I’ve been wanting to do a “Second Amendment” post for a long time now and I suppose this being an election year there might be some value to making this post now. Now.. before you roll your eyes thinking this is just another grand volatile and scathing opinion in favor for or against gun ownership or gun control let me preface this by trying to explain my motive here. I like to present my views not so much based on debating facts and figures but in trying to inject some common sense into trying to understand the argument in general.
[This post marks the first contribution in my new series called MY UNCOMMON SENSE. These will be posts that present issues of the day from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have all resources at my disposal to objectively concern myself with every conceivable bit of fact. Let’s face it, some of us average folks simply cannot digest all information available on a given subject, nor can we spend copious amounts of time going to fact-checking sites to see what politician, newsroom, or potentate is just blowing smoke our way to sway our opinion one way or the other. I certainly can’t answer for you, but I can’t stand issues that beg for emotional responses from me; I am no conspiracy theorist. Yes, things stir me up at times but there has to be some reasonable facts… or common sense… behind it all. In the absence of facts, or a way to filter through crap to find the facts, all we have is our own respective life experiences to draw on to try and put things in order. I believe we are the true silent majority; we are the ones the Pied Pipers of the world are trying to get to follow them. The Merriam-Webster website defines commons sense as.. the ability to think and behave in a reasonable way and to make good decisions. Since we are all humans and hence, different from each other, our ‘reasonable way’ will be different for each of us. That’s where my slant on humanism takes over.]
We all know this is a volatile subject in so many ways for so many people. Much of the current emotionalism is due to the increased number of deaths from guns and the mass shootings over the years and it’s not getting any better. One side claims it’s the result of the relatively easy way weapons can be purchased and another side claims that guns don’t kill people, but rather people do. The Second Amendment has become a hallmark fighting principle for extreme right conservatism and that great lobby group, the NRA, as the loudspeaker.
My personal gripe on the debate is in regards to those gun owners thinking that they are entitled to own their guns in order to insure the government stays in line or that they can defend their homes and families from aliens or godless Communists in the event the military fails. Uh huh. While I would agree that home protection certainly is valid when facing a threat of burglary or an armed home invasion with intent to do harm to your family, I can only see marginal value in the idea that you owning guns is going to make the country safer against an organized opposing enemy. For one thing, most of the millions of guns in private hands in this country have owners all wanting to kick an enemy’s ass in their own way. No one will be organized, no one making strategic field decisions on targets, no one in position of adequate command-and-control because everyone wants to fight in their own way, pull their own trigger when they damn well want. Part of the problem is Hollywood in how they may depict national invasions, either by aliens, communist hordes from real threat countries like Nicaragua (ala the movie Red Dawn.. the first one; the second one was from… wtf, North Korea??), Mad Max heavy-metal mutants, or zombies. Everyone wants to be in a guerilla army so they don’t have to take orders from too many people. If you are basing your right to own and bear arms on some idea that if the government doesn’t perform in a manner you want that you will be ready for battle… or you have some off-the-grid mentality that you will go down fighting like those folks at Ruby Ridge or Waco (“..from my cold, dead hands!”)… you need to get real. Invading aliens might pose a problem for sure…. but there isn’t a country on this planet militarily capable of an actual invasion of the U.S., much less do an undetected military buildup to get that far. For that matter, the U.S. would likely never succeed in invading a country like Russia either if the “invasion plans” were reversed. Our country is too large, too many people, and even if some enemy resorted to some form of nuclear blackmail to allow some idea of a foreign occupation force into this country… for what end? Just administering this place would be impossible. Even if some country nuked us into surrendering.. what would they get in return… half the place covered in radioactivity?
Look… if you like guns “just because”, and you like to blow up targets, even do hunting, entertain the ballistic science of it all, be a collector, have one (or more) for legitimate home protection for that possible home invader, or even feel like carrying one in public for defense, that’s all cool to me. Hell, that’s what I like. But to profess some higher concept of needing 50 guns to defend yourself from a renegade government in a grand revolution or a foreign invasion is a bit much.
I personally have more respect for the argument to own and bear arms privately and for that militia duty because the Founding Fathers thought it important enough to include, based on the historical times and philosophy that government is responsible to the people.
But my personal opinion doesn’t follow either of those views.
Let’s break all this down into bite size pieces here.
Here’s how the amendment reads from our Founding Fathers….
“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.”
Over the decades, pretty much from the turn of the 19th century, the Supreme Court has interpreted this in various ways. Unfortunately the original composers used rather confusing language and placed punctuation so interpretation can be a bit wide, to say the least. But here is where I take my queue from the Supreme Court. When they interpret Constitutional precepts they typically will seek some historical context. In other words, what was the world like back in 1776 to make the Founding Fathers use the wording and philosophical postulates of the day to apply it to a bill of rights… and does this application from their original thought still apply in contemporary terms. So, let’s try this out.
The sentence can be broken into two thoughts… a well-regulated militia is necessary for a free State, and, the right of the people to keep and bear arms.
A well-regulated militia.
At the time those early gentlemen were looking to define what freedom meant to them one of the caveats that they were all to aware of was the idea of creating a standing military. Standing militaries have always been tools for governmental oppression, from monarchs to political potentates. King George was already doing that in America. In many cases the military themselves, run by prima donna generals in coups, have toppled governments. This could very easily have fostered the idea of citizen militias; no standing army but citizens who could shift from plowing fields to grabbing their guns and powder to defend their home and nation in a militarized fashion. And not answering to federal authority.
Going a little deeper, one of the causes for the Rebellion was local citizens being force to feed and quarter the British soldiers. This was usually done in cities and towns and included decrees by local British commanders for the populace to surrender their weapons in order to limit the possibility of some folks siding with the rebels to create rebel units.. or illegal militias… like were created in Lexington and Concord.
There was also something else feeding the idea of citizen militias. As far back as the 1600’s in Europe a philosophy developed stating that there was a people’s right of revolution. Meaning that it was the duty of a peoples to overthrow their government if their government was not serving them properly. This was also reflected as a justification inside the Declaration of Independence. The freedom to establish citizen militias could be viewed as part of a checks and balances in keeping government honest.
The right of people to keep and bear arms. As with most else in this amendment, this phrase also is debated amongst scholars and legal gurus. One may “keep” their arms in their possession and then “bear” them, or carry them, for actual use. Some say that to “bear” is carry in an organized manner against a common foe. Let’s look at history.
We know that during those colonial years carrying a firearm was not uncommon both for hunting and general protection of self and family. There were thirteen original colonies hugging the eastern seaboard and the actual frontier in those days were the Appalachian Range and the Ohio Valley, out to the Mississippi and beyond, although the threat of hostile native Americans was even closer than that. So the musket/rifle and hand pistol were common survival tools. Residents in urban areas had less of a need for hunting and physical protection given the presence of military to keep law and order. That ended up being another reason unit commanders forced citizens to turn in their weapons. So it could already have been presumed that private gun ownership was expected, and that this Second Amendment “freedom” was simply directed toward the right of citizens in be able to keep their arms and bearing them in militias when necessary, and not an expression of a right of personal gun ownership. I think that part was presumed and accepted… that citizens can own and use their weapons because of the times.
So, my conclusion is that I tend to accept the amendment as written, based on the life and times… owning weapons was a universal pretext that didn’t need documenting. The amendment assures militias can be formed when necessary and that it was also accepted that people have a way to defend their freedoms in said militia. BUT… this doesn’t necessarily mean we should sit back with that idea either.
Here’s what I favor, and why.
- Re-write the Second Amendment. This time around be specific on the freedom to organize militias and the freedom to own a gun. At least this should end the time spent on interpretive arguments. Actually, we should just forget all the “militia” nonsense altogether. We already have militias from other laws. Admittedly in the form of the National Guard (and in some states there are state-run defense forces), but they are comprised of local/state citizens who also have full time jobs and lives. Yes, while the Guard is under the direction of the state governor, by law the Guard can be federalized by the President, but that doesn’t really have much teeth when you are thinking in terms of organizing to bring down an unruly government. To make the National Guard effective it has armories, weapons, vehicles, and equipment in place within each state, and those are the points where the citizen soldiers muster when called up. Officers are also citizen soldiers so the command structure can be independent from the federal government. Very true, those weapons are not at home in the closet or over the fireplace mantel waiting to dramatically be grabbed at a moment’s notice. But if your work-buddy neighbor is the local duty sergeant with the keys to the local armory and goes along with your need to grab a few grenades and an MA1 Abrams tank to fire the first shot of the next revolution, you still can make a good show before the “real” military shows up to stifle your freedoms.
- We need to truly think of the future… the distant future. I stated earlier that in 1776 it was likely an accepted fact that firearm ownership was typically an accepted way of frontier life, hence no specific mention is made of it being a divine right of a free nation… according to MY interpretation. Yet look at how firearm technology has advanced since 1776, and the mass destruction available in the hands of the private citizen today. It’s a truly unlikely scenario that people gathered in a local church or town hall in 1776 would have a whole lot to fear from a single active shooter when his weapon would require a re-load after every shot. Likely people would be jumping all over his ass after his first shot quicker than you could say “Ole Betsy” (for you youngsters out there that was the name of Davy Crockett’s flintlock). Those fellows who ratified the Bill of Rights couldn’t have possibly predicted weapons technology developing as it has. Cased, copper-clad bullets with self-contained primers being fired from firearms that can spew out these bullets at hundreds a minute (military, much more). So to presume what they originally wrote is a current application is a bit absurd. But let’s carry this out to our own future… 50, 100, another 200 hundred years from now. Weapons technology will go far past the use of our “simple” bullet projectiles. Think ray guns, laser guns, miniaturization of weapons; they already have bullets in the military that are guided. Think phasers, photon torpedoes… yeah, sci-fi now but fact likely in the future. In fact, this technology will likely be able to be copied very effectively by average people using discarded technology and robotics. This isn’t science fiction, folks. We really need to re-write the 2nd Amendment in order to set specific definitions on what it will mean in the future to keep and bear arms. The mass murderer of year 2100 will likely be able to take out an entire country.
What we truly need is a re-write of the 2nd Amendment not just to define more detail about the militia thing but to also define what it will mean to keep and bear arms in the years to come. It’s not to regulate ownership, ammunition, magazine capacities, or assault rifles. Maybe it’s about simply saying, “Citizens can keep and bear arms provided those arms are of the same technology being used by the government, in order to achieve technological parity in which to assure government answers to the people.” A bit ridiculous, of course, but you get the idea.
On the other hand, you could even state, “Citizens can keep and bear arms only if those arms are limited to those firing traditional non-guided bullet projectiles.” That would at least keep ray guns out of the hands of future mental cases… who are likely going to be born this year or the next.
That’s My Uncommon Sense.