We now have a gun culture in America that is unhealthy. It goes way beyond the possession of guns into the way American’s are to solve problems, relate to their fellow Americans and conduct themselves. It is now OK to use a physical approach to take a stand on something, act out a negative feeling that one is having and to demonstrate from a value system different that that held when this country was founded. The new rules are: “It is OK to be angry constantly. It is OK to be a negative scorekeeper on any issue (separate Blog coming ). It is OK to lie.”
The laws about owning and carrying a gun in public are very scary themselves. They are not connected in any way with our Second Amendment, and they do not promote health and the development of individuals and our society. Having a gun at home to defend oneself is one matter; carrying automatic weapons into public areas has not rational basis but is based on a miss-interpretation of our American value about Independence. Having leaders suggest that community tragedies where someone uses an automatic weapon to kill someone would be adverted if everyone carried a gun is totally illogical.
Our history shows that in the wild, wild west, where every man carried a gun or two to use for many purposes, when a town became civilized, it was required of everyone entering town to check their gun at the nearest saloon or the Sheriff’s office; they got them back when leaving the town. My friends in the wild west knew that have a collective group of people carrying a weapon was not a wise practice, set a precedent and norm for how negatively to handle relationship issues and was dangerous to the members of that community. Guns were valued and used daily, but in sound and practical ways.
Some history about the development of the Second Amendment to our Constitution is important for all to know. I start with the observation that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t rule that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual’s right to own a gun until 2008, when District of Columbia v. Heller struck down the capital’s law effectively banning handguns in the home. In fact, every other time in the history of this country, that the court had ruled previously on gun related matters, it had ruled otherwise.
When I watched our countries’ leaders work on our Constitution, several events or happenings occurred. The final version of The Constitution’s Second Amendment consists of just one sentence: “A well regulated militia, being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
This sentence was a minor point and got little focus. The whole Second Amendment grew out of the political tumult surrounding the drafting of the Constitution, which was done in secret by a group of mostly young men, many of whom had served together in the Continental Army. Having seen the chaos and mob violence that followed the Revolution, these “Federalists” feared the consequences of a weak central authority. They produced a charter that shifted power—at the time in the hands of the states—to a new national government.
“Anti-Federalists” opposed this new Constitution. The foes worried, among other things, that the new government would establish a “standing army” of professional soldiers and would disarm the 13 state militias, made up of part-time citizen-soldiers and revered as bulwarks against tyranny. These militias were the product of a world of civic duty and governmental compulsion utterly alien to us today. Every white man age 16 to 60 was enrolled. He was actually required to own—and bring—a musket or other military weapon.
On June 8, 1789, James Madison—an ardent Federalist who had won election to Congress only after agreeing to push for changes to the newly ratified Constitution—proposed 17 amendments on topics ranging from the size of congressional districts to legislative pay to the right to religious freedom. One amendment addressed the “well regulated militia” and the right “to keep and bear arms.” To this date it is not clear what he meant by it nor is there any documentation on its meaning. At that time, Americans expected to be able to own guns, a legacy of English common law and rights. But the overwhelming use of the phrase “bear arms” in those days referred to military activities.
There is not a single word about an individual’s right to a gun for self-defense or recreation in Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. Nor was it mentioned, with a few scattered exceptions, in the records of the ratification debates in the states. Nor did the U.S. House of Representatives discuss the topic as it marked up the Bill of Rights. In fact, the original version passed by the House included a conscientious objector provision. “A well regulated militia,” it explained, “composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no one religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”
Since that time, we have always had free ownership of guns in this country, many guns and gun laws in towns and states, governing everything from where gunpowder could be stored to who could carry a weapon—and courts overwhelmingly upheld these restrictions. Gun rights and gun control were seen as going hand in hand. Four times between 1876 and 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to rule that the Second Amendment protected individual gun ownership outside the context of a militia. As the Tennessee Supreme Court put it in 1840, “A man in the pursuit of deer, elk, and buffaloes might carry his rifle every day for forty years, and yet it would never be said of him that he had borne arms; much less could it be said that a private citizen bears arms because he has a dirk or pistol concealed under his clothes, or a spear in a cane.”
I will continue in a later Blog with the history about how the NRA came into existence, has brought about our policy interpretations today and today could be instrumental in bringing our society back to gun laws and policies that support the intent of those who wrote our Constitution and support the development and growth of human beings.