He was sweating bullets when he came inside. Not surprising. The 105° heat assault was flanked by full-on humidity. His waterlogged shirt clung to the lining of his thick quilted winter coat, making its removal a bit of a challenge. He hung it on a beautifully maintained antique coat rack. Next to the rack, in an antique frame, was a yellowed, somewhat tattered sheet of paper with the artful penmanship of his great-great-great grampa, a military man. It said,
When it’s cold out, put on a warm coat.
Militias – local or provincial – by the beginning of the 18th Century had become formal with paid and often mendatory service, not unlike a small version of a national military. In an era of ongoing warfare between competing European empires, the colonies were in danger of attack by forces of France or Spain, nations often at war with the British. They had their own colonies at the edges of our colonial frontier.
More often the colonists were threatened by attack from Native American tribes that resented the ongoing violent takeover of their tribal land; and also when fighting as a proxy for France or Spain against British colonists. Militias supported the British army when their imperial wars were fought in North America.
Southern planters also feared slave rebellions and established their own militias while choosing to avoid service in the broader provincial southern militias. Unlike the New England colonies, in the South the dangerous stuff was for poor folk.
The founders of the new American nation had experienced first hand the sudden loss of basic freedom at the hand of the British army. They also knew history. A national military was seen as more of a threat to freedom than a defender of freedom. Even after the enactment of the American Constitution and the creation of a national military in 1789 as defense against foreign invasion, there was still deep division about the idea of a national standing army. Militias were still a vital part of American life and the potential default system for national defense. Then the militias were gone, the nation spread out, got some confidence. National military? You mean the army, right? What… did somebody have a problem with that?
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.
There it is. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution. The entire amendment. 17 words, not counting one- or two-letter words or the. OK… 27 words in all. A little more than a punctuation mark in a contract we’re legally bound to every time we click that [ AGREE ] link so we can move on already and launch some dinkoid app.
It’s 1791. Here’s what the 27 words say:
• A Militia. Not: a militia.
• A Militia – like the one you were in a few years ago when we kicked Brit ass; and like the Militia you were in a couple of years earlier and the militia from a few years before that; like the Militia you’re in now – is necessary to defend our nation if under attack.
• A regulated one will keep me from feeling entitled, when bored or low on cash, to use my weapon to loot your store or your home. In Europe in moments of non-war, soldiers would use their military training and gear to rob the countryside en masse. The Crusades were launched, in part, as a way to get bandit post-war troops out of the country to loot Muslims and Jews instead of their neighbors.
• A WELL regulated Militia is more likely than an ad hoc crew of stoners to defeat an invading force.
• So if the Brits or frogs or Krauts come ashore, we need to grab our guns off the rack and line up in the town square, ready to march. No time to go downtown when Monday rolls around to fill out an application for a gun permit and wait a few months for the background check to be approved. Therefore, I can legally own my own gun and have it waiting on the rack when not being used to pick up some venison for supper. It’s a few days before Christmas, 1791. Shop Rite closes early.
The The Second Amendment is a simple, clearly stated, reasonable, real-world based rationale for a legal right to private gun ownership in that place and time. Composing the Constitution was a long slog. I assume the framers strived for clarity. They probably should have listed all conditions that allowed for gun ownership and all the no-no ones. But they were probably dying to get back home. And paper wasn’t cheap back then. But if that were the case they could’ve used a simpler framing:
The people have a right to bear arms.
If I’m a member of a militia or a Militia, I can own a state-of-the-art combat weapon. It shoots a pellet at the bad guy and then I open my ammo bag and grab a wrapped-up pellet and jam it into the shaft (it’s sort of a package, diameter the same as the musket shaft) then grab a long metal rod to push the pellet all the way into the shaft, pull it out and then get my powder supply and put some in the powder place then aim and shoot and then I open my powder bag and grab a wrapped up pellet and jam it into the shaft then grab a long metal rod to push the pellet all the way into the shaft, pull it out and then get my powder supply and put some in the powder place then aim and shoot and then I open my ammo bag and…
In 2008 each Supreme Court justice sat and read the Second amendment a dozen times in the time it took to brush their teeth; and had their clerks read it even more times. In a 5-4 vote the Court determined that the Second Amendment nullified – erased – a broad spectrum of gun regulations enacted at a time when there is no legally sanctioned militia anywhere in America that is not the national military, National Guard, Coast Guard or local police force. That’s how those 27 words were interpreted.
Some asshole who’s pissed at the world for his many personal problems is permitted to own an arsenal of weapons including semi-automatics and little devices that shift your gun into a 400 rounds-a-minute slaughter machine. Then you can load up another 400, spin and fire for 60 seconds, and then another 400 rounds…
The comma is a big deal here. That sweaty guy with the Patagonia coat was a decent man, though not much of a reader, so the comma in his framed artifact didn’t register. He figured his way-back gramps noted that sometimes it gets cold out. The only point he was trying to make was: Wear a warm coat.
Scalia gassed off an astounding treatise on linguistics and grammatic construction to legitimize his ideological bias. He could have changed a few prepositions in his thesis to rationalize the opposite ruling in he were inclined. There’s a good reason why red staters are put off by intellectual types. Except Scalia. I’m sure the scoured his ruling and found it wordy but compelling.
This is where we are. Every Republican with a mic in face says it’s not the time to discuss gun regulation because someone just downed 500 people with a gun, killing 60. Why intentionally get further locked in a Bizarro World time loop? Why bother with reasoned arguments for controlling a lethal object? There are far more regs on decorative home renovations than there are for guns. And now states are permitting guns in bars where we go specifically to overdose on substances known to temporarily shut down the brain’s ability to control chaotic, potentially violent impulses.
How often do we hear the rationale that gun regulation is useless because if someone really wants to kill people he’ll find a way to do it. True, says I, but without the gun the death and premanent paralysis count will be considerably lower.
A few hours before the gun massacre in Sandy Hook a man in China went on a rampage attacking 24 people at a school including 23 children. With a knife. There’s strict gun regs in China. Nobody was killed. As strong as you desire is to kill multitudes, you can’t make a few hundred organ-ripping, bone-shattering knife stabs in all directions in a single minute. Even if you were able get a knife in and out of bodies 24 or 50 times in a minute, you’re likely to be too worn out to lock and load those muscles for a second round. Try throwing hard jabs and hooks – non-stop, no dancing – at a heavy bag for a solid minute. And that lacks the added time and effort needed to repeatedly dislodge a blade from layers of fat and muscle.
If regulation is useless because someone who wants to commit the crime will do it anyway, there is no point in laws of any kind. Why outlaw theft, kidnapping for ransom, rape, murder, predatory business practices, poisoning a city’s water supply, computer hacking, incarceration for saying something negative about the president. If some jackass wants to break those laws he will. Too bad. The Second Amendment says…
There are humans in legislative bodies all across the nation, and judges as well, who find that they’ll do it anyway argument persuasive. And open carry is legal so if somebody walks toward you with an irritated look on his face that makes you scared – shoot him. It’s OK. Even if his irritation was about your stalking him while openly carrying a gun.
This society is fucked.
— Polar Levine, News Goo Dissection, October 3, 2017
© Polar Levine 2017 content should not be reproduced elsewhere without prior permission