Nuzzling muzzles and a dubious entitlement to bear arms

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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).

I’m no Constitutional scholar nor historian, but I wonder if the wording of the Second Amendment could use a closer look for true intent and historical context. On reading it you will find combined references to citizens’ right to keep and bear arms and a “necessary” militia to protect the “free State.”

Both appear to express need as well as right. The phrasing, however, is ambiguous and grammatically confusing.  Does the keeping and bearing of arms refer to the individual citizen’s self-protection?  Or is it the need to have armed citizens who are prepared to take collective action (“well-regulated militia”) against large or small organized threats?  Or both?

Colonists under English rule were forbidden to possess arms.  At the time of the Revolution and the establishment of a fledgling state, we were a pre-industrial mostly agricultural nation of four million people who had their first president, George Washington. Democracy was still a social experiment. No one could be too sure he’d be the voice and representative of a democratic people – or crowned king.

Early colonists had little or no law enforcement protection. To increase chances of survival meant keeping weapons for protecting persons and property and hunting to feed the family. Rifles or long guns of the era were cumbersome muzzle-loading weapons, firing one or at most two rounds (if proficient) per minute and accurate only at close range.

The new nation’s framers were divided on the issue of a federal standing army for fear that government might become too powerful and take away the rights of citizens. Anti-federalists wanted states to have their own homegrown militias but also knew that a foreign invasion would potentially make a federal army necessary.  Whatever the threat, the new union of states would need armed citizens at-the-ready to step up to form a militia should a violent outbreak occur from within the borders.

Today, we still 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’s army” meets, as I see it, the requirement of a well-regulated militia and the bearing and keeping of arms.

Modern technology has upped the ante a hundredfold and “rights” with it. The NRA is quick to make a sharp 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 shootings and other tragic incidents. Too often it’s the good guys with no criminal record who fall into acute emotional crisis, domestic disputes, road rage or a rampage after a job-firing or other trigger event.

Do “law-abiding citizens” or anyone else able to purchase an AR-15 (the Bushmaster rifle used at Sandy Hook) have a legitimate reason to own one, other than claiming a dubious entitlement in the Constitution?  The M-16 was a “killer machine” as dubbed by the 60’s manufacturer who were eager to have it replace the M-14 during the Vietnam War. Today we have five million (or more) non-law-enforcement citizens who own AR-15 assault rifles.

A Vietnam veteran trained in the use of infantry weapons of the era, I was familiarized with the firepower and ballistics of the M-16. Its close cousin, the commercial AR-15, is a semi-automatic assault rifle that with simple external or internal devices available for purchase on-line (bump stocks), can be easily converted to automatic – making it equal in firepower to the M-16.

Many gun makers have prototypes of this assault weapon. The ballistics are much different than previous military rifles.  On impact the rounds take a “shock-wave”, tumbling course through the body, hitting vital points outside its trajectory, shattering bones and internal organs in its path.  The weapon’s lethality was demonstrated just recently in the Las Vegas shooting spree and more recently Parkland, Florida. Trauma surgeons treating such victims know this up-close.

The sitting Supreme Court is dominated by Constitutional originalists who wouldn’t challenge current interpretation of the Second Amendment. Similarly, a large number of legislators on both aisles on Capitol Hill wouldn’t dare do so for fear of losing political backing, campaign funds or their trigger-happy constituency – except for some courageous outspoken ones, now scorned or ignored like abolitionists before the Civil War.

Gun power and gun powder in America have never known any bounds. It shouldn’t be news to anyone that gun makers in New England sold arms to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Conscience didn’t hold up against the ugly face of greed.  Not to forget the Sharps .50-caliber rifle, used with impunity by hunters to shoot bison from a westward train, leaving them to rot where they dropped, decimating a source of life to the native Indians of the Great Plains.

As for legal liability, it’s ironic and pathetic that gun manufacturers, distributors and retailers are held to an almost non-existent legal standard of liability while ladder-makers are so lawsuit- weary they have to plaster their product with accident disclaimers.

The majority of Americans are and have been for gun control. Who are these people representing us?  Is this nation of ours really a money-ocracy?

Paul Scollan, a retired clinical social worker and poet, lives in Meriden.


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