ELY- U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin, who led the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, spoke here this week and made the case that a common myth centered around the Second Amendment is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution.
Raskin, who has been a member of Congress since 2017 is currently the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee.
He spoke to a standing room only Tuesday Group crowd at the Fine Arts Theater at the Vermilion campus of Minnesota College North, a change in venue made necessary by the intense interest in hearing from Rep. Raskin.
Before serving in Congress, Raskin was a Maryland state senator and was a professor of constitutional law at the American University Washington College of Law in Washington D.C. for 25 years.
In his talk, titled “The Social Contract and the ‘Insurrectionary Thesis’: Finding Constitutional Common Ground in the Second Amendment,” Raskin used the Second Amendment to illustrate how politicians and citizens on both sides of the partisan divide could overcome the current political climate to enact gun safety laws which are currently supported by a majority of Americans.
Raskin began by outlining the problem with gun violence in the U.S. “In America,” he commented, “we have rates of gun homicide, and gun violence that are 25 times higher than other comparable nations in the world, like Canada, Germany, UK, all the European nations, Israel, Japan, you name it—nothing comes close to America … we lose more than 100 people every single day to gun violence.”
After a short list of twelve of the best-known mass shootings in the nation, beginning with Columbine, Raskin listed several gun safety issues upon which most Americans agree. “More than 90 percent of Americans, the vast majority of Democrats, the vast majority of Republicans, the vast majority of independents agree that there must be a universal, violent-criminal background checks on all gun sales in America,” he said. “Eighty-seven percent of Americans who do not belong to the National Rifle Association agree with that, 70 percent of American gun owners who do belong to the NRA agree with that.” Raskin said polling numbers are similar for red flag laws to help prevent gun violence and suicides.
Raskin argued that sensible gun safety law could be passed and used effectively without infringing on Second Amendment rights. In order to do so, the legal loopholes that place military-grade weaponry into the hands of those who commit gun violence would need to be closed, like those allowing private sales of small arms without background checks.
Raskin also attributed the Congress’s inability to pass gun legislation to the politics of the NRA, and a mistaken belief that the Second Amendment was written to give the people the power to overthrow the government if it turns tyrannical.
Labeling such a view as “NRA dogma,” he named several other members of Congress who supported this interpretation of the Second Amendment. If viewed in such a way, he agreed that the Second Amendment argues against regulating military-type weapons like AR-15s and other assault rifles—because banning them would infringe on a citizen’s right to take action against a potential tyrannical government.
“Their claim is essentially that the people—who are in fact the militia—must have an arsenal equal to the firepower of the U.S. government, in order to be able to overthrow the government if it becomes tyrannical.”
Raskin argued that the validity of the pro-gun “right-to-overthrow” interpretation is a crucial sticking point in the current debate on gun laws. “If (this interpretation is) wrong, that their claim that the Second Amendment gives you the right to take up arms against the government. In that case, we can proceed to enact reasonable gun safety reforms that are supported by the vast majority of American people.”
Raskin then laid out the case that the founders never believed in a right to overthrow the government.
Raskin began his argument with the 2008 Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia. vs. Heller, which overturned D.C.’s ban on handguns. In the majority decision, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court determined that while the Second Amendment did not guarantee an unlimited right to gun ownership, it did protect an individual’s right to own a handgun for the traditional lawful purpose of self-defense within the home. Traditional lawful purposes also extend to the right to use firearms to hunt.
Raskin noted that a right to use a firearm to hunt or for self-defense in the home was far different from a right to unfettered firearms ownership for the purposes of overthrowing the government.
But Raskin’s biggest punch came with his listing of the parts of the Constitution that directly contradict the right-to-overthrow interpretation. Such as Article I, Sec. 8, Clause 15, which states that one of the powers of Congress was “to call forth the militias from the states in order to repel foreign invasions, and to suppress insurrections.” Raskin also invoked the Republican Guarantee Clause (Art. IV, Sec. 4) and the Treason Clause (Art. III, Sec. 3, Clause 1).
Regarding the Treason Clause, Raskin noted, “Treason consists in levying war against the Union, against the government, or adhering to their enemies. So, is it possible you’ve got a right to wage war on your government, but it’s also treason?”
Raskin’s last invocation to the Constitution was to Section III of the 14th Amendment—the Disqualification Clause—which he described as his favorite. This section describes the conditions for being barred from holding office, including having “engaged in insurrection or rebellion.”
The Disqualification Clause has been a prominent topic in the national media this last week, with the publication of a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article by two law professors who argued, after a year of legal research, that Trump is now disqualified from holding office. The Timberjay asked Raskin about his opinion regarding the article.
“Donald Trump was already impeached for inciting insurrection,” Raskin responded, “and he was voted guilty by 57-to-43 … in the Senate, (but) he beat the constitutional spread in the inimitable Trump fashion, and we didn’t make it to two-thirds for a conviction. But you still have concurrent, commanding, bipartisan, bicameral majorities defining as a legislative fact that he engaged in incitement to insurrection.”
Raskin did note that this is “a time of insurrectionist thinking” in some political quarters, but that “the current time is not the first time” insurrectionist elements have made political and societal waves. He also opined that the right-to-overthrow interpretation of the Second Amendment “is contributing to the current insurrectionist climate.”
Raskin argued in conclusion that the Constitution is anti-insurrection and that the NRA’s claims regarding a right to overthrow embedded in the Second Amendment are historically false. That being true, Raskin noted that there is, in fact, no Constitutional impediment to passing public safety gun laws for loophole-free background checks, red flag restrictions, and military-grade assault weapons bans, none of which would infringe on Second Amendment gun rights already confirmed by the Supreme Court.
The Tuesday Group is organized and sponsored by Boundary Waters Connect, an endeavor to support the local Ely area community initiated by Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness. Lacey Squier, the manager of Boundary Waters Connect, decided to move the Tuesday Group meeting with Congressman Raskin early on Monday.
“I was hearing from people that they were planning on showing up at the Grand Ely Lodge at 9 a.m.,” Squier shared with the Timberjay. Realizing over the weekend how many people were planning on attending, Squier reached out to the Vermilion campus of Minnesota College North, and obtained the use of the Vermilion Fine Arts Theater.
“I want to thank the Grand Ely Lodge, the staff at Vermilion, and especially Lee Schmidt and Dave Marshall (for making the location change possible).”