Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Grassroots Speak: Never Again as with the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements of the 1960s, the High School Students Demanding Sensible Gun-Control Laws Will Not Be Silenced and Must Be Heard, Writes Pittsburgh Attorney W. Franklin Reed

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Grassroots Speak: Never Again as with the Civil Rights and Anti-War Movements of the 1960s, the High School Students Demanding Sensible Gun-Control Laws Will Not Be Silenced and Must Be Heard, Writes Pittsburgh Attorney W. Franklin Reed

Article excerpt

The late historian James MacGregor Burns, in his studies of political leadership, noted that throughout the decade of the 1960s, political leadership emanated from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. The civil rights movement, and later the anti-war movement, both started with activism at the grassroots.

Burns explained that it was the leadership of people such as Rosa Parks and the organizers of the Montgomery bus boycott that first drew the then-unknown Martin Luther King Jr. to their cause, for which he later provided intellectual discipline to translate actions into policies that would advance political objectives (social and economic equality) and to develop strategies and tactics (nonviolent protest) to achieve the movement's goals.

This pattern was repeated in the anti-Vietnam War movement, with early grassroots protests attracting a wider intellectual circle that could integrate political strategies with broader policy goals.

We may again be witnessing another unique moment in history when the "followers" become the leaders and the "leaders" become the followers.

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By failing to take seriously the protests of the "Never Again" movement that has grown in reaction to the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre (for effective gun control) and women in the "Me Too" movement (against sexual harassment and for equal rights), the Trump administration and its allies are making the same mistake that the "establishment" figures of the 1960s did and, like them, may have some catching up to do. Indeed, they, and the National Rifle Association, in particular, have been profoundly misconstruing what rights are actually protected by the Second Amendment.

Too often overlooked in this debate is what Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for a majority of the Supreme Court, actually said in District of Columbia, et al. v. Heller, the landmark 2008 case affirming the Second Amendment as an individual right:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. [citations omitted]. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. [citations omitted]. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

The footnote at the end of this excerpt stated that the justices "identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive." Thus, the court expressly ruled that the Second Amendment does not prevent adoption of reasonable laws and regulations to protect human health and safety in the workplace or other public places.

To illustrate this point, the court went on to discuss the case of United States v. Miller (1939), a precedent that caught the attention of both the majority and the minority. The Miller case upheld the constitutionality of the National Firearms Act enacted by Congress in 1934 to regulate and tax the interstate manufacture, sale and transportation of sawed-off shotguns, short-barreled rifles, machine guns and similar items. …

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