentiment sent in said, more or less politely, "let Dick Meyer come to my house and take my gun."
Many e-mails rightly pointed out the Second Amendment is part of a package -- the Bill of Rights. These writers argued that tampering with one amendment risked rights protected by others.
From Stan McDaniel: "You are absolutely right, this is the 21st century. We no longer need a Bill of Rights to protect personal freedoms. The great and wonderful government is so wise and al- powerful that it can better decide our liberties than we can. So why stop with the second amendment, lets just get rid of all of them. Then people like you, the faceless bureaucrats and our political leaders can decide what is best for everyone. If we happen to disagree, then we are a threat to "Internal Security". Political correctness demands that people that do not conform be re-educated. So when do you plan to open the re-education camps?"
"…The founders of this country believed in individual freedom. They knew that when a tyrannical government pushed the individual far enough, the people will rebel and correct the injustice. The founders trusted the people of this country to know when it was time to fight for their individual freedom. The second amendment provides them the tools to work with."
From Steve Franks: "If we start trashing any one of these 'rights' then where do we stop? How about the freedom of religion? Hasn't religion been responsible for more deaths than any other cause of war? How about banning freedom of the press? Maybe, just maybe, the Founding Fathers thought that was just for the state government press?
"Cars, boats, and airplanes weren't mentioned in the Bill of Rights, so your argument rings hollow. As a 29-year police officer, I discovered the Founding Fathers didn't anticipate flush toilets or garbage disposals, however I don't want to throw the 4th and 5th Amendments in the trash. Our Constitution has stood the test of time, so let us just leave it alone."
From Guy Miller: "How incredibly interesting; a novel approach to the anti-gun argument. Well, we're losing the constitutional interpretation battle so let's remove the 2nd amendment from the Bill of Rights so we can attack gun ownership without that pesky citizen's rights thing getting in the way. Who's tinkering with the Constitution now?"
Many correspondents went straight to the gun control issues.
From Mag5693: "You sir are anti-American. When are you people going to wake up? You think that taking guns away from the people will solve everything. Well you're wrong all you will do is make more people feel unsafe and insecure. The criminals will always have guns. Everyone thinks that if you make tougher gun laws, this will stop crime and murder. Wrong! If every law abiding citizen owned a gun the street scum would never stand a snowball's chance in hell. People like you think that,oh the police will protect me. Yeah right! Nothing against law enforcement but there just isn't [sic]enough cops to go around. This is why we the people have the right to protect ourselves and our families. To rewrite the constitution would be in my opinion un-American!"
From Robin D. Wilson: "The argument that this rationale is outdated is without merit. Every day we see the result of this freedom through the safe and orderly society in which we live. The fact that some people use weapons to commit crimes does not suggest that weapons should be outlawed, it suggests that more citizens should own, know how to use, and carry with them a weapon so that they may protect themselves from those who would take their freedoms from them. It is the very fact that someone can use a weapon to take away our freedom that justifies and requires every citizen to arm themselves [sic] and be prepared to take action to defend those freedoms we hold so dear."
"Only when the majority of our citizens are armed and trained will we be a society that is safe from the internal threat of crime. Only when the robber, killer, rapist, or attacker has a reasonable expectation to meet resistance will they stop their brutality. Kowtowing to bullies is a certain way to earn more bullying."
"We don't need to repeal the 2nd Amendment. We may need to rewrite it in language that even a 3-year-old liberal can understand -- but repealing it would be disastrous. The funny thing is, it is those very liberals, who currently seek its defeat, that the 2nd Amendment is protecting the most. The non-confrontational, weak-knee, cowardly, 'let's all get along' crowd will suffer the most when the bullies take over. I'll fight for my freedom - even if I don't have my guns - will you fight for yours?"
A few people found my column persuasive.
From Jerry Buelow: "Who cares what the framers intended? Things have changed so much it doesn't matter anymore -- we have a whole different situation on our hands. We obviously need to reevaluate what the law should be in regards to guns."
"While I have a deep respect for the founding fathers, I don't worship them or the original Constitution. They never intended that we should. This nation has survived for so long because the Constitution can be changed, which after all is a good thing: Otherwise, blacks would still be slaves, and women would not have the right to vote."
Thanks to everyone to taking the time to comment.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is editorial director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.
E-mail your questions and comments to Against the Grain
By Dick Meyer