pretty damn much…
As a student of history, I believe that it is incredibly important to put historical documents within their appropriate context in order to better understand the original motivations and meanings of the words that the document contains. Every society, though there may be many commonalities between societies, is an entity that can only be completely understood by the people who comprised, formed, and experienced it on a daily basis. It is important to realize that the things that are important to us in American society and culture today are not the things that were important to American society and culture in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
One of the supreme differences between America today and America 350 years ago is that today we are not an occupied nation. We are not in the middle of a bloody revolution with forces made up of our untrained private citizens. In fact, we are currently the most formidable military power in the world. We have a military comprised of several different branches of trained military personnel, all with specific purposes aimed at defending our country’s private citizens from invasion, acts of terrorism, and internal conflict. Why, then, do private citizens feel the need to own firearms at all?
As far as I can tell from the arguments I have been exposed to recently, most NRA members and those in opposition to any gun control measures point to a specific clause of the the Constitution as their raison suprême. To quote, “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.” As with other clauses of the Constitution, the second amendment at first seems to be a blunt, specific statement. And at the time it was written, it certainly would have been specific enough. A milita still existed in the United States on December 15, 1791, when the Bill of Rights was officially ratified. In fact, in the newly created nation with an infant army, a militia was still a necessity. The threat of European conflict (see the War of 1812) was still an imminent possibility. At this time, taking away the rifles (rifles, which I must point out, were only able to fire a maximum of 45 shots per minute, a laughable amount when compared to our modern technology) of citizens who may be called on in the event of an attack on the nation would have been ludicrous.
In the context of our 21st century world, however, the intent of the second amendment becomes more vague. Because we are not an unstable, newborn nation without proper means of defense, we no longer have the need of a militia. Of course, when the second amendment is quoted by the NRA and others they most often, and conveniently, ignore the first part of the amendment, choosing to focus on the “right of the people to keep and bear arms […].” What I have yet to find is any reasonable justification behind their insistence that any citizen ought to have the right to own a gun with little (and, in some circles, ideally no) regulation by the government.
Unlike many anti-gun campaigners, I am not going to take this opportunity to bash the policies concerning private sales of guns or the so-called “gun show loophole.” Statistics simply do not reflect that guns sold at these venues or by private sellers have any significant impact on the crimes committed in the United States. What I find to be more of a problem than any policy on the regulation of firearms sold and purchased in America is the attitude toward a real and dangerous threat in our country today.
Why are Americans (who, let’s say, have purchased firearms legally) willing to take the risk that someone may use the gun that they own to do serious harm to another human being? If we are all completely honest with ourselves, is it not our job as citizens to try our best to protect our communities? When a person brings a firearm into their house, they relinquish a significant part of their ability to perform this duty. It is impossible for a private citizen to prevent unauthorized access to the guns that they own at all times. Anyone looking for an opportunity to acquire a gun for illicit purposes that knows a gunowner if they are motivated enough will be able to find the means and opportunity to acquire that weapon without the knowledge of the owner. The guns used in both the Columbine and Sandy Hook Elementary shootings were guns that were purchased legally and then used without the permission of the owner to commit heinous crimes. Is owning a gun simply for the pleasure of owning a gun reason enough to allow the risk of instances like these to continue? Is it not worth sacrificing a few individual liberties in order to better provide for the safety and security of our communities?
Let me now return to my original title. Were the founding fathers wrong to include the second amendment in the Bill of Rights? Within the context of their society, of course not. When George Washington said, ”Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good,” he said it within a very specific set of circumstances. These circumstances, however, are no longer applicable to our country’s situation. Certainly President Washington would not consider the overwhelming number of gun-related crimes committed in the United States today worth the risk that the “right to bear arms” now presents.
Kirsten Dunst & Sofia Coppola during “the virgin suicides” shoot.
Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell, by Marty McConnell (via theclotheshorse)