Warren Burger on the Second Amendment

Updated 2/23/2018 after the Pennsylvania school shooting and the Las Vegas Massacre.

Edit Again, after the Uvalde massacre: Sensible and meaningful gun control is more critical now than ever before.

Note: This blog is not a place for debate. If you have a pressing need to prattle the NRA poison, do so on your own website, not here.

An image has resurfaced on Facebook lately highlighting a quote from former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger:


I did a litte digging just to make sure this wasn’t Snopes-worthy, and it turns out that this quote came from a PBS News Hour interview in 1991 and is correctly attributed to Chief Justice Burger.

With two school shootings in two weeks, (Oregon last week, and Arizona yesterday), it seems only right to be asking questions.

An article originally published in Parade magazine in 1990, asks some really good ones (excerpt below), and I submit it here for consideration. At the time of this update, you can still see the full article at Google Books (click the link for page 377):

The Constitution does not mention automobiles or motorboats, but the right to keep and own an automobile is beyond question; equally beyond question is the power of the state to regulate the purchase or the transfer of such a vehicle and the right to license the vehicle and the driver with reasonable standards. In some places, even a bicycle must be registered, as must some household dogs.

If we are to stop this mindless homicidal carnage, is it unreasonable:

  1. to provide that, to acquire a firearm, an application be made reciting age, residence, employment and any prior criminal convictions?
  2. to required that this application lie on the table for 10 days (absent a showing for urgent need) before the license would be issued?
  3. that the transfer of a firearm be made essentially as with that of a motor vehicle?
    to have a “ballistic fingerprint” of the firearm made by the manufacturer and filed with the license record so
  4. that, if a bullet is found in a victim’s body, law enforcement might be helped in finding the culprit?

These are the kind of questions the American people must answer if we are to preserve the “domestic tranquillity” promised in the Constitution.

What is clear is that in today’s society, the domestic tranquility is not being preserved, nor are the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. School shootings appear in the news regularly, but less-reported is the daily slaughter in our inner cities and elsewhere, for example the recent murders of a dog walker and a backpacker by three drifters in California. Articles like this surface, are news for a day, and are then forgotten, and nobody seems to care that gang-bangers are killing each other and innocent bystanders with reckless abandon. For the victims of such acts of violence, somehow those inalienable rights are failing to apply, and it must stop.

By Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86)
Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990, page 4

The gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment can be summarized by two flags that I’ve seen flying in my own neighborhood:


Molon Lave


both of which echo the “cold dead hands” sentiment originated by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and popularized by Charlton Heston.

One of my European colleagues asked, at a Facebook discussion of this issue,

You do realize that, seen from abroad, you all seem to have taken leave of your senses?

A libertarian friend of mine responded,

And from an American’s perspective, … you appear to be incredibly vulnerable.

These are the views from the polar opposites. We have to find a middle ground, and we have to stop the carnage. Not to do so is to sacrifice our humanity at the altar of death. With the words of Warren Burger ringing in my ears – and it’s to be remembered that he was a conservative justice, not a liberal one – the questions he asks appear both valid and sane.

My additional thoughts on the subject can be found at Guns are in America’s DNA

The Old Wolf has spoken.

8 responses to “Warren Burger on the Second Amendment

  1. Much like. Either the Constitution does require updates to include the right to own automobiles and, well, just about every single piece of modern household equipment not present back in the day, or one must face the fact that the times are a-changin’.

    And, as was touched upon lightly, there is a tremendous difference between a 1789 single-shot rifle that might take minutes to reload, and a modern assault rifle, let alone a machine gun with 200+ rounds capacity between reloads, that has the potential to kill a large number of people at a single press of the trigger.

    • Burgers quote ends with “promised in the Constitution.”

      I have been asked by Parade Magazine to remove this copyrighted article, I will do so as soon as I’m able, leaving enough to be cited under fair use.

  2. Pingback: Shut Down the NRA and Regulate Guns – digestible intellect

  3. When you have one viewpoint that is extreme and bat-shit insane, and one that is eminently logical and reasoned, why do we have to carve out a space half-way in between?

  4. Warren Burger was no conservative, but so what if he was?

    Firstly, the second amendment bprohibits the federal government from making any law whatever inginiting people’s god-given rights to in any weapon they like.

    Secondly, and more important than the Constitution, people’s right to own any weapon they want is god-given, and anyone who inhibits that sacrifices his own right to live.

    Thirdly, if you want to stop kllings, simply make firearms more easily obtainable by everyone who has not committed a crime.

    BTW, there is no such thing as common sense gun control, it is inheriently stupid.

    • Well, Robert, you are certainly prattling the NRA’s bullshit. There are no God-given rights to gun ownership, and if you think otherwise, you’re so wrong that philosophers weep at the sound of your voice. If there is no common-sense gun control, then the only alternative is “By God I can own as many guns of as many kinds and as much ammunition as I want, because God says so.” And THAT’S inherently stupid. The NRA has become a terrorist organization instead of a gun-safety and responsible use organization. And that is indisputable.

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