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Thursday
Jul262012

Second Amendment Lite

   On December 15, 1791, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted, along with the other nine amendments that constitute the Bill of Rights. It stated, “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”.

   Considering that James Holmes, who shot fifty-two people at a movie theater on Saturday night, 12 of whom died, reportedly bought all four[1] of his weapons, ammunition and ballistic gear legally[2], it seems to me that now is as good a time as ever to remind Americans what the Founding Fathers had in mind when it came to arms and a well-regulated militia.

   At the time the constitution was written, the most common rifle was the flintlock musket, a muzzle-loaded five-foot long rifle. The gun fired a single lead ball about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Between each shot, gunpowder and lead had to be dropped down the barrel. A flint struck the part called the frizzen, which caused the gunpowder in the barrel to ignite, propelling the lead ball. Muskets had an effective range of about 100 yards, but because it took so long to reload, many soldiers would have to rely on the bayonet once the enemy got too close.

   Another fairly common weapon at the time was the flintlock pistol. A good soldier could only get off two or three rounds a minute. These pistols, which were used primarily by officers, had a reliable accuracy of only about fifteen feet. According to the Revolutionary War Antiques website, “Pistols were also used as a dueling weapon during early American History. Duels relied on the inaccuracy of these flintlock pistols for survival.”

   As for the “well-regulated militia”, the Economist magazine published an entertaining and enlightening article on July 1st, 1999, featuring the findings of Michael Bellesiles, a professor at Emory University.   

   According to the article, “Most militias were a joke. Describing a shooting competition at a militia muster in Pennsylvania, one newspaper wrote cruelly: ‘The size of the target is known accurately, having been carefully measured. It was precisely the size and shape of a barn door.’ The soldiery could not hit even this; the winner was the one who missed by the smallest margin. No wonder the militias of Oxford, Massachusetts, voted in 1823 to stop their annual target practice to avoid public humiliation . . .

A well-tailored militia    "Militias, it seems, were neither adept nor well-armed. In 1775 Captain Charles Johnson told the New Hampshire Provincial Congress that his company had ‘perhaps one pound of powder to 20 men and not one-half of our men have arms.’ The adjutant general of Massachusetts complained in 1834 that only ‘town paupers, idlers, vagrants, foreigners, itinerants, drunkards and the outcasts of society’ manned his militias . . . In the 1830s, General Winfield Scott discovered the Florida militia to be essentially unarmed—and this was during a war against the Seminole Indians.”

   The article is worth reading in its entirety.

   By the way, 55,846 people have been shot so far this year in the United States, 226 people have been shot today.[3]

   The NRA will argue, of course, that the solution to gun violence is to have more law-abiding citizens packing heat. As crazy as that sounds, the argument was convincing enough to the many Colorado residents who flocked to their local gun shop to purchase firearms.

   According to the Denver Post, “Background checks for people wanting to buy guns in Colorado jumped more than 41 percent after Friday morning’s shooting at an Aurora movie theater, and firearms instructors say they’re also seeing increased interest in the training required for a concealed-carry permit. ‘It’s been insane,’ Jake Meyers, an employee at Rocky Mountain guns and Ammo in Parker, said Monday.”

   It is insane.


[1] “[Holmes] chose the [Remington 870] shotgun, which you know the expression the ‘shotgun effect’—it’s blasting out. That is one weapon, but he transitioned neatly from that to the AR-15 [semi-automatic assault rifle], which had that drum magazine of 100, which we believed jammed. And then he transitioned from that to the [two Glock] pistol[s] until he was out of that ammunition,” reported CBS News senior correspondent John Miller.

[2] There is currently no system in the U.S. tracking whether an individual is stockpiling weapons and ammunition. The only restriction in the U.S. is on the sale of armor-piercing bullets.

[3] For more gun facts visit the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

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