A year has passed. The outrage has subsided. The public outcry for change has faded. But the slain are still deceased; the wounded are still trying to recover and lives and families have been damaged forever.
However, virtually nothing is being accomplished in order to actually change the current situation. In our world of instant messaging and around-the-clock news coverage, it seems as though matters which should command our attention for a considerable time, are lost in a matter of weeks.
The shootings in Tucson on Jan. 8, 2011 have, very unfortunately, faded from the national spotlight. There is occasionally some recollection of this tragic event, such as when Congresswoman Giffords, whose recovery is beyond miraculous, made a surprise visit to Capitol Hill to cast a vote in the debt-ceiling debacle a few months back.
I believe, however, that we seem to keep missing a crucial point in the waning debate of gun control versus gun rights. The ultra-conservatives of the far right always seem to invoke the Constitution and their wrong-headed beliefs as to what the Founding Fathers meant in that document. I find their interpretation of this document, in relation to the ownership of weapons to be mind-numbingly ignorant. What I find exceptionally distasteful is the propensity of this group to engage in "Cafeteria Constitutionalism," wherein they are all for some parts, as long as those sections are interpreted in the manner of which they approve, and would rather turn a blind eye to other sections of the Constitution, of which they would rather not speak for fear of coming into conflict with their narrow, parochial views.
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.
What did the Founding Fathers mean by the above? What is the interpretation of this amendment, from a late 1700's perspective? For those who have studied history, these questions should not be difficult to answer. The answer can be readily seen in the War of 1812. This country had no large, standing army and feared that, if attacked by another country we would need all of the weapons and militia possible in order to defend ourselves. At that time, this justification for the Second Amendment was very rational and defensible. Today, it is obviously not so and really has not been so since the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The "...regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state" argument does not hold.
The Second Amendment, taken in the context of 1791 and 2011 must be different. While having known for years that our government is not prone to the use of "common sense," I still rather like that concept. In 1791, the weapons used by most owners were of a single shot, muzzle-loading type, most of which still required a flintlock and flash pan for ignition of the gun powder. Even by the Civil War era, the standard weapon of both armies remained a muzzle loader, with the added technology of a percussion cap, paper cartridge and rifled barrel. A well trained soldier, during the Civil War, could be counted upon to get off three shots per minute.
Generally, the overwhelming benefit of gun ownership for many, during the late 1700's and through decades later, was having those weapons to put food on the table. Today, most of us are more prone to go to a grocery store. It just seems a bit easier. However today, if one really does want to hunt, particularly larger game, what type of firearm is necessary? Most states permit some type of high-powered rifle. Some, in the flatlands of the Midwest, restrict hunters to shotguns loaded with deer slugs, fearing that bullets fired from a high-powered rifle will miss, travel forever across the flatlands and hit some unintended target. What is not necessary for hunting larger game in this country is a semi-automatic assault rifle. I do not pretend to know much of anything about hunting larger animals; however, I have never heard of an instance when a group of deer, when under fire, formed into line of battle, yelled "fix antlers" and then advanced upon the hunter at the double quick. From what I have seen and heard, they usually skedaddle.
For those, who think that their ownership of guns protects them from their own government, it would be best to pull your head out of your rear. If you are paranoid enough to believe that there will be a military coup in this country, do you really believe that you and several other fools armed with shotguns, handguns and rifles will be able to take on the United States military with their aircraft, drones and armored vehicles? You are not Patrick Swayze and, if nobody pointed it out to you, Red Dawn was a really bad movie.
Of course, here in Arizona, it seems that ignorance knows no bounds in regard to controlling firearms.
This mind-numbing ignorance can be seen in the fall raffle sponsored by the Pima County G.O.P (Goofy, Outlandish, Pinheads), which stated you could "help Pima GOP get out the vote and maybe help yourself to a new Glock .45." You could also win, "three 12-round magazines, adjustable grips and a case."
But, then again, what could one expect, when the Arizona Legislature, within four months of the tragedy in Tucson, decides to adopt an "official state gun?" It is incomprehensible to believe that any state, anywhere, needs to have an official state gun, for any reason. The reason is that the Colt 45, single-action revolver is an iconic image of the Old West. Buncombe, I say. Having taught U.S. history for 16 years, I know better.
The good old days really were not very damn good at all. In regard to the Colt 45, possibly the members of the Arizona State Legislature should make the trek to Tombstone, if they are really into the Old West. While there, they could even stop at Boot Hill and peruse the tombstones, so as to see what this iconic weapon did for those who lived at that time. Possibly the legislators should have done such research before voting to allow guns into bars. Some of my favorites from the grave placards are:
- John Hicks, 1879. Hicks was shot by Jeremiah McCormick, superintendent of the Lucky Cuss Mine. A saloon Brawl.
- Hancock, shot, 1879. Shot by John Ringo when he made a disparaging remark about some woman.
- Johnnie Wilson. Shot by King. Two gunmen's discussion of the fastest way to draw, ended here.
- Killeen. Shot by Frank Leslie, 1880. Results of a disagreement over Killeen's wife. Leslie married the widow.
- Chas. Helm. Shot, 1882. Shot by Wm. McCauley. Two hot-tempered ranchers, who disagreed over the best way to drive cattle, fast or slow.
- James Hickey, 1881. Shot by Wm. Clayborne
He was shot in the left temple by Clayborne for his over-insistence that they drink together.
Ah, those were the good old days!
Once again, invoking that waning philosophy of common sense, I would suggest that our government ban the sale and ownership of semi-automatic assault weapons. These weapons serve no practical purpose for the common citizenry. Pass legislation that strives to have better background checks, inclusive of an appropriate waiting period before the weapon is given over, and mandates the registration of all handguns.
That for which I am calling may be difficult to achieve, for it is a return to the use of common sense. Some say it is dead. For the benefit of our country and its people, I do so hope that they are wrong.
Mark Neish lives in Sahuarita and holds a doctorate degree in education administration from Kansas State University and his teaching certificiate from the University of Nebraska. He has served as a principal at high schools in Arizona, Idaho and North Carolina.