The Second Amendment
A week has passed since the Las Vegas Massacre and my brain is a hornet’s nest that’s been kicked. The issues that are buzzing most frequently and loudest have to do with a) the shooter, b) the tepid --- but expected --- response regarding gun control, and c) the 2nd Amendment itself. Before delving into this essay let me say that, while not a gun owner, I grew up with guns (for hunting, as well as tons of toys guns --- photo, left, above) and believe that owning a firearm for hunting, for a firing range, or even for self-defense, is clearly a right protected by the 2nd Amendment. I do have a lot of problems with allowing people to purchase military-grade weapons as well as “open-carry” or “concealed carry” laws --- particularly regarding public safety. But this essay will only focus on the Las Vegas Massacre and the Second Amendment.
Regarding the shooter, Stephen Paddock, we still don’t know what his motive might have been but we do know this: he was white and he was a millionaire. Some have questioned on the news (though not enough for my liking): what if he had been Black, or Mexican, or Muslim? Neighborhoods would be overturned, arrests of “people of interest” and “possible accomplices” would already have been made, and the Tweeter-in-Chief would be screaming for travel bans, lifetime incarceration or the death penalty! As a white millionaire, however, he will be written off as a “disturbed” individual, a “lone wolf driven by demons,” and the like. Since he left little in the way of a “digital footprint,” there’s no speculation about some association with ISIS, no “manifesto”, no suicide note. It’s simply a mystery wrapped in an enigma.
We all have learned what a “bump-stock” is, of course, and even the NRA has conceded that the ATF (not Congress!) might impose some regulations over its production and sale. Big Whoop there. That people are seeing this as some kind of “movement” by the NRA is ridiculous and no one should believe, for ONE MINUTE, that Wayne LaPierre and his fanatical base is moving one inch in any direction! I actually have to say that I tend to agree with Bill O’Reilly’s statement that was published in The Hill this week:
“Public safety demands logical gun laws but the issue is so polarizing and emotional that little will be accomplished as there is no common ground. The NRA and its supporters want easy access to weapons, while the left wants them banned. This is the price of freedom. Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are."
While those on the left will contend they do not want guns “banned,” it really doesn’t matter, does it? The Congress is in the NRA’s pocket and has been for quite some time and the fact that a minor concession like the “bump-stock” being regulated is seen as some kind of “progress” is delusional. Don’t get me wrong, I believe guns are a scourge on our house but, for the life of me, I can’t see any way of moving this issue. Garry Wills, a far better writer and thinker than I, writing in the New York Review of Books after the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012, called the Gun-Control/Second Amendment issue “Our Moloch.” This is an Old Testament biblical reference to a pagan God who lived on human sacrifice (children, particularly). The adoration of guns in the United States is “Our Moloch” and Wills sums it up as follows:
Adoration of Moloch permeates the country, imposing a hushed silence as he works his will. One cannot question his rites, even as the blood is gushing through the idol’s teeth. The White House spokesman invokes the silence of traditional in religious ceremony. “It is not the time” to question Moloch. No time is right for showing disrespect for Moloch. The fact that the gun is a reverenced god can be seen in its manifold and apparently resistless powers. How do we worship it? Let us count the ways:
1. It has the power to destroy the reasoning process. It forbids making logical connections. We are required to deny that there is any connection between the fact that we have the greatest number of guns in private hands and the greatest number of deaths from them. Denial on this scale always comes from or is protected by religious fundamentalism. Thus do we deny global warming, or evolution, or biblical errancy. Reason is helpless before such abject faith.
2. It has the power to turn all our politicians as a class into invertebrate and mute attendants at the shrine. None dare suggest that Moloch can in any way be reined in without being denounced by the pope of this religion, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, as trying to destroy Moloch, to take away all guns.
3. It has the power to distort our constitutional thinking. It says that the right to “bear arms,” a military term, gives anyone, anywhere in our country, the power to mow down civilians with military weapons. Even the Supreme Court has been cowed, reversing its own long history of recognizing that the Second Amendment applied to militias. Now the court feels bound to guarantee that any and every madman can indulge his “religion” of slaughter. Moloch brooks no dissent, even from the highest court in the land.
And that leads to a final thought regarding the historical background of the 2nd Amendment. First and foremost, there’s the text of the Second Amendment:
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.
Typical of the “Founding Fathers,” the language of this Amendment is general, allowing for future generations to interpret its meaning. However, the first phrase, “A well regulated Militia” indicates that the thinking was focused on the military defense of the newly-created Nation, which initially fought the “tyrannical” Brits with their colonial militias. The second clause of the sentence, “being necessary to the security of a free State,” is another phrase rife for interpretation. That it says “a free State” (and not “free Country/Nation”) has led to no little controversy. In part, no doubt, the Founders were concerned with the individual States having their own separate militias in case the centralized Federal government (like Great Britain’s King & Parliament) became abusive, tyrannical, or oppressive. But there is also a current of historical interpretation that claims State Militias were particularly necessary in the South because they were needed to insure control of the slave population --- and were, very often, used as slave patrols --- sent out to “round up” runaways. According to the 1790 United States census, the slave population in the South was: Virginia – 292, 627 (out of 747,000 total, including slaves), North Carolina – 100, 572 (out of 393,000), South Carolina – 107, 094 (out of 249,000), Maryland – 103,076 (out of 319,000), and Georgia – 29, 264 (out of 82, 000). As noted by Roger Williams University School of Law Professor Carl T. Bogus:
The Second Amendment was not enacted to provide a check on government tyranny; rather, it was written to assure the Southern states that Congress would not undermine the slave system by using its newly acquired constitutional authority over the militia to disarm the state militia and thereby destroy the South's principal instrument of slave control. In effect, the Second Amendment supplemented the slavery compromise made at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and obliquely codified in other constitutional provisions."
Like the Electoral College system (see The Blast - The Electoral College’s Insidious Roots 11/27/2017) and the 3/5th’s Compromise, the Second Amendment was drafted with slavery squarely in its sights --- and we have seen that appeasing Southern delegates to gain ratification votes was par for the course in 1787-89. There are historians who challenge this notion, of course, but given the clear history of slavery’s imprint on the Constitution there’s little reason to doubt it was part of the Second Amendment discussion.
So, the NRA and its Congressional allies rely on the final phrase, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” without any sense that the world exists with a history, that times change, and that the Constitution was written as a flexible, interpretive document. There is no way the Founders could have anticipated modern, military grade weaponry and the carnage it would wreak on our society. Yet the reverence of Our Moloch will not subside and, “bump-stock” regulation notwithstanding, we know there will be another massacre in our future --- probably sooner than later.