Regression: Arkansas’ surprising history as a gun security state

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Once upon a time, before the rise of the National Rifle Association, when politics was not a full-time job and men sought to be elected to public office so they could govern, a time before the 24-hour media coverage 24/7 – not to mention social media – has changed the definition of newsworthy while altering the entire nature of civic and civil discourse, the state of Arkansas has found itself at the center of a legal dispute over the right to bear arms. And although it’s hard for us to imagine today, 179 years ago, the state of Arkansas made a big effort to keep guns on the streets.

State c. Buzzard came to the newly established Arkansas Supreme Court in 1842, and offers one of the oldest and most comprehensive analyzes of the Second Amendment. The case reached Arkansas ‘highest court on appeal from a Chicot Circuit Court trial, where judges ruled Arkansas’ ban on concealed carrying was unconstitutional . The state of Arkansas, admitted to the union just three years earlier, appealed and, by a 2-1 vote, the state’s high court overturned the Chicot Circuit Court ruling. The Arkansas Supreme Court upheld the law prohibiting people from carrying concealed weapons in public.

Chief Justice Daniel Ringo has crafted the majority opinion in what is a heady, philosophical examination of the nature of government itself. With the United States Constitution barely 50 years old and Arkansas less than a decade old, the roles and responsibilities the government was to play were still being shaped. But Ringo concluded that the government was meant, among other things, to protect and defend the community as a whole, and in order to do that, sometimes the state needed to regulate individual actions. During his review, Ringo noted that all individual rights had at some point been subject to regulation in the best interest of the community at large.

Ringo’s opinion also took into account the now-often-forgotten Second Amendment provision relating to a well-regulated militia. The chief justice noted that the qualifier was a clear indicator that the law was not unhindered and “has no immunity that exempts it from all legal regulation and control.” Deputy Justice Townsend Dickinson concurred with Ringo’s view and noted that the law’s emphasis on concealed weapons made it different from the realities of the weapons essential to the functioning of a well-regulated militia.

Meanwhile, dissenting Judge Thomas J. Lacy dodged the militia issue and waved the banner of personal freedom. Claiming that the right to bear arms was based on an individual right to self-defense, he wrote: “I cannot separate the political freedom of the state from the personal rights of its citizens. He added that “the privilege of the people to keep and carry their private arms for the necessary defense of their person… or for any useful or innocent purpose… has always been considered sacred and inviolable”. The trio of opinions offered an impressive sample of legal analyzes of an era in which the nation’s jurisprudential foundations were being laid.

All of this came to my mind earlier this spring when Arkansas lawmakers jumped on the bandwagon, joining other equally ill-informed state legislatures in trying to pass a law that limit state compliance with federal firearms laws. These efforts have raised serious questions about the judgment of elected state officials and added fuel to the fire for advocates for increased civic education in American schools. So how did we come to this?

America’s Founding Fathers are increasingly under fire these days. But whatever one may say about them, even the sternest critic cannot deny their understanding and respect for history, which is sorely lacking in a 21st century America where history is susceptible to history. be bent, twisted and rewritten at will, often to serve partisan political purposes.

The Founders also recognized the power of words. By Thomas Paine and Common sense From Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence to the Constitution and James Madison’s Bill of Rights, the founders made their intentions clear in a precise and thoughtful manner. It is no longer a coincidence that the author of the Bill of Rights, James Madison, opened the Second Amendment with the words “A well regulated militia …” and then it was this Governor Morris, whose efforts as a member of the Style Committee had earned him the nickname “Penman of the Constitution”, began the Constitution with the iconic “We, the people of the United States,” an openness which, from the start, ensured the preeminence of the national government. .

Given the centrality of the well-regulated militia clause in its interpretation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, Buzzard c. State continues to be a touchstone for gun safety advocates determined to overcome the efforts of those who view the individual right as an absolute right without limits.

The Arkansas Supreme Court Justices of 1842 would almost surely challenge the bill passed by Arkansas lawmakers in early 2021 declaring all future laws, acts, etc., invalid. federal governments that infringe the Second Amendment people’s right to bear arms. Republicans admitted the bill was a preventative measure against dreaded future legislation as well as executive orders Biden had proposed in response to the increased number of mass shootings that had plagued the United States over the past decade.

While the Arkansas Sovereignty Act of 2021 sounds great rhetorically, that doesn’t change the fact that for all of the state’s professed sovereignty, the core lessons of a civic education course, let alone a a thorough reading of the Constitution, would make it clear that a state cannot refuse to apply a federal law. The number of constitutional questions, not to mention those of common sense, which arise from the adoption of a law intended to protect against acts not done and rights still under debate, are numerous. But in its unfortunate way, this effort is all too representative of modern American politics.

Once upon a time, at least, Arkansas judicial leaders were faced with an issue that they then approached in a way that, while not being perfect, nonetheless showed thought and wisdom that helped make advance the developing US constitutional experience. Such historical episodes offer solace, reminding us that the Natural State can be, and has been, a leader in this often difficult process. With another round of elections approaching and real problems waiting around every corner, hopefully we can once again be inspired by their example for the best interests of all.

Contributor Bill Pruden is a historian and educator at the Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina.


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