Thursday, May 23, 2013

Guns Without Responsibility. How Does That Work?

People talk a lot about the original intent of the people who wrote the Constitution.  Often, though, it seems to me that we only give lip service to the fact that it was a very different world back then.

Whether we want to or not, we do need to reconcile these two things:  the original intent of the Framers, and the application of that intent in the modern world.

Back in the time of the Revolution, everybody understood that, in principle, everyone was in the militia.  This was because there were no police, and there was no army.   So when marauding Indians or hostile Frenchmen turned up outside a frontier town (say Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704), everyone was expected to turn out and put his life on the line to defend the community.

Without that levee en masse, to use the French term, nobody's life in a frontier community was worth a tinker's damn.

That was then.  Everybody was in the militia, and everybody should have a gun -- and know how to use it.

Fast forward to today.  Let's face it:  The idea that everybody's in the militia, subject to call at a moment's notice, has been dead for several centuries.  But the National Rifle Association still says that anybody can have a gun.  (It's in the Second Amendment.)

Wait, wait a minute.  Wasn't there a connection between militia service and gun ownership?  Well, as a historical matter, there was.  The two ideas were intimately intertwined.

But the Supreme Court has said never mind.  If you want a gun, you can have one anyway.

As for the militia thing -- well, never mind.  As a practical matter, it's not happening.  So why worry about it.

Here's where I beg to differ with Justice Scalia, and offer my own modest proposal.  (Justice Breyer was headed in my direction at the end of his dissent, but he didn't get there.  See page 28 of his dissent.)

Okay.  If you don't want to have a gun, and you don't own one, then you're not in the militia.  But if you do have a gun, then you're in the militia, and that "well-regulated" thing kicks in.  The modern version.  No muster, no drills.  But maybe some training to be required of all gun owners.  How to operate a gun.  How to unload a gun (people underestimate the importance of knowing how to unload a gun).  Maybe a little target practice (this is where the National Rifle Association got its start, a very long time ago).  The law of guns.  The continuum of force -- something that's drilled into police officers; the typical gun owner doesn't have a clue.

I could go on, but you get the idea.  With a gun comes responsibility.  The NRA and its adherents want guns without responsibility.  I don't think that works.  I don't think that's right.

All the words in the Second Amendment should have meaning today.  Not just some of them.

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