“When I hold you in my arms
And I feel my finger on your trigger
I know nobody can do me no harm”
—The Beatles, “Happiness is a Warm Gun”
The bullet that came through my front window, some thirty years or so ago, told me I have every right to keep a gun for self-defense. I’d received four death threats in the weeks preceding, from someone opposed to my anti-nuclear weapons writing. At the time I was writing for Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), and editing a monthly PSR publication for which I received an award at their national meeting in Washington.
The publication I edited was placed in libraries, reaching thousands, as well as individual subscribers. It appears the anti-nuclear weapons writing rubbed someone wrong, likely a local defense contractor. All American aircraft carriers are made locally, and many strategic nuclear submarines, and my writing was likely seen as threatening to the weapons industry.
I really didn’t expect violence, and didn’t take the death threats seriously until the bullet spiraled through my front window.
A few years ago, drug dealers two doors down had a big shootout, and my neighbor said she saw one of them jump my backyard fence while firing over his shoulder back at people shooting at him from the drug house.
I point these things out to show that I know why some people keep a gun for self-defense and I’m sympathetic to it, even as I support reasonable gun control. Reasonable, as national polling suggests the overwhelming majority support.
I wince when I see children discussing shooter drills in their schools, and wonder what’s become of the nation. Children of my generation (I started kindergarten in 1949) never considered being shot at school.
It is outrageous that we accept this situation and the cowardly legislators who kneel and kiss National Rifle Association butt for the “campaign financing.” Their entire argument is based on crap.
Their claim is that we need modern weapons of war to hunt or protect our homes, all nonsense.
We should consider the reason the Second Amendment was written. The Founding Fathers were against keeping a standing army, and used, as its replacement, The Second Amendment, which reads “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 amendment suggested that free people are allowed to maintain arms in their home at the ready to defend the nation should it be attacked. Much cheaper than maintaining an army, which was not a popular idea.
For example, none other than James Madison, an author of the Federalist Papers and the architect of the Constitution itself, in June of 1787, addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the dangers of a permanent army: “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty,” he argued. “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”
The musket eighteenth century citizens kept in their homes had one shot, so was not dangerous in itself as a weapon of war unless joined by others with their single-shot weapons. When ranks of men, say three deep, all had muskets, the first rank could fire, then drop to a knee to begin reloading with ball, powder and wadding as the second rank fired and dropped to a knee to begin reloading as the third rank fired, dropped to a knee, began reloading and by then, the first rank could stand and fire again.
The Founding Fathers never envisioned automatic or semi-automatic small arms weapons. These weapons are made to kill large numbers of human beings on a modern battlefield. These are the weapons used to kill large numbers of people in our schools, churches and shopping centers.
To listen to the spokespersons for the National Rifle Association, one would think it is a crime to deprive citizens of the right to keep any weapon.
But we all understand that it may not be a good idea to allow any angry redneck the right to have a nuclear weapon, and the Founding Fathers couldn’t have imagined them as part of a right to bear arms.
Certainly machine guns are “arms,” but they are outlawed by federal law, after gangsters of the early 20th century often out-gunned the FBI and other law enforcement officers. If machine guns can be outlawed, why not semi-automatic weapons that fire bullets as fast as one pulls the trigger?
The Founders were clearly talking about single shot muskets in the hands of citizens in such numbers as to quickly form an army should the nation be attacked.
Today we have hundreds of thousands of military people and do not need a militia with which to quickly form an army. Sadly, we have troops in over 135 nations abroad, anathema to the Founding Fathers.
The NRA takes money from gun manufacturers to frighten the masses into buying more guns in the nation which already has more guns than any other. They also hype large ammo clips beyond what our combat soldiers are issued, and these are not illegal though one wonders what could possibly justify them.
Hunting?No, any good hunter knows their kill should occur humanely from a single shot. Semi-automatic weapons not required. Large ammo clips not required.
Home protection?Again, are you being attacked by an army?If it is the government from which you are protecting, you are not going to win a shootout with any rifle. In Basic Training, during the 1960s, I witnessed a squad (eleven men) firing at night, covering an area the size of a football field. They fired tracers, bullets that light up a bright red in the dark, so that us trainees could see the power of a squad of men. Using World War Two era M1 rifles, the squad completely lit up the football field, which glowed a bright red. The drill sergeant told us a mouse couldn’t have survived on that field.
A squad of Army troops today has much more firepower, and if they came to your house, you would not defeat them with your AR-15. The government can escalate and bring a platoon (50 men or so) and if that’s not enough, a rifle company (200+ men), a battalion, a regiment, a division, an army etc., then multiples of them accompanied by missiles, tanks, and weapons of mass destruction. You are not going to defend yourself from that.
Home protection can be maintained with much simpler weapons, as may hunting. There is absolutely no need for assault weapons in the hands of average citizens.
We need laws to outlaw assault weapons, clearly defining them. We need laws outlawing large ammo clips, clearly defining them. And these laws must be federal, covering the whole nation.
I have heard NRA representatives making fun of our nation’s capital for having strict gun laws that don’t work, as people continue to be shot to death there. What they never say is that the laws don’t work because anyone in the District of Columbia may simply drive across the bridge into Virginia where there are hundreds of gun shops and buy an arsenal.
Virginia tried just once, long ago, to stem its dark gun trade with a law that restricted the sales of guns to one per month per citizen. After the NRA whined, the law was thrown out, as though merely 12 guns per year were not enough for a citizen. When violence involving guns occurs anywhere in the nation, it may be that the gun in question was purchased in Virginia, or another state with weak gun laws.
That is why the laws must be federal if we are to slow the frequency of mass shootings. They must include a law authorizing federal officials to maintain a list of dangerous people who should not buy guns, a list that must be checked before a gun sale anywhere in the country.
The world is very different today than the world in which the Second Amendment was written—we have large standing armies and no longer need a militia, should the nation be attacked.
What we need is an informed citizenry, one that understands that the Second Amendment doesn’t allow every deranged person to go out any buy a trident submarine with 200 nuclear weapons.
And for the brain-damaged naysayers who will never get off their butts with a plan of their own, no, this will not solve all mass murders in the world forever, but it’s a start, and we’re not going to get there without a first step.
Jack Balkwill has been published from the little read Rectangle, magazine of the English Honor Society, to the (then) millions of readers USA Today and many progressive publications/web sites such as Z Magazine, In These Times, Counterpunch, This Can’t Be Happening, Intrepid Report, and Dissident Voice. He is author of “An Attack on the National Security State,” about peace activists in prison.