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The NRA has recently been under fire amid a wave of gun control activism by the survivors of this month's mass shooting at a south Florida high school that left 17 dead. 

Seth Perlman

Too bad the Founding Fathers aren't here to tell us exactly what they meant when they wrote the 2nd Amendment.

"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."

What is the significance of the reference to a militia and a free state?

Are those words in the U.S. Constitution to be ignored, or erased, as they are by the courts today when judicial rulings essentially confine the 2nd Amendment to the closing words that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

If the preceding words have no meaning, why are they there?

We could use a little help and instruction from the Founders today. 

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the most revered conservative jurist of modern times who died in 2016, wrote the 5-4 majority decision in the 2008 Heller case that wiped out a District of Columbia law banning possession of handguns and set the standard for court rulings today. 

Former Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed with Scalia on the fundamental interpretation of the entire wording of the amendment, writing that "the 2nd Amendment was adopted to protect the right of the people of each of the several states to maintain a well-regulated militia."

Stevens held that the reference to a militia and to the states does have constitutional meaning, that those words are not simply to be ignored. 

While Scalia's majority opinion prevailed, some of what he wrote at the time has essentially been ignored during the current hot debate over guns and gun control proposals.

In his majority opinion, Scalia affirmed the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of "dangerous and unusual" weapons.

If Scalia's words are to be accepted and honored, there would appear to be no valid 2nd Amendment constitutional argument against a ban on assault weapons or other "dangerous and unusual" weapons. Such a ban is not a 2nd Amendment issue.

However, of course, the meaning of "unusual" is left hanging in the air awaiting future court tests. 

Jeffrey Toobin, longtime U.S. Supreme Court watcher and author, has reached his own conclusion about the Scalia interpretation in the Heller case: "Scalia translated a right to military weapons in the 18th Century to a right to handguns in the 21st."

If he's right, that may have been the moment that launched the arming of America. 

We sure could use a little help from the Founders today.  

Paging James Madison.  

* * *

Here comes the little-known, but hugely influential Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board.

The board meets on Wednesday to offer its newest state revenue projections and the Legislature, in turn, will then craft and revise its state budget recommendations to fit inside those figures.

That's a lot of power.

Once upon a time, the Legislature used to determine state budget needs and then tax rates were adjusted, if necessary, to fund those needs.  

Now, the shoe is on the other foot.

But the Legislature obviously still has the authority to raise sufficient revenue to fund what it deems to be the state's budget requirements, even without raising tax rates.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus will present some ideas to the Legislature's Revenue Committee on Tuesday targeted at the state's tax incentive programs and sales tax exemptions. 

* * *

Finishing up:

* Democratic Senate candidate Jane Raybould called last week for renewal of the earlier federal ban on assault weapons, suggesting that "protecting kids from weapons designed to kill as many people as possible is worth risking an election over."

* Gov. Pete Ricketts told the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Washington that his proposed state budget language that would deny any funding for organizations that perform or counsel abortions reflects Nebraska's "pro-life" values.

* Tyler Davis, a Democratic candidate for governor, has gone to court to challenge whether Sen. Bob Krist missed a statutory deadline that would disqualify his Democratic bid for governor. The secretary of state's office has stated that the deadline did not apply. 

* Here comes March Madness with college basketball stepping into the center ring while baseball rehearses off stage in Florida and Arizona and spring lies just ahead. What's not to like?

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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