To the editor: The real Second Amendment

Second Amendment


If the Founding Fathers were around today, they would be flabbergasted by our inability to take even the most basic, common sense steps to protect our children from being murdered at school. Passively accepting, year after year, horrific
school shootings, like the recent slaughter in Uvalde, Texas, would strike them as collective madness, which it is.

In any sizable segment of the population there always will be some people who are so emotionally unbalanced, mentally ill, isolated and distraught, or politically radicalized that they will lash out given the opportunity and a set of circumstances that triggers their violent impulses.

Allowing nearly everyone in the U.S. unrestricted access to assault weapons that can snuff out dozens of innocent lives in a few seconds virtually guarantees that some of those guns eventually will wind up in the hands of the wrong people at the wrong time, with predictable, ghastly results.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Founders did not add the Second Amendment to the Constitution to arm Americans so they could resist the central government if they felt it was oppressing them. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. Citizens
were guaranteed the right to bear arms so they could defend, not resist, the government. This is plainly stated in the first clause of the Second Amendment, which refers to “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”

The Founders added the Second Amendment to the Constitution because they wanted to avoid creating a “standing army” (i.e. a permanent, professional military establishment). History had shown over and over that armies often became the
tools of tyrants. Indeed, the Founders fought for nearly eight bloody years against British and Hessian professional soldiers to win their independence. Instead of a standing army, the Founders preferred to rely upon the militia to defend the state against its enemies, domestic and foreign. It is for this reason that the second clause of the Second Amendment says “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Alexander Hamilton made this very clear in Federalist #29 when he wrote “…it will be possible to have an excellent body of well-trained militia ready to take the field whenever the defense of the State shall require it…This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it…”

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Relying upon a militia was a nice ideal, it just didn’t work especially well. Even during the Revolution, George Washington often complained that the militia were undisciplined, poorly trained and had an annoying habit of going home in the middle of a military campaign when their enlistments were up. Clearly the militia had moments of glory (Lexington and Concord among them) and contributed to the Cause, but without the Continental Army (the seedbed of a standing army) we would not have won our independence. As the United States expanded and became more involved in international affairs it became obvious that a permanent army and navy were necessary.

Times changed, we adapted. Today a permanent military establishment controlled by a civilian government is accepted as a matter of course by almost everyone. Indeed, polls indicate that Americans respect and admire the military more than just about any government institution (certainly far more than Congress). Because everyday civilians are not expected to drop what they are doing to respond to a domestic insurrection or invading army, they do not need to be armed with AR-15s.

Nevertheless, the NRA, gun rights advocates and even some Supreme Court justices conveniently decouple the two halves of the Second Amendment, ignoring the first clause altogether, or dismissing it as if it were some meaningless rhetorical
flourish. It is commonplace to read blogs and tweets which claim that the amendment’s original intent was to arm citizens to resist governmental repression, and that the right to possess any weapon for that purpose is virtually unlimited and sacred.

This interpretation is not just historically inaccurate, it is dangerous and it’s getting our children killed. There are far more guns circulating in America than anywhere else in the world (well over 300 million; 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents) and we have far more mass shootings than any other nation. That’s not a coincidence.

What is a coincidence is that in the wake of the slaughter in Uvalde the NRA will hold its annual national convention in Houston over Memorial Day weekend.  Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will be there trolling for money and sound
bites that will play well on Fox News. The air will be thick with NRA slogans such as, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” (Actually, in the U.S. people kill people with guns, and they kill a lot of soft targets very quickly with
semi-automatic guns.) Attendees surely will be warned that any compromise on gun control is a slippery slope toward socialism and that the radical left is “coming for your guns.”

Ironically, all firearms will be banned from the convention hall for Trump’s safety (except for vendors who will be hawking their wares). Apparently, the NRA has no problem banning guns in order to protect themselves, they just don’t want to ban them to protect children.

Bill Dunkel
Windham

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