What if, under an old desk in James Madison’s study, the following were found scribbled on the back-side of the Second Amendment–the words in bold written into blank spots like a Mad Libs page…
Amendment 2.5: A well-regulated Transportation System, being necessary to the mobility of a free State, the right of the people to keep and conduct Transportation Devices, shall not be infringed.
After all, the right to transport yourself is a pretty inalienable right, too, isn’t it?
Eisenhower saw the immediate benefit of the German autobahn–allowing quick movement of Hitler’s troops across WWII. But in addition to Cold War defense, Eisenhower also saw the expressways as a vital route for emergency evacuation–all under strict central government oversight. After all, you wouldn’t want your best friend deciding how much weight an overpass can bear, would you? It’s pretty much accepted that some things are better off in the hands of Big Brother.
Madison and Jefferson pushed forward the Bill of Rights to hold in-check a strong central government that might strip personal liberties from its citizens–the whole point of the Boston Tea Party and Revolution that followed, after all. Perhaps without the Right to Transport Oneself, the feds might grow too strong and force citizens to register their boats, barges, horses, wagons and buggies. There might even be a tax on wheelbarrows and baskets!
Going even a step further, what if all the vehicles were owned by the state–or confiscated? How would the farmer plow his field or get his goods to market? How would one get to the other side of the river if the bridge were down?
Our founding fathers certainly couldn’t predict the advent of planes, trains, automobiles not to mention dangerous hoverboards and FAA drone-protocol.
There weren’t any protests of government interference when my college daughter was required to register her bicycle with the university–or risk having her lock cut and having the rusty thing impounded. Bicycle theft is so common in college that the campus security required hard-to-remove registration stickers to help catch the thieves. So by the light of two cell phones one night she and her roommate looked frantically under the frame for the serial number.
But Abby was never required to pass a bicycle driving test–it was assumed she could already operate the vehicle without inflicting too much damage to herself or other lives or property.
She is even less deadly on horseback. In girl scouts, she spent a week at a riding camp and we only had to sign a waiver promising not to sue if she got kicked in the head. There were no long classes, exams and fees like we went through last year when she got her driver’s license. But it made sense–there are few horseback pileups on the interstate. And if a seven year-old races a pony toward a cliff’s edge, odds are the pony is going to know enough to stop, unlike a minivan I remember.
When my second-grade nephew Kris decided to shift to neutral and roll down the driveway into the busy street the expected statements followed, in order:
- Thank God he wasn’t hurt.
- Thank God he didn’t hurt anyone.
- (Thank God the car’s all right.)
No one defended his right to transport himself. Besides not being able to see over the wheel or reach the brake, Kris also hadn’t paid for and completed coursework, hadn’t registered himself as a safe driver with the state, hadn’t provided evidence of insurance coverage. It was pretty slam-dunk, no seven year-old should be operating a device that could kill someone.
My father was killed by a car running a red light. The driver wasn’t drunk; she was just on her way to work that morning. But the 27 year-old did have seven moving violations–three tickets for speeding and four for running traffic lights. We were amazed at the hearing that the maximum sentence was probationary driving for four years–ironically limiting her driving to work and home. In her incapable hands, a car was far more dangerous than a loaded gun in the hands of most Americans.
James Madison could hardly argue with the logic of limiting access to potentially dangerous objects, no matter how zealous he was to individual rights and his famously prodigal stepson Payne’s who might ride Ol’ Blue to town drunk. It’s a safe bet that Madison wouldn’t have supported the kid’s “right” to keep his license were he to drive his Jeep through the neighbor’s farmhouse.
John Paul Stevens, associate justice to the Supreme Court (1975-2010), following the massacre at Sandy Hook, suggested adding five words to the 2nd amendment to clarify what the courts had always held to be the spirit of Madison’s law,
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.” (link)
He adds, “Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated Militia.”
I’d like to think that this Founding Father would agree with Justice Stevens and simply say…
“Give me a break; it’s not Gospel. I had no idea that cars would be created…let alone uzis.”