What does the phrase in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution mean? “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.”
This phrase has resulted in diverse interpretations and opinions. Sometimes the debate turns into a shouting match where nothing is clear and little understood. The Founding Fathers could never have imagined today’s arms with such tremendous firepower.
Daily we read of trauma-induced soldiers’ sad encounters; family arguments ending in tragedy; those whose minds trip them up over lost of a boy friend; fanatics and their “causes”; kids playing with a loaded gun.
Those capable of helping head off such episodes are too few. There are not enough social workers, psychologists, pastors, counselors or perceptive friends to intercede. Many paid and non-paid people man the suicide hotlines, and give time and energy to prevent such horrors, are to be commended. Prevention is paramount.
Outgunned police find it next to impossible to enforce the law when facing mobs, gangs or thieves who have anti-aircraft caliber machine guns. Guns, far more than poisons, knives, axes, piano wire or rope, continue as the top murder choice by the sick, insane or angered party.
What was in the minds of the 18th century Founders who unselfishly gave of their wealth and property to assure their descendents a better life in this New World? True, there where hostile Indians; slaves wanted to be free; Frenchmen in Canada wanted some of the action; Loyalists wanted the colony back. Hunting game was important as well. So a Turkish Ottoman matchlock musket was very useful.
How could these founders of this country 200 years ago have any idea what the people and nation would look like in the 21st century? They knew German or Italian flintlock pistols. There was the French percussion flintlock. Muzzle-loading muskets were primarily an infantry weapon. Using a rod, the musket was loaded with a lead ball, wrapped in paper or linen and backed with gunpowder. Loading and unloading a musket was a very slow process.
The Second Amendment’s 27 words are easy to read. Today it takes hundreds of words to interpret the original meaning. Basically it says citizens have a right to protect themselves. This was such an ordinary thing to do, many did not see the sense in making it law. It is normal to love, defend and protect our home and nation from the violence of thieves, run-away slaves or Indians — even oppression from foreign powers.
But it says nothing about using those arms against our government. No matter how bad things may appear to folks on the fringe, problems are solved by votes, not bullets.
This idea of protection was evident before the colonists formed the United States. President Thomas Jefferson is often quoted as writing that “no free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” The Constitution makes it plain we are to defend this rare and precious new-found liberty and freedom.
Then comes the sticky part. What kind of militia is called for? The law says a “well regulated” militia. It was the intention that the new federal government would do the regulating, training and direction. Militias were not formed to go against the government, but protect it.
Can you imagine 21st century farmers and urbanites grabbing their weapon and rushing out in the streets to save the nation from being overthrown? The 18th century citizen had a gun and used it for hunting and against horse thieves and Indian raids. Now that the war with England had been won, the Constitution made sure that guns would not be taken away from the citizens. Today’s militia is not today’s National Guard. If it were, our guns should be stored in the National Guard armory and checked out when the government saw need for a militia.
There is no way under the sun the writers of the Constitution could envision how powerful firearms would evolve after 1799, any more than we can guess what will be the situation in West Texas in the year 2399.
Why is the National Rifle Association so intimidated when anyone merely suggests discussion about military-type assault weapons? They inform us that their freedoms are being infringed. Such guns, along with pistols, etc., are of no use in hunting, yet the NRA fears that banning assault weapons is just the first step toward taking all the guns away from them and all gun collectors.
My particular take on the Second Amendment suggests everyone can own a musket, but nothing else. Maybe a single-shot BB gun. (But mothers agree they can put your eye out.) Whatever a hunter needs legally to enjoy his chosen hobby should not be infringed. There might even be a place for those who like target practice, but not targets with the human form. After practice, leave the pistola at the range under lock and key.
This is not likely to solve any arguments. Those will go on until the end of time, or the end of America, whichever comes first.
Britt Towery, a native of Brownwood, now lives in San Angelo. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more: of his works at www.