The Weiner Component #19 – Guns & the American Way of Life


The Second Amendment to the Constitution states:  “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 does it mean?  Why was it written?

The Constitution was adapted in 1787 by eleven of the Twelve States that had won their independence from England.  Each state functioned as an independent entity, existing as a loose new nation under the Articles of Confederation.  The Constitution was meant to tie the states into a single unit or nation and required ¾ of the states, 9, to approve it.  Some of the state constitutions included a Bill of Rights that specifically stated the rights of all individuals.  A number of the states requested that a Bill of Rights be added to the Constitution.   The Founders promised this during the ratification process.  The question then became where to put this declaration.  Some wanted it to be in the document, others wanted it to be added as an appendage to the Constitution.  It was finally decided to add it as Amendments to the Constitution.   James Madison wrote twelve Amendments; ten of these were adopted and became the Bill of Rights in 1791.

The Second Amendment is a run-on sentence that has two distinct meanings.   Is the purpose of this sentence to give everyone the ability to be armed or is it to provide a militia in times of need?

Any established government needs a militia.  The new United States did not have one.  After the Revolutionary War all the troops went home, both from the states and the National government.  In emergencies the central government drew its troops from the free citizenry within the states.  The states did not have any functioning military; they got their troops from their citizenry.  Therefore it would follow that the local citizens had to have their own armaments, muskets, which could be used when the occasion occurred.

This would be a logical interpretation of the Second Amendment when it came into being shortly before the turn of the 19th Century.  Nowhere does it indicate an unlimited right to bear arms: pistols, rifles, automatic weapons of war, assault armaments, rocket launchers, high impact ammunition, magazines or drums capable of holding up to one hundred rounds of ammunition.  People owned weapons in the early days of our nation because they were tools used for hunting and protection.  We now have stores that provide us with food and police forces that provide us with protection.  We have set up a government under the Constitution that provides for our safety and welfare.

The Second Amendment has been used to sanctify the possession of weapons.  How important is the ownership of guns to a good percentage of the American public?  And how important are the types of ordinance owned?

My oldest son owns one or several weapons.  He goes hunting on average of no more than once a year, going with friends from California to Colorado.  He specifically told me once that if you own guns you need a safe at one end of your house for your weapons and a safe at the other end of your house for the ammunition.  He currently has four sons living with him and his wife.  If an emergency ever arose where he had to protect his family would he have time to get a gun and load it?  As a matter of fact in a large number of shootings that occur in households where the owner has a weapon for defense, it is the owner who gets shot.  Unlike the movies a gun does not necessarily stop a home invader and it is very difficult for an ordinary person to actually shoot someone.

Yet the thought, to my son, of someone taking his guns away from him is virtually inconceivable.  It is like removing a holy relic from his house.  He would support no government administration that attempted to do this.  I don’t consider him unique.  I suspect a goodly percentage of the gun owners in this country have a similar attitude.

What is there that is so wonderful about owning a weapon?  I would suspect that it fills some psychological need, some extension of power or strength, or even of identity.  The gun has become part of their integral self.  This is probably the essence of the “gun culture” in the United States.

Yet for this we, as a nation, pay a continuing price in terms of continued use by the irresponsible or mentally disabled in terms of lives continually taken from our citizens.  Perhaps the most blatant instance is the massacre of children and adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in December of 2012 by a mentally ill young man.  These killing shocked the nation and have brought the legality of military assault weapons into question.

Does the average gun-loving citizen need a weapon that the military would use in a war firefight?  I hardly think so.  Somehow the Second Amendment to the Constitution has nothing to do with all of this.

What is the cause of this “gun culture” in the United States?  If we look to the movies, particularly on television a good percentage of the films utilize weapons and shoot outs.  Does this really exist in real life or is it a fantasy to enhance the myth of manliness in drama?  The cinema has also created a mythical  “old west.”  People there generally did not go around wearing pistols in holsters and continually settling their disputes with a fast draw.  Cowboys wore pistols as a noisemaking tool in controlling cattle.  Most westerners owned rifles that they did not carry with them at all times.  The various attempts to legalize concealed weapons are relatively new phenomena.  Today we seem to be trying to get back to a time that never really existed.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is an organization of 4.3 million members in a nation of over 330 million people, where the leadership holds positions far to the right of a goodly percentage of its own members who, according to poles taken since the Newtown, Conn. Tragedy, would like to see more regulation on the sales of assault and other weapons, as well as high impact ammunition.  I understand that there is pressure brought upon this group by other small groups far to the right of the NRA who feel the NRA has compromised and given up far too many gun rights already.  Also the NRA, in addition to being funded by its member’s dues, is also funded by the weapon industry.  They are considered a powerful lobbying group and are heavily involved in political campaigns.  The NRA has what seems to be a “one strike” principle.  If anyone of either party ever supports legislation that restricts weapon usage in any way they will financially oppose him in his next primary and/or election.  Their goal seems to be to increase the number of weapons out among the general public with no restriction on the types of guns or ammunition.  .

However, the situation, as it currently exists, is totally ridiculous.  In terms of the percentage of weapons in the hands of the population there are far more today than there ever was in the wildest days of the Wild West.  The legal requirements for buying weapons today are a joke.  Anyone can buy virtually any kind of firearm if they have the cash.  And, unfortunately, the system as it is currently set up allows anyone to purchase these weapons at will.

The NRA’s president, Wayne La Pierre, has suggested that Congress pass a law and fund having a police officer in every elementary school in the United States.  That, he apparently feels, would protect all children from unstable people on their campuses with weapons.  That would bring about several undesirable changes.  It would turn every single elementary school into an armed camp and destroy the concept of the school being a safe place.  Also Mr. La Pierre has not been to any elementary or any other public school campus in many years.  The campus covers a large area of land, far more that a square block, with a multitude of classrooms.  How would one police officer be able to assure safety constantly throughout the entire structure?  Also there were police present during the Columbine High School Massacre and the Virginia Tech Massacre.  They were not able to stop killing sprees by unstable people.

The NRA concept is nonsense.  It would create feelings of insecurity among the students and staff of the elementary schools in our nation and probably create generations of insecure people.  In addition all those anxious people with weapons would have occasional accidents.  What we need to do is limit the types of weapons available and provide total background checks on all persons purchasing any kind of firearm.

Do people have a right in the United States to own guns?  I suspect that James Madison’s reason for writing the Second Amendment to the Constitution is different from the interpretation of some of the judges who have ruled on its meaning.  If we look at the era between 1980 and 2012 we find that there have been conservative Republican presidents for twenty of the thirty-two years.  They have appointed a host of conservative justices.  Given the reverse from 2008 on we could get a like or larger number of liberal judges.  The interpretation of the Second Amendment can easily go either way.

No one is saying that guns should be removed from everyone.  What this article is indicating is that sanity should rule the ownership of weapons.  Responsible people have no problem with them; it is irresponsible individuals who should not be able to acquire them.

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