In my Aug. 27 Cap Times column, I addressed one of the standard avoidance measures used by politicians to avoid taking action to reduce the human carnage caused by handguns and assault weapons: blame the person, not the gun.
Here, I will address the other: the reflexive reference to the Second Amendment as though it were an article of faith which enshrines firearm ownership as a natural law. The text and the history of the Second Amendment tell us that the reality is quite different.
The text of the Second Amendment is grammatically flawed. It contains two unnecessary commas and three inappropriate capitalizations. Translated into modern English, it would read as follows:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, because a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state."
The right is clearly stated in the primary clause, but the terms used by the authors of the Constitution in the secondary clause require definition:
1. Well regulated militia: A militia is a group of people (men) bearing arms. “Well regulated” serves to indicate an army with a command structure and to distinguish such an army from an armed mob.
2. Security of a free state: The purpose of the Constitution was to bind 13 states into a single nation. Why, then, did six states insist on declaring themselves free and in need of armies to guarantee their security? The states whose leaders demanded this compromise were the agricultural states whose wealth was generated by the labor of African slaves. The “well regulated militias” which were authorized by the second amendment were state armies, formed for the explicit purpose of preventing the federal government from ending slavery.
The United States Constitution was ratified in 1791. Jump ahead to 1861. On April 14, following the inauguration of President Abraham Lincoln, the well regulated militia of South Carolina captured Fort Sumter and started the Civil War. On April 19, the well regulated militia of Virginia captured the United States naval base at Gosport. And, on July 21, the well regulated militias of the slave states, operating under a unified command structure as the Army of the Confederacy, defeated the Union Army at the first battle of Manassas.
With these events, the purpose of the Second Amendment was totally fulfilled.
The very specific wording and the history of the Second Amendment make it clear that a politician’s evocation of the hallowed right to own handguns and assault weapons, the sole purpose of which are to kill human beings, achieves two goals. It keeps her or him in the pocket of the firearms industry and it guarantees the continuation of the uniquely American slaughter of its citizens by other citizens who keep and bear arms.
Gregory L. Schmidt, M.D., Ph.D., is retired. He was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine.
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