Monday, June 27, 2016


"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."

So reads the infamous Second Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights has been changed several times over the years, with new amendments added, and others being repealed. But the Second Amendment, a single sentence with only 27 words, has remained since the Constitution was drafted and adopted in 1791. It is, without a doubt, the most quoted and most contentious amendment in our modern world.

And it needs to go.

In 1791, the survival of the new United States was far from a sure thing. The country, which had only won independence from Great Britain a few years before, was a very loose gathering of "states" which had, until the Revolution, very little in common with each other, except for a series of grievances against Britain. But, despite all odds, the colonies won the war and then attempted to created a new republic, using some of the best ideals in the Enlightenment. The first constitution, the "Articles of Confederation" proved to be unworkable. There had also been several examples of discontent in the colonies against the federal government. A second attempt at a constitution had to be made, or the colonies would dissolve into a series of puny countries, ripe for the picking should European powers try to re-establish their supremacy in the New World.

The Founding Fathers had a difficult and delicate task. Americans had, and perhaps still have, a deep distrust for central authority. In the late eighteenth century, that distrust extended to a standing army. The reasoning behind this is that a standing army made it easier for tyrants and despots to assert control over the people. The Revolution threw off such an authority and the colonists grew to support the notion of the sovereignty of the People. Thus, they did not like the idea of a standing army. Besides, the efforts of local militias had, especially in the early going, successfully fought against the British army and their mercenaries. It was only when the fight became more desperate that the U.S. Congress authorized the creation of the Continental Army. The expectation was that, with the end of the war, the army would be disbanded. But security was still necessary against further European incursions and against potentially hostile First Nations who were coming into contact with American expansion of the frontier. Allowing private citizens to keep weapons in their homes, and become skilled in the use of these weapons, meant that a militia could be called up in little time and deal with whatever threat had materialized. And the amendment meant that no authority could take those weapons away from these citizen-soldiers.

Thus, the Second Amendment was crafted and brought into existence. It is a perfect eighteenth century solution to problem of national security, and it satisfied the fears and suspicions of many of the early citizens.

And it created a gun culture the like of which the world has never seen. Today, we have been pummelled with stories and images of mass murder and carnage that has claimed thousands of lives. These atrocities have happened in public places: places of worship, movie theatres, nightclubs, community centres, schools, malls. And the lives lost were, for the most part, innocent victims, unknown to the murderers who killed them, civilians who had been going about their daily activities with family, friends, colleagues and children. And they were killed, for the most part, with military-style weapons: automatic and semi-automatic weapons that repeatedly fire rounds as long as there are bullets in the clip. These weapons are designed for one thing and one thing only: to kill large numbers of people in a short span of time.

The weapon of choice in 1791 was a flint-lock muzzle-loading musket. It could fire 2 to 3 rounds a minute. After firing the weapon, the user had to manually load the next round: if he was a good musketeer, he could do this, as stated above, 2 or 3 times. But, if there were more targets in front of him, the musketeer would be overwhelmed by those targets and disarmed. That's why formations of troops in the eighteenth century were tightly packed and could work together to maximize the effect of their fire and protect each other from retaliation while they reloaded.

The AR-15 was not the weapon the Founding Fathers had envisioned.

Similarly, as the history of the United States evolved through the years, the aversion to a standing army gave way to the creation of a permanent, professional military the like of which the world has never seen. There is simply no need of a "well regulated militia" to exist any more. And there is no further need of the "right to keep and bear arms" for the general population. Despite the several terrible movies and TV mini-series that depict a country in ruins defended by plucky citizens with their trusty rifles, the likelihood of a national emergency of that magnitude is remote.

The only people who benefit from the retention of the Second Amendment are those in the guns and ammunition business, and the people of questionable intelligence and character who belong to semi-secret "militias" who exist either to someday destroy the overbearing federal government or survive some social apocalypse described above.

Repeal of the Second Amendment is long overdue. The act of enshrining the possession of dangerous weapons in a nation's constitution is an anachronism of a by-gone era, and a by-gone way of thinking. It will not mean the elimination of ownership of guns: hunters, farmers and sport shooters will still have them. Lesser legislation can guarantee this ownership. But making it a central part of the national psychology and mythology only puts innocent lives at risk.

The Second Amendment belongs in a museum, along with the muskets and the piece of parchment that created it.

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