“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.”
Eastern New Mexico and West Texas . . .
It’s a part of world that is best known for its rolling tumbleweeds, sand storms and blazing hot summer days — thunder storms are rare occurrences, but are welcome when they arrive unannounced.
This desolate region is the home for such critters as jack rabbits, rattlesnakes, lizards, coyotes and quail. This same area provides thousands of acres of grazing land for cattle ranchers, evidenced by barbed wire fences and windmills to pump fresh water for the livestock and it was all within a mile of my backyard.
As a kid growing up, I spent many a day or afternoon either taking target practice or hunting for whatever crossed my path. In many respects, it was a hunters’ paradise. The key word is — hunter — the kind that uses guns. Early on, I was taught to use guns safely for hunting. The same was true for many of my friends and school mates.
Then was then, and now is now. It’s a different world today . . .
In fact, one of the raging political questions of today involves gun ownership. In short, should governments prohibit private citizens from owning some or all kinds of guns? The opinion spectrum on the question is indeed diverse and held with great tenacity.
As I have reflected on the gun control issue in today’s society, I have concluded that it merits far more attention than I am able to give it in this brief column. Therefore, I am electing to focus on a limited number of salient points to help put today’s debate and discussion in historical perspective.
My first point is to remind us that the legal battle over the meaning of the Second Amendment to the Constitution is not new . . . the battle has raged off and on from the very beginnings of our country dating back to 1789.
From the outset, the meaning and interpretation of the Second Amendment has led to endless arguments over whether it was fashioned to guarantee an individual right to firearms or merely to keep and bear them as part of a “well regulated militia.” It is important to understand that to early Americans a state militias represented a line of defense against the possibility of a national army
used to suppress both the rights of citizens and states.
However, prior to the 20th century, the Supreme Court heard few Second Amendment cases because there were few laws regulating firearms outside the South where laws often barred African-Americans from owning them
With the rise of organized crime during Prohibition, Congress passed the National Firearms Act of 1934. The NFA required owners to register sawed-off shotguns and automatic weapons and imposed taxes on them. Then in a 1939 ruling, United States v. Miller, the court held that because such weapons were not part of the equipment of an ordinary militia, they were not protected by the Second Amendment.
In its 2008 ruling, the court changed direction, recognizing an individual right to bear arms. However, the court also allowed that government can regulate firearms in some circumstances. Some examples include the right of convicted felons and the mentally ill to possess guns. It also did not ban the prohibition of guns in schools and other public buildings; nor did it mean to ban the kinds of guns not normally used for self-defense such as automatic rifles.
All of this may change in the near future with the use of AR-15s and AK-47s in recent multiple mass slaying in schools, churches and elsewhere across the United States.
I pause at this point to ask you the following questions.
What doescthe 2nd Amendment of our Constitution mean to you, personally?
Does it mean that everyone in the United States is entitled to own a gun?
Does it mean that our Constitution favors the establishment and maintenance of a band of citizen soldiers and that owning guns is part of their requisite equipment?
Are, perhaps, the two parts not related at all? Are they just two unrelated statements that militias are a good thing and so is owning a weapon (if you want to do so)?
This much I have come to believe. The meaning of the “right to keep and bear arms” in 1789 meant a flint-lock rifle, not an Uzi. The word “arms” in the constitution did not envision an AF-15 or a AK-47.
While there is little satisfaction in my own heart and mind, I have also come to believe that in the United States, the gun control issue is important for several other reasons:
1) It upholds the meaning of the Second Amendment to the Constitution as it was originally intended.
2) More fundamentally, it effectively protects a basic human right — the right of self-defensed.
3) The right of citizens to bear arms is a significant protection against tyranny. It is a protection against an oppressive, dictatorial regime taking control of the nation against the will of the vast majority of its citizens.
4) And finally, study after study has shown where private citizens have the right to possess guns for self-defense, it is a significant deterrent to violent crime, however it does not eliminate it.
After all is said and done, the question that begs to be answered by each of us is very simple. “Is it a wise decision for me to own a gun?” There is room for each of us to differ about the question and for individuals to decide what is best in their situation. Some may live in areas where they think the need for any weapon (even for self-defense) is outweighed by the negative consideration of the cost and potential danger of a gun being found and being misused by a child or used in an accidental way.
Those are matters of individual preference and personal decision. I have made my choice. Have you?
Until next time..
— By Loren Simmonds
Loren Simmonds has been a resident of Lynnwood for 37 years. He served on the Lynnwood City Council for 16 years, including eight as Council President. He remains active in the community by serving on the Parks and Recreation Foundation Board, Civil Service Commission and the Snohomish County Planning Commission. He believes that volunteerism sows the seeds of community. Loren is semi-retired and works as a writer, speaker and leadership coach.