LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The Second Amendment in historical context

Am I next?

This was the question printed on a sign carried by a young lady from Parkland, Florida. This question, posed by a survivor of the school shooting there, struck my heart like an armor-piercing bullet.

To the young lady with the sign, and to all our students across the country who had the courage to defy authority and participate in this walkout, I say this; You all deserve the gratitude of this nation. The school authorities gave you 17 minutes for your walkout. How generous! I realize the significance of this number, but I would have encouraged you to just three hours and 17 minutes.

Also, the school hierarchy could have relaxed their rigid belief that “education stops at the classroom door”. But I suppose that’s expecting a little much. Our brilliant teenagers have just taken part in a living civics (social studies) event. This evolved into an event having positive impact on many grandparents like myself. Did anyone on the various school boards notice? I know your teachers did.

Speaking of teachers and social studies lessons, this is where attention needs to be directed to the Second Amendment, and how people in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century, in a downward spiral greased by money, have grossly misinterpreted the Founding Fathers’ original intent.

Success in teaching social studies relies very heavily upon the ability of the teacher to give the students “a feel” for a given historical situation, as if they were “actually there”, experiencing it themselves; and how a historical figure may have felt as this event occurred. I give teachers a lot of credit for doing their best in getting this across, despite the fact that they are working under a severe handicap, standardized testing.

The Second Amendment is an important document, but one of few words. The key to looking at its wording are (1) militia, and (2) the last sentence “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed.” Remember, at the time the Bill of Rights was formulated, the people of this country still had all too fresh in their memories the tyrannies to which they were subjected during our war for independence.

One memory was the constant presence of the British troops and their German allies. They occupied New York City and its environment for almost all of the war. They were in Boston for quite a bit of the beginning, they were in Philadelphia and Wilmington for the winter of 1777-78. They captured Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, and held much of the South, especially Savannah, Georgia even longer.

People were sick of seeing Redcoats everywhere! So how would you imagine their thoughts on a standing army? Even an army of American uniforms. The Founding Fathers (and mothers) were quite outspoken in their opposition to a standing army. I’m referring to people such as George Washington, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Abigail Adams, and Mercy Otis Warren. It’s all there on primary source documents. They knew that we as a new, liberated nation, still required some sort of military protection, and thus, they turned to the need for a militia. In time, this evolved into the National Guard.

The militia, of course, being citizen soldiers who could be called up for military service in time of emergency. In the earlier days of such militia, they may be expected to turn out with their own weaponry. Thus, the belief in the right to bear arms not to be infringed. They at that time remembered why the shooting started at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775. The troops of the king were attempting to seize our stored arms and ammo. The federal government under the Constitution actually wanted its citizens to be armed, mostly in conjunction with the militia, but also in the necessities in feeding their families.

But look at the firearms available to U.S. citizens as the Second Amendment was formulated. Mostly muzzle-loading muskets, smooth-bore barrels, with flint-lock firing mechanisms. If you wanted an accurate weapon to hunt elusive targets such as deer, you would need a musket with a rifled barrel. They were available at that time. The availability of a musket with a percussion cap at this time was questionable.

The Founding Fathers were well aware of the firearm situation when presenting this document. They were a wise group of men. Men who studied the words and philosophies of John Locke, Rousseau and Voltaire. Men who were big on reason. Getting into the minds of men such as these, is it at all possible for anyone with common sense to actually believe that men like Jefferson, Washington, Adams would have approved of automatic military weapons, 30 round clips, armor-piercing ammunition, bump-stocks, etc. for the general public? Especially with the carnage that has resulted.

My guess is they’re cutting spirals turning in their graves at the thought.

Douglass E. Miller
Dover

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