Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Second Amendment and Me

I’m lately hearing lots of declarations - and screaming and shouting - about ‘Second Amendment rights’ - the right to ‘keep and bear arms’.  The second Amendment to the US Constitution reads as follows:  
“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.”
Now, I own a gun myself, several in fact. I have a shotgun, a rifle and a pistol. Except for the pistol they are used for hunting, for which they are well suited, but which I have not done now for some years. The pistol I have for ‘home defense’ at my wife’s insistence. It is kept on a shelf in a closet, unloaded, but with its bullets hidden close by. The reason is we have small grand children and we fear they might get their hands on a loaded gun and hurt themselves or someone else.
How effective it will be for home defense I do not know. I suppose I could ask any home invaders for a time out while I go to the closet to retrieve and load my pistol in order to come back and deal with them. Somehow that doesn’t seem it would go over very well. In fact, either my rifle or shotgun, also kept unloaded in a closet seem to me to be just as well suited for that scenario. Fortunately, we have not yet been faced with that. It also soothes me somewhat to learn that statistically, in approximately 70% of the time, the home owner's weapons are used by home invaders against the home owners themselves.
And, just to set the record straight about myself, many years ago I routinely carried a large caliber pistol on or about my person - a .357 caliber ‘Colt Python’ which I bought used from a pawn shop after my discharge from the US Marines. At the time anyone, even a teenager, could simply walk into a store, and if they had the money, walk out with a weapon like that. And, that is what a pistol is - a weapon meant for people. Make no mistake about that. Yes, some few people use pistols for hunting, but that is more or a cultish thing, I suppose it’s to make more of a sport out of the hunting and give the animals more of a sporting chance. Pistols simply do not make very effective hunting arms, being as they are, perhaps one tenth as accurate as a rifle on the average.  Most pistols have an ‘effective range’ of 25 yards or less.
But, I digress. As a young man, living on a farm and raised around firearms of all sorts, I was given my very own .22 rifle at the tender age of seven years of age - something which is probably illegal now. I don’t know what my folks were thinking. Yes, they preached caution, safety and responsible use, but at the age of seven the message was not absorbed as well or as effectively as it might have been at the age of say, sixteen, by which time I was already a grizzled, old, veteran firearm owner of several guns. In fact, I later realized I did not always use my rifle responsibly as a child. I sometimes shot at something quickly without considering what was behind it - once putting a hole through the bathroom window (I was outside shooting at a can on a fence post), and another time shooting a hole in my grandfather’s boat. I caught the dickens both times, but was allowed to keep my rifle. I almost accidentally shot my brother once - and he almost shot me as well as a cousin too later. Somehow we all survived.
At the age of twenty I enlisted in the US Marines, for which carrying weapons is a way of life. In my case, first an M-1 rifle, then a M-1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), and later an M-14 rifle. While carrying the BAR I was also issued a .45 calibre automatic pistol (M-1911) for ‘personal defense’. The BAR was considered an ‘offensive weapon’ and at 19 pounds (32 pounds total package with full ammunition bandoliers) not well suited for close in personal defense. During my service career I learned the mortally destructive power of modern weapons.
Nonetheless after my discharge, and perhaps because of my Marine experiences I felt a need to be armed at all times. It’s a puzzle to me now why, but back then that’s the way I felt. But, after only about two years I abruptly stopped carrying my pistol. Why?
Pretty simple really. Having the pistol on and about my person, and partly due to the aggressive training and my experiences in the US Marines made me prone to call on my weapon - first. In other words, I feared nothing or no one since I was always armed, leading me several times into situations where I felt the need to resort to my weapon. In the space of that short two years I used my pistol to threaten someone defensively six times, and in one instance to actually shoot someone. Fortunately for me, the person I shot (non-fatally) was proven to be the aggressor and I was absolved of blame in court. But, it could just have easily gone the other way, and there is no telling how my life might have changed due to  that event.
And that’s when I put my pistol away in my closet where it has remained. That was in 1970 and I have not carried a weapon since, except to hunt.
And, oddly enough, in all the intervening 40 years I have not had one single instance where I have truly felt the need of a gun - unless you count the time I surprised a brown bear in Alaska. Fortunately in that case, the bear was just as startled as me and we each decided to go our separate ways peaceably. 
In other words, I believe my carrying a gun was the real reason I found it necessary to use it often. It’s that old ‘Don’t Tread on Me’ psychosis and you see it every day these days in people motivated by the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association. There’s kind of a national mania about it, and our sacred ‘Second Amendment Rights’. And sometimes the mania results in unspeakable acts and tragedy, such as occurred last week in Arizona in the case of Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords.
So, do I believe in Second Amendment rights?  Darn right I do. But here’s a suggestion. Let’s make them REAL and  just like the ‘founders’ intended. The gun lobby is always going on about the ‘Founders’ Intentions’, so let’s do just exactly that.
The  US Constitution as created by the founders was ratified on June 21, 1788, and the second Amendment itself on December 15, 1791. At that time in our history, that is the ‘founders’ time, the common militia weapon was a muzzle-loading musket, most modeled on or similar to the ‘Brown Bess (Land Pattern version)’ used by the British Army. So yes, let’s make the ownership and use of those totally our sacred right - that’s what the founders intended, correct?
Here’s a description of the the Brown Bess:  39” long, fired a .75 caliber ball (.75 caliber = 3/4” diameter!!!), barrel and lockwork made of iron, butt plate, trigger guard and ramrod pipe of brass, weighing roughly 10 pounds, and fitted with a 17” bayonet. The effective range was approximately 100 yards. Now, that thing was a REAL man’s weapon, just as the founders intended.
The following steps were required to fire the musket:
1.  Bite the cartridge.
2.  Push the frizzen forward to open the pan and pour a small amount of powder into the flash pan.
3.  Snap the frizzen back to position covering the flash pan.
4.  Hold the musket vertically so that the muzzle is up.
5.  Pour the remaining powder down the barrel.
6.  Insert the bullet in the barrel.
7.  Push the cartridge paper into the barrel
8.  Remove ramrod from pipe under the barrel and use to push wadding and bullet down the barrel.
8.  Replace the ramrod (Not totally necessary, you could throw it to the ground, but then not be able to have a second shot).
9. Raise musket to firing position with the butt against the shoulder.
10. Pull back the hammer.
11. Aim and fire.
You could do some real damage with one of those. That is if you got a chance to fire it before someone picked up an ax handle and knocked you on your keister or something. You sure as hell would not be able to get off thirty shots in thirty seconds as the guy in Arizona did.

So, YES! I say let’s go back to exactly what the founders intended!

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