John McCain & The Second Amendment
A Short Study of Words versus Actions

September 8, 2006

"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."

From the Heritage Guide to the Constitution:
Modern debates about the meaning of the Second Amendment have focused on whether it protects a right of individuals to keep and bear arms or, instead, a right of the states to maintain militia organizations like the National Guard...
The Founding generation mistrusted standing armies. Many Americans believed, on the basis of English history and their colonial experience, that central governments are prone to use armies to oppress the people. One way to reduce that danger would be to permit the government to raise armies (consisting of full-time paid troops) only when needed to fight foreign adversaries. For other purposes, such as responding to sudden invasions or similar emergencies, the government might be restricted to using a militia, consisting of ordinary civilians who supply their own weapons and receive a bit of part-time, unpaid military training.

Conservatives, who are pro free markets and pro individualism understand the Second Amendment to guarantee to the individual the right to keep and bear arms. It is self-evident that a government would not need to put words into a constitution to guarantee itself the right to keep and bear arms. The argument that the Second Amendment is really about state militias is silly on its face. That the argument has been posed so forcefully, been around so long and gotten so far, is proof that the concerns of the Founding generation are as valid now as ever.

There are elements, people and organizations, in our society and our government who are very uncomfortable with the idea of citizens being able to defend themselves from an oppressive government. Beginning with the National Firearms Act of 1934, the right to keep and bear arms has been infringed time and time again by just such elements. The birth of the conservative movement has given us the first hope that the erosion of this right might be halted and perhaps reversed.

The National Rifle Association calls the guarantee of the Second Amendment the "First Freedom" because it alone guarantees all the others. They say that if you are a "single issue" voter, ie. if a candidate's position on a single issue will decide whether you vote for or against him, then this is your issue. The Second Amendment is the only thing that levels the field between our government and its citizens.

So, where does John McCain stand with regard to the Second Amendment? Here are his words from his website, a statement as official and unequivocal as it gets:

We need to focus on halting the spread of violent crime and punishing violent criminals who abuse their Second Amendment rights, while preserving those same rights for law-abiding Americans. --

Bearing arms is a constitutionally protected right. With rights come responsibilities. I will continue to support effective, common sense measures that help keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, children and the mentally incompetent; that assure Second Amendment rights are exercised responsibly; and that do not impinge upon law abiding citizens in the free exercise of their rights, including the right to protect themselves and their family. --

That's what John McCain says about the Second Amendment. What does he actually mean by what he says? Just what "common sense measures" is he talking about? The answers become evident from his actions in the Senate and in the media.

On November 2, 2004 the Second Amendment Project of the Independence Institute had this to say about John McCain:

Republican John McCain (*C/F-) posed as a strong Second Amendment
(sic) during the 2000 Republican Presidential primaries. But in the next session of Congress, he sponsored the McCain/Lieberman gun show bill, which would have given the federal government the administrative power to prohibit all gun shows, and to register everyone who attends a gun show. And of course the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law is the most extreme Congressional assault on First Amendment rights since the Sedition Acts of the Woodrow Wilson and John Adams administrations. McCain’s Democratic opponent Stuart Starky (C/F) is no better.

But before he sponsored McCain/Lieberman he backed other initiatives. National Review Online said this in October 2000:

So if McCain remains sincerely committed to Second Amendment rights, then he should have read the fine print on the Colorado and Oregon "gun show" initiatives that he is backing. For in truth, both of these initiatives are classic "bait and switch" tricks of the gun prohibition movement, and contain controls far more onerous than background checks at gun shows.

For example, the Colorado initiative says that a "gun show" includes any gun transaction where three or more people are present, or where 25 or more firearms are displayed. Thus, parents who give their 17-year-old daughter a BB gun for Christmas are running a "gun show" around the Christmas tree. (The Colorado proposal defines "firearm" to include BB guns, model rockets, and many other things that are not real firearms.)

Regarding what John McCain has said about the Second Amendment the phrase "Actions speak louder than words" at first comes to mind. It might better read "Actions clarify the meaning of the words". Another phrase, "Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are" may be suitable as well:

Senator John McCain has appeared in two TV ads supporting the Gun Registration ballot initiatives in Colorado and Oregon. "Senator McCain has shown courage and just plain common sense in offering his voice in support of these measures," said Michael Barnes, president of Handgun Control, Inc.

Finally, here is what Alan Korwin, Author of The Arizona Gun Owner's Guide, had to say about John McCain's Gun Show Bill when he addressed the Arizona Legislative District 11 Republican Committee's general meeting on September 5, 2006: (Audio: 4:22)