The Recorder – My Turn: Gun control voices in Tenn. met with same old suppression

Second Amendment


There were those in the South who fought and lost a war over whether white-skinned people were superior to others. They also thought they were entitled to gain wealth from the labor of people they had shipped here from Africa.

Defeated, some put on costumes and terrorized those who had been freed of slave labor. This was in 1868, down near the Alabama border, at Pulaski, Tennessee. A racist, President Woodrow Wilson so liked D.W. Griffith’s Ku Klux Klan-promoting film “Birth of a Nation” that he had it shown at the White House.

Memphis, Tennessee, the Mississippi River city where slaves rolled bales of cotton onto steamboats for shipment to cotton mills, is more famous as the place where city leaders conspired with a marksman to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. 55 years ago this month.

Some books are banned in Tennessee, but on the positive side, at Fisk University in Nashville, Diane Nash, along with John Lewis, organized freedom rides to end segregation on buses in the South.

Tennessee stays in the news, just now with mentally challenged white supremacist legislative majority adherents to Republican extremism voting to expel two Black legislators from their chamber for breaking decorum, mainly because they are Black.

They were demonstrating to pressure the House to pay attention and act: Children had just been murdered in a nearby school. Several years ago, John Lewis and others did the same thing in Congress to make an important point.

The issue is guns, specifically military-style weapons, and particularly those chosen to kill children in schools.

Ever since the U.S. military fought the Moros in the Philippines, it has desired weapons that fire rapidly, with ammunition that more effectively kills. The weapon of choice by those who have been coming into schools to kill teachers and schoolchildren is the AR-15. When converted to fully automatic operation, it can fire hundreds of rounds per minute, and these bullets are designed to tumble and tear the victim’s insides.

About 45,000 Americans are killed by guns each year. An increasing number are children. Guns account for more child deaths here in the U.S. than any other cause.

Our Constitution’s Second Amendment provides, “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.” (The first 12 words are conveniently omitted when the NRA quotes.)

This amendment was on the Founders’ minds in the hour when Washington’s forces fighting the British were significantly militias from the colonies. Future defense of the country was expected to come from state militias. The colonists feared a national army.

The militias created in the South were formed to defend against slave rebellions and to keep slaves from running away. Southerners demanded such an armed militia provision be put into the Constitution. In the Militia Act of 1903, Congress created the National Guard, an expression of how the Second Amendment was to deliver its promise.

In short, the Constitution did not grant possession of guns for indiscriminate killing of others. That is something some justices of the Supreme Court have decided to interpret from their reading of the Second Amendment — and to allow to happen.

In the interest of public safety, the District of Columbia (Washington) had a law limiting possession of firearms. A man named Heller challenged the law. In 2008, based on their interpretation of the Second Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of Heller. For the majority, Judge Antonin Scalia wrote, “There seems to us no doubt, on the basis of both text and history, that the Second Amendment conferred right to keep and bear arms.”

Had he been wiser, he could as easily have interpreted the amendment as the Framers intended. This narrow ruling has led to much greater proliferation of guns and more killings. The number of guns possessed long ago exceeded the number of people living in the United States. Ironically, Justice Scalia died of heart failure eight years later while out hunting carrying a gun.

Democrats are on record to once again ban possession of military-style weapons. Republicans could win votes, and hearts, by joining in this effort, but the gun lobby pays for their campaigns, and they will join no effort to reduce gun deaths. Like banning abortion, this is a vastly unpopular long-term losing political strategy.

Hunters, relax. We need to outlaw possession of all military weapons and also confiscate them under severe penalty of law. Only an inept hunter needs an AR-15.

Charlemont resident Carl Doerner is an author and historian, currently editing his new work, “Breaking the Silence: Revisioning the American Narrative.”



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