As mass shooting deaths around the country again grab our attention, the Second Amendment of the Constitution comes to mind, stating: “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.” This one-sentence amendment, discussed to exhaustion, lives on, worshipped by some, denigrated by others and variously interpreted by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, gun-related deaths continue unabated, leading one to wonder if the amendment is accomplishing its basic goal.
When the Constitution and the first ten amendments were written in 1781, they reflected the circumstances of that era. There was no national army to protect the former British colonies, now independent states; instead, militias were organized and trained by the states or other political units to respond to potential threats both from abroad or within the country. The weapons of a typical militia were the weapons provided by the citizens themselves.
Today, the “well regulated militia” is the National Guard. The Guard has been called to fight in many wars in the last century and beyond. Yet, with the possible exception of Gen. George Patton, who sometimes carried ivory handled pistols in World War II, theses wars were not fought with weapons from home.
It is surprising that so much value is placed on the Second Amendment protecting the “right to bear arms” when it is no longer necessary for individual citizens to provide personal weapons when serving in our defense forces. Weapons are provided by the state and generally turned in and stored by the governing organization at the end of the service member's duty. Having guns in every guardsman’s home seems not to be very important.
So, whatever the pertinence of the Second Amendment in our early history, whether to protect us from the British or to suppress slave rebellions, it now appears disoriented in how our country currently defends itself. But, it seems fair to say, it has contributed to the flood of weapons drifting about our country, too often into the hands of the wrong people.
Gerald B. Jacobs lives in Moorhead.
This letter does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.