Terry Lamphier: Guns, history and the Constitution
December 3, 2017
Supporters and opponents can be equally fervent and well spoken in their arguments. See the extremely intelligent pro/con intellectual and real-world gun arguments in the Jessica Chastain movie "Miss Sloane." It's complicated.
We witness anti-gun arguments almost daily via tragic and horrifying news stories of mass slaughter or domestic violence, yet despite the escalating number and severity of incidents, there are little signs of change, especially when many, if not most of Congress receive National Rifle Association donations and, to be fair, voter support for gun ownership.
We've come a long way from our country's founding days, when guns had an arguably solid and critical basis as tools for establishing our country in everything from protecting family and livestock to providing food on the table and security in remote and lawless areas. Any sport hunting was generally the domain of the ruling elite who thrived on the superficial power of the hunt but who rarely needed to kill for such abstracts as food or personal defense.
As guns evolved from crude single-shot ball and powder muskets to highly efficient, accurate and powerful rapid-fire weapons capable of mass destruction, society evolved away from the need for them, via expansion of food sources, law enforcement, etc. However, while the rationales for gun ownership have weakened, ownership fervor has, if anything, increased.
Today, pro-gun arguments seem to revolve around the following: a) personal defense, crime deterrence, and the fun of sport shooting and b) a constitutional right.
The first argument gets complicated when a deranged killer conducts a long range sniper attack on a public gathering. With seconds to determine friend and foe in the ensuing chaos, there would be no realistic protection from any "open carry" gun supporters but they would create an extremely dangerous environment for law enforcement, for others "carrying" and for unarmed bystanders — increasing rather than diminishing risk of loss of life to innocents.
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This does not preclude having a gun or guns at home for protection of family and livestock or hunting for food and/or recreational and competitive target shooting.
What about the constitutional argument? Many view the Constitution's ("highest law of the land") Second Amendment as inviolate — "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".
One rarely hears discussion, however, about a primary clause in the Constitution preceding the Second Amendment, a clause that arguably adds context to the semantically messy Second Amendment:
"Article I: The Congress shall have Power…
(Section 8) … to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress".
What is one to make Section 8? It is part of our Constitution, has not been altered or abolished and authorizes Congress to establish and regulate a context for gun ownership. Reading the Second Amendment as a clarification of congressional Section 8 powers suggests the intent was a concession to individual States' to have the right, without infringement, to organized, armed and disciplined State militias. Nowhere are there clear, unequivocal references supporting or opposing individual gun ownership but the Second Amendment implies States can set their own interpretations.
Ben Franklin allegedly had a couple other rationales for gun ownership: to protect oneself if the government couldn't and, to take back the government should it fail to support constitutional guarantees.
Following this line of reasoning, short of citizen ownership of tanks, missiles, etc. to protect oneself from modern State tyranny, citizens would be better served to learn how to protect themselves from control of society through government and private sector surveillance, data mining and Putin-style social media data manipulation and misinformation campaigns.
Entering 2018, there is nothing that will change the likelihood of continued mass murder unless Congress resolves to make changes. There are good and bad reasons for guns in society but with increasingly horrifying mass murder events, we will likely see more invasive government surveillance to find real madmen (or those with dangerous thoughts) unless we can agree on realistic and pragmatic gun laws that limit the damage from the misguided, the paranoid and the mentally ill.
Terry Lamphier, a former Nevada County supervisor, lives in Grass Valley.