Of all the Amendments to our Constitution, this Amendment comprised of a single sentence has caused more debate and confusion of late than any other. Understanding the Second Amendment correctly is crucial before we can have any meaningful debate on the subject of firearms in our society.
Understanding The Second Amendment
I am sorry to report, it has become increasingly apparent that literacy has gone down since the Constitution and Bill of Rights were penned. I have simply been stunned by what I’ve heard come out of the mouths of supposedly educated people in their efforts to discount the relevancy of the Second Amendment. I’m sure you’ve probably heard some of these arguments too. I will list generic forms of two of these arguments.
- The word “regulated” means that the State can regulate what firearms you can have.
- The Amendment applies to the State militia – or National Guard – not individual citizens.
The insipidness of these puerile arguments is the hallmark of a poor grasp of grammar, a lack of scholarship and often an indication that the person making such statements is merely parroting some other fool who probably knows even less on this subject than he or she does.
Lets parse the four clauses of the sentence. It is helpful to think of a house. The first clause; “A well regulated militia” could be considered the roof of the house. When the roof is complete the house is protected from the elements. What does the roof rest atop? The upper floor. The upper floor tells us the reason for the roof on the house. “Being necessary to the security of a free State.” Thus, it is the well regulated militia that is necessary to the security of a free State. This is the end product. However, right now, the upper floor and the roof are floating on thin air. Let’s add the ground floor. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Note, it doesn’t say the right of the State to keep and bear arms. It is the right of the people to keep and bear arms. If it were the right of the State, we would have no need to even mention the people. Let’s add the foundation. “Shall not be infringed.”
Working back up from the bottom, if the people’s right to keep and bear arms is infringed, they can never come together to form a militia. If there is no militia, it cannot be regulated, well or otherwise. The end result is that the the security of the free State is at risk.
Why The Second Amendment Came To Be
You must remember the experiences of the men whom we call the “Founding Fathers.” Most people seem to think that the “Declaration of Independence” and our “United States Constitution” were all put together at the same time. The Declaration of Independence was issued July 4th 1776. the Constitution was adopted September 17, 1787 and went into effect, March 4, 1789. The first 10 Amendments, which we call the “Bill of Rights” was ratified by three-fourths of the States in 1791. Thus between the Declaration of Independence, and our Constitution with its Bill of Rights, was a period of 15 years. That’s a decade and a half.
This wasn’t some slipshod, slapped together process. It was based on reasoned debate with the lessons of a recent history that very nearly ended in disaster. The Revolutionary War was not supported by the majority of Americans. There were only 50% at best who supported becoming independent from England. Around 15 – 20% were “loyalist” and the rest were neutral. We were a colony without an organised army – at the time of the Declaration of Independence – fighting a “Super Power” for our right to exist autonomously. Had it not been for citizens forming militias, fighting and dying, these United States would not exist. We would still be British subjects. The “Founders” realized this and thus they made sure that we would always have an armed citizenry by encoding the right of the people to keep and bear arms within the United States Constitution.
The Difference Between The Militia And The Army
The Army is an organ of the State. The Army is paid, equipped and totally supported by the State. The focus is on “uniformity.” This is why you are issued a “uniform” when you’re inducted into the Army. Everybody gets the same buzz cut haircut. You’re issued the same firearms. They all shoot the same ammunition. Everyone receives the same basic training. If your rifle becomes non-functional, you can pick up the rifle of a fallen comrade and you don’t have to figure it out. If you run out of ammunition, a comrade can share his ammunition with you.
The Militia is entirely different. In the Militia, everyone – all able bodied males between the ages of 16 and 45… unless you’ve been “mustered” out you’re still in – brings whatever they’ve got at home. They bring their own rifles, ammunition, clothes and supplies. They’re not paid. They’re donating their services, their resources and often their lives for a cause they believe in. When the Second Amendment speaks of regulating them, it’s talking about organizing and making sure that their weapons are functional. Making sure that everyone brings the needed supplies, ammunition, food, tents and camping equipment. Tactics are taught and practiced. Strengths and weaknesses are noted and squads are organized. Marksmanship is taught and refined. This is what “Well Regulated” means. The establishment of regulations to ensure that everyone shows up with the proper resources.
Dispelling Some Oft Recited Myths
A lot of sophistry is employed by the “anti-gun” movement. When talking about the Second Amendment. Inevitably you’ll hear someone ask, “who needs an assault rifle with a 30 round magazine to hunt deer?” The person generally sits back smugly as though they’ve nailed some profound point. Clearly they haven’t got a clue that the Second Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with protecting one’s right to hunt. Hunting was a foregone conclusion. At the time the Second Amendment was enacted, everybody hunted, if they expected to eat. If there is any hunting involved with the Second Amendment, it provides the Citizens with the means to hunt enemies of our Constitution both foreign and domestic. I’m sure some find this troubling because some of the people most interested in subverting the Second Amendment are also interested in subverting the rest of the Constitution. Yes we still have tyrants and would be tyrants in our Government today.
Another popular argument which I’m sure you’ve heard bandied about by people you would think would have the education to know better is, “at the time the Second Amendment was written, they had muskets.” The gist of their point is, the Founders never could have conceived of the fire power available today. Again a specious argument. The facts are at the time the Second Amendment was written, all the armies of the world – those using firearms – also only had muskets. Thus, the Founders intended that the citizens be armed equivalent to whatever military force they were likely to face.
I’m sure you’ve heard this argument as well. “What about people owning tanks, grenades, or missiles?” The simple facts are, there are people who do own fully functional tanks, live grenades and missiles. To own a grenade requires a federal background check and a $200 tax stamp per grenade. As far as missiles are concerned, there are hobbyist who build and launch their own rockets. If you can build a rocket that will carry 3 people into space – it’s already been done – you sure as Hell can build an explosive payload and fire that rocket along a ballistic trajectory.
Moreover, private citizens owned cannons before and after the Second Amendment was enacted. These were not little celebratory salute cannons. These were fully functional war cannons, equivalent to anything the military had at that time and they were used to protect plantations. My neighbors notwithstanding, I’m sure that I would be discussed on CNN, MSNBC and several other national news shows if I set up a brace of fully functional Revolutionary War period cannons on either side of my front door. The fact that they too function like the muskets they’re so fond of would make no never mind. They would be beating the drum beat of panic for all they’re worth.
Is The Second Amendment Still Relevant?
Another popular argument, usually made by those who do not understand the Second Amendment correctly is, that it has been rendered irrelevant. Their reasoning is, our military has become so technologically advanced that a citizenry equipped with small arms would be quickly put down by the likes of “Predator Drones,” super sonic jets dropping smart bombs, attack helicopters firing “mini-guns,” basically all the high-tech toys of today’s modern warfare.
That does sound daunting to be sure. Probably as daunting as a ragtag group of colonist going up against the most powerful army at that time back in 1776. However, we do have some “real world” experiences to look at. We’ve been in Afghanistan for over 12 years now. Afghanistan doesn’t have any organized army. They don’t have a navy or an air force, yet the most powerful military known to man has been fighting and dying there for over 12 years. During our adventures in Vietnam, we lost over 57,000 soldiers. Fortunately our medical science has advanced to the point that wounds which would have meant certain death during the Vietnam era, are now survivable. A last count, we’ve got over 32,000 casualties of the Afghan and Iraq wars. Most of them are in hospitals overseas in places like Germany. The actual death toll is around 3,000.
Not all the Afghans are fighting us. Much like our own Revolutionary War, there is only a percentage of Afghans who are hostile. Yet, that percentage, equipped only with “small arms” and improvised explosives are giving us one helluva time. Now consider the fact that there are more armed Americans with better weapons than the Afghans have. Further, factor into your thinking that a percentage of these are combat veterans. They’ve been trained in our strategies, tactics and techniques. Yes, I think the Founders set in place a very effective system to prevent tyranny.
We’ve Evolved Beyond The Need For The Second Amendment
“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” _George Santayana (The Life of Reason) 1905
If only that were true! Human evolution is a long, slow, laborious process. We often believe that because our technology has evolved, we have evolved. The truth is, we are the same human beings who produced “Alexander the Great,” Genghis Khan, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve also produced Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Clara Barton, Abraham Lincoln and many other great and good people as well.
To believe that we’ve come so far that our citizenry now has nothing to fear from our Government is like deluding one’s self into believing that you’ve managed to tame a rattlesnake. You can let it sleep on your bed, but it’s going to end poorly. I’m told that when President Richard Nixon met with Chairman Mao of Red China, he asked him what he thought of American democracy. Chairman Mao is supposed to have replied, “it’s an interesting experiment. Let’s see how it turns out.”
We forget that there are buildings in Europe, still in use today, that are older than our nation. We really haven’t been around all that long. There are Japanese Americans living today and some who’s parents were rounded up and put into internment camps during WWII. They were born here and were American citizens in the fullest sense of the word. Yet, they received none of the protections they were guaranteed under our Constitution.
To those who seem eager to operate on our Constitution and strip out the Second Amendment, beware there are Republicans who are equally eager to do away with “due process.” They are quite comfortable with people being designated an “Enemy Combatant,” tortured and held indefinitely without ever seeing a judge. They have no problem with the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay remaining open indefinitely. They have no problem with the Government invading your privacy or inserting itself between you and your doctor. The only thing putting the breaks on these people is the Constitution. Any time a person is ushered into a surgical suite to be cut open, there is a chance the patient will die. While those who object to the Second Amendment are making their cuts, these Republicans will get to make their cuts as well.
Yes, we do have tyrants in government today. Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlawed 64oz soft drinks. Think about that for a moment. With all the other things that were certainly on his plate, he threw his weight behind telling the citizens of New York City, what size drinks they could have. Personally? I find that terrifying! Why? Because it proves to me that he is interested in micro-managing peoples individual choices at a level heretofore unseen. The question is, what all wouldn’t he do if he thought he could get away with it. Now consider that he only accepts $1.00 in salary for the year. Thus, it’s not about the money, it’s about power and control. It has been my experience that those who crave power desperately are usually the last ones you want to have it.