Continuing our series on the Constitution, we come to the Second Amendment, perhaps one of the most controversial today.
The Second 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.
These Amendments of the Bill of Rights are remarkably short. This one is only twenty-seven words. It does seem odd that such a short statement (a single sentence) could be so controversial, but it is.
The debate is, obviously, guns. Who can have them, who cannot, who says who can have what, etc.
Full disclosure, I am a gun owner. I used to hunt from time to time, but have not done so in many years. I consider my guns as home protection. I am not in love with guns, nor do I fear them. They are tools for a purpose. I do not believe guns are inherently dangerous if used properly. A person who does not know how to use a power saw can cut their hand off. A person who does not know how to use a gun can harm themself or others. Left alone, the power saw will sit on a bench for all time and harm nothing. A gun will do the same. They are inanimate objects, incapable of causing harm without human intervention. So let’s first dispense with the silly notion that guns kill. People kill. Guns and power saws do nothing on their own.
When I was growing up, people didn’t seem to think much about guns. Lots of people had them; many of the men in my neighborhood were hunters. I fired my first gun when I was twelve at Boy Scout summer camp. They taught us how to safely shoot .22 caliber rifles on a rifle range. It was fun.
A little later, an uncle gave me a .22 to use. The scouts had a target range at a farm nearby, and we use to walk there, carrying our rifles and ammunition. No one ever saw that as strange. My first rifle looked something like this one:
My reason for this rather long background is to point out that as recently as forty years ago, guns were no big deal. No license required to purchase. You simply went into a gun store and bought any gun you wanted. The only license required was for hunting. You could own one gun or a hundred. Nobody cared. Today a person walking anywhere with a gun will bring out the SWAT team.
Looking back to the 1960’s is to make this point: lots of people owned guns, just as in 1775, when those folks living in Lexington and Concord Massachusetts became the first militia. These were essentially farmers and other residents who organized against the British. Since there was no “official” American goverment, there was no “official” militia. The first battle of the Revolutionary war was between British troops and average citizens.
So are these the “well regulated militia” referred to in the Constitution?It’s not absolutely clear. They were not sanctioned by the state, they were not created by the “official” government, the British. They were citizens who took up arms against the government. I believe this is what the founders meant. Citizens taking up arms to protect themselves from the government, not the other way around.
Today, those who suggest the militia referred to in the Constitution is a state-organized unit, such as the National Guard have it exactly backward. The militia the founders meant was not of the government, but of the people! State-sponsored military are not the same thing. I believe the founders knew that the only way to ensure lasting freedom was by the people themselves having equal power to the presiding government. No monarch, dictator, or facist ruler could take over the country as long as the citizens were armed.
There are those who say, well that was then, but this is now. The colonials were armed with only muskets. Today people have possession to “military-like” weapons. It begs the question to point out that the muskets back then were the same as those carried by the British Army. Under various laws since then, a citizen may not own a comparable weapon to the military. Automatic weapons, for instance, may not be owned by civilians under current law. One other small thing that drives me insane: The media is constantly referring to guns as “semi-automatic”. This only means that one round is fired every time the trigger is squeezed. Every gun in civilian hands is semi-automatic. This is not a “special” type of gun, it is all guns that are not automatic. Those people make me nuts.
Technicalities aside, what are the real reasons that many want private gun ownership banned?
Crime: To be sure, there are more gun-related crimes in 2014 than there were in 1775, population growth notwithstanding. People are murdered in this country every day with guns. Guns are used in robberies and all sorts of crimes. Criminals certainly have access to weapons. But because criminals use guns, is this a reason to deny the honest law abiding citizen the right to own a gun? Of course not.
According to the most recent numbers I could find from the Department of Justice, there were 414,562 guns “incidents” in 2011. This covers all incidents from accidental shootings, to crime with a gun, to murder. That same year, the population was about 310 million people. Doing some math, this indicates that the possibility of a citizen being involved in a gun “incident” that year was about .001 percent. Less than one tenth of one percent. So despite media claims of rampant crime, the United States is still pretty calm as far as gun-related crime goes.
To be sure, there are concentrations of crime, in cities, for example. There is also a high use of guns in certain types of crime, such as drug related crime. None of this, however, has a thing to do with regulating guns on average citizens. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that taking guns away from the public will reduce crime. It’s actually quite the opposite. Places with loose regulation regarding civilian gun ownership tend to have the lowest crime rates. Conversely places with the most onerous gun laws (Washington DC and Chicago for example), have the highest gun crime rates. Criminals can always get guns. Disarming honest citizens makes no sense whatsoever.
Goverment opression: I would argue there is a more serious reason that some want the public disarmed, much more serious than crime. And this goes all the way back to 1775, and those farmers standing in the field against the British troops. I believe the founders considered the possibility that the government could become repressive. After all, the reason for the revolution was to obtain freedom from the British who were opressing the American colonials. Had Britain not behaved the way it did, it might be fair to say there would have been no revolution. I believe the founders wanted citizens to have the ability to rebel again if needed. They wanted the citizens to be armed to fight the government if it ever again became necessary.
Even as I write this, I am aware that discussing government opression in the United States sounds a little paranoid. Certainly in other places dictators rounded up guns to control the population, but this is America, nothing like that could ever happen here.
Really? Just a few short years ago I would have scoffed at such a notion. Today, I’m not so sure. We hear of the NSA spying on phone calls and electronic communication. More and more we see cameras mounted on street poles. There are drones. The notion of a “Big Brother” seems not so totally ridiculous any longer.
Government has grown exponentially in the last few decades, especially the Federal Government. Every agency, it seems, now excerts more and more control over the public. From the EPA and environmental regulations to the Department of Education dictating school lunches, government has become more intrusive into our lives. We seem to be living in a world where trust is diminishing rapidly. They don’t trust us, we don’t trust them.
Most recently, disturbances in Ferguson, Mo. bring us to this:
The militarism of police across the country is disturbing. Police are not an occupying army, nor should they dress like one. Allowing local police forces to take on a military aura is not good. This is what we should see:
We are living in troubling times. Never in my life have I seen such uncertainty.