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.
— 1791, Second Amendment
The wording of the Second Amendment could use a closer look for historical intent and context. On reading it you will find combined references to a “well-regulated militia” to protect the “free State,” followed by a “right to keep and bear arms.” Both appear to express need as well as right.
The phrasing is unfortunate as one would think the keeping and bearing of arms was a guaranteed right for any citizen for whatever reason. Historical context is everything here. It signaled the need to have armed citizens prepared to take collective action (“well-regulated militia”) against large or small organized threats in the absence of a professional standing army.
The framers were also thinking about protection of person and property, as law enforcement was virtually nonexistent then. Not that the rifle or long gun of the era, taken alone, was of much use, being a cumbersome muzzle-loading musket, firing one round per one or two minutes and accurate only at close range.
Colonists under English rule were forbidden to possess arms. The Second Amendment was a defiant answer to that ban. At the time of the Revolution and the establishment of a fledgling state, we were a mostly agricultural nation of four million people. Democracy was a social experiment. No one could be sure President George Washington would be the leading revolutionary voice of a democratic republic – or crowned king. And the banging on the door by British troops was still ringing in their ears.
I’d argue that today we have citizen militias, our professionally trained state and national guard forces called upon when needed. Their weapons are not kept in personal possession but in safeguarded armories. This citizen army meets the requirement of a well-regulated militia and the bearing and keeping of arms.
Gun power and gun powder in America have never known any relaxation or restraint in limits on guns since then, with few exceptions. Call the motives what you will: power, domination, fear of neighbors and non-citizens, the greed of gun makers and gun sellers, or simply a blood-lust that never left our collective bloodstream.
During the westward expansion we had the rifle used by “sportsmen hunters,” who for entertainment hopped on the transcontinental train to shoot bison from rail cars, leaving carcasses to rot where they dropped, decimating a source of life to the indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, closely followed by Samuel Colt’s 45 that won the West by overpowering the native residents who stood in the path of Manifest Destiny.
Modern firearm technology has upped the ante a hundredfold and the romanticized gun culture has kept up with it. The NRA is quick to make a clear division between criminals and law-abiding citizens. We have a local gun store that proudly advertises “guns for the good guys.” Sadly, the good guys are often the ones who end up in the news in active-shooter incidents. Too often it’s the good guys with no criminal record or psychiatric history who fall into acute emotional crisis, domestic disputes, road rage, employment disputes or other trigger event.
Perspective on the week’s biggest stories from the Courant’s Opinion page
A Vietnam veteran, I was trained on the M-16 automatic rifle and informed of the weapon’s firepower and ballistics. Its close cousin, the commercial AR-15, is a semi-automatic assault rifle that with simple external or internal devices bought on the internet can be converted to automatic. On impact the rounds have a shock-wave bursting-wound effect, making a tumbling, careening course through the body, hitting vital points outside its trajectory, shattering bones and internal organs in its path. The weapon’s lethality is well-known. Trauma surgeons and medical examiners have observed its destructive force first-hand. Ask them. Write to them.
Today, we have 30 million (or more) non-law-enforcement citizens who own AR-15 assault rifles. Gun enthusiasts and gun-culture “patriots” have taken to them with no recoil, high accuracy and muzzle velocity, giving owners the drug-high feeling of invincibility. It was banned by Congress in 1994, with a 10-year expiration date attached, and in 2004 the Republican majority let it expire – expire being the operative word.
As for legal liability, it’s ironic and pathetic that gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers are held to an almost nonexistent legal standard of liability (refer to federal liability protections), while ladder-makers are so lawsuit-weary they have to plaster their product with accident disclaimers. Take notice next time you go to a hardware store.
Nothing surprising here that for some time the majority of Americans have favored stricter gun control. You wouldn’t know that to see so little action on Capitol Hill to restrict access to guns. Recently, after Uvalde, the folks on The Hill made a token attempt – though it was mere political window-dressing. Could it be those non-legislators hanging out in the lobby?
We should commend Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and others, however, for their efforts to chip away at the stonewalls of a stonewalling Congress.
The NRA and other avid pro-gun groups sleaze-off the problem to mental health. My question: Whose? Theirs?
Paul Scollan is a member of CT Citizens against Gun Violence and a retired licensed clinical social worker in community mental health.