Oh, those pesky subordinate clauses. Take this simple sentence for example: “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.
When did guns become a totem representing all that is good and right in the US.? How did the Gun God acquire the unholy authority to condone, and according to some gun gurus, encourage rampant murder across the land? Pagan idolatry is still among us; we sacrifice 30,000 Americans to the Gun God every year. We have nearly as many firearms as there are men, women and children in the US: almost 300 million guns In a population of 313 million. The average gun owner has seven guns.
I know there are untold millions of honest, respectable, law-abiding Americans, responsible people all, who own guns. (I’ll hazard a guess, though, that those honest, respectable, law-abiding Americans don’t own 30-round assault weapons.) Some of those people belong to the NRA and others don’t. Members or not, people overwhelmingly want safer streets and schools and many think Wayne LaPierre is an unprincipled idiot-for-hire.
I also know the Supreme Court has ruled that, with a few inconsequential restrictions, every Tom, Dick, and Dirty Harry wannabe can own a gun. Johnny already got his gun. Be that as it may, the purpose – the spirit – of the Second Amendment was to ensure the new nation that it would remain a nation of citizen soldiers having a militia ready to mobilize at a moment’s notice to defend the new country.In 1783 guns were an important element of society and people who had guns knew how to use them; the Second Amendment wasn’t intended to create a society of thugs, murderers, or irresponsible gun owners. Had the framers of the Constitution even considered that a looming danger the Amendment would most certainly have been phrased differently.
Having a prepared and ready militia was wise and essential. After the Revolution, having acquired a bad taste under British rule for large standing armies, America reduced the standing military to 5,000 men under arms (less than one-tenth of one percent of the population, essentially no army at all). Few of our citizen solders carried pistols and except in the hands of skilled marksmen both pistols and rifles were highly inaccurate. Indeed, you could stand before the broad side of a barn and not hit it.
Today the militia of post-Revolutionary America has become the National Guard and the Reserves. Contemporary organizations calling themselves militias have no legal standing as military bodies, which seems to bother them not in the least. Indeed they revel in the idea of ignoring and mocking the nation of law they assert they are protecting. Some openly want to overthrow the government and others want to make sure they are safe from government forces (pronounced “gub’ment” with a guttural mumble) smashing in their doors in the dead of night. All of them are alleged grownups who like to run around in the woods in silly costumes playing “Bang! Bang! You’re Dead”. To call them vigilantes is to flatter them.
A subordinate clause is a clause that augments an independent clause with additional information. In the Second Amendment, according to basic English and especially the English of America’s Founders, the subordinate clause is “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”, It was intended to support (augment) the primary purpose of the sentence namely “A well regulated, militia being necessary to the security of a free State”. For a couple centuries, the Supreme Court stayed away from the issue, leaving it to the states, or if pressed, supported the intent of the Framers of the Constitution. That wasn’t unusual; courts often look to what legislators meant (“the spirit of the law”) when making difficult decisions even though the spirit of the law is not, in fact, part of the law itself.
Why the Court did an about-turn and bowed to pressure and sentiments stemming from an imperfect understanding of basic, educated and informed, usages of the English language escapes me. The Supreme Court is the court of last appeal subject to nobody’s opinion other than future Courts, but I don’t have to like it or agree with it. The Constitution guarantees everybody’s right to make their own decisions… and the responsibility of living with the consequences.
The consequences of the Court’s decision on the Second Amendment were that they gave everybody who already owned a gun or wanted one the right to continue making their own personal decisions about right, wrong, law, and justice. Nothing really changed and an ever growing number of people, especially young people, minorities, and the poor are dying. In a nation dedicated to the rule of law the Second Amendment has been interpreted as a license for lawlessness and violence.
I’m not against guns. I’m against stupidity. I grew up in a remote village on an isolated mountain farm where we didn’t have guns; we had a veritable arsenal. The gun closet in the kitchen held a least ten rifles, a few shotguns, and two or three pistols. We even had our own gun shop where we repaired our weaponry and loaded (or, more accurately, deliberately overloaded) our own ammo. The gun shop was in the haymow. Sometimes I look back and wonder how it was that we never blew ourselves up or burned down the barn.
Neither I nor anyone in the family ever shot a human being intentionally or otherwise. That compares favorably with the fact that legal gun owners are six times more likely to accidentally shoot themselves or somebody in the family than they are to shoot an intruder or attacker. More to the point, the average number of outright homicides in the US (around 10,000 annually) offers a bloodcurdling comparison to other developed countries; Western Europe as a whole averages fewer than 150 homicides annually. In Canada the number is fewer than 200 (which puts the lie to excuses that guns are part of our unique national heritage), and in Japan there are fewer than 50 murders per annum.
With regard to guns, and gun ownership, it is once again proven that law, justice, and common sense, are all too often mutually exclusive realities.