Ask most Americans to quote the 2nd Amendment and they’ll recite some version of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged.” But that is only half of the Amendment. The full Amendment states: “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 abridged.”
Reading it in its entirety completely changes the meaning of the Amendment.
Yes, it gives you the right to own and bear arms. But only as a member of a well-regulated militia. You see, when the 2nd Amendment was adopted in 1791, the United States had disbanded the Continental Army and relied entirely on state militias for national defense. That’s because the framers of the Constitution were wary of a standing army, fearing that it could be turned against the people. As a result, their intent was for each state to maintain a militia to defend against all threats both foreign and domestic. The idea of such volunteer militias originated with the nation’s very first European settlers. For instance, in Jamestown under the guidance of Capt. John Smith and in Plymouth Colony under Myles Standish, every man was responsible to own arms and to regularly train as part of the militia.
That is the definition of “well-regulated militia.”
In no way did the framers of 2nd Amendment intend for Americans to own weapons of war in order to shoot each other. They certainly didn’t intend for domestic terrorists to stockpile weapons in order to attack political opponents and legally elected officials. And they would be horrified to know that a corrupt interpretation of the Amendment is responsible for more mass shootings annually than there are days in the year!
According to Gun Violence Archive, nearly 20,000 Americans are killed each year by homicide or accidental shootings. Nearly 40,000 more suffer wounds – many of them horrific and debilitating. And nearly 25,000 Americans use guns to commit suicide.
No other nation has anywhere near this level of gun violence. But, then no other nation has so many guns. In fact, there are now more guns in the hands of American civilians than there are people! That total includes more than 638,000 legally owned machine guns, nearly 20 million AR-15-style assault rifles, an almost incalculable number of handguns, and a growing number of untraceable ghost guns (many with so-called Glock switches that can easily convert a semiautomatic handgun into a fully automatic machine gun). The weaponry available to civilians even includes .50 caliber sniper rifles that can blast a hole through a cast iron engine block. Is it any wonder then that our police have become so militarized? In far too many crimes, they are outgunned.
Given all this, one has to ask: Why? What has gone so terribly wrong? What are Americans so afraid of? What happened to the home of the brave?
Perhaps those best suited to answer that question are the leaders of the GOP and the NRA. After all, they are the ones who have spent the last 40-plus years promoting fear in order to get elected and to sell more guns. They have worked overtime to eliminate any restrictions to carrying guns. Through their sleazy ads and propaganda networks, they have convinced many Americans to fear criminals, to fear people of color, to fear immigrants, to fear the LGBTQ community, to fear the UN, to fear their own elected government, and, most of all, to fear Democrats and those who would impose common sense gun restrictions.
Yet, for all the violence driven by fear, there are many other factors to consider. Not the least of which is the Cowboy mythology of the white-hatted hero winning a shootout with a villain. This is the myth that led to the NRA’s self-serving statement that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Therefore, their argument goes, guns are necessary for self-defense.
However, anyone with a comprehensive understanding of self-defense can tell you that guns are seldom used for defense. They are offensive weapons. Consider this: What use is a gun when a bad guy already has one aimed at you? As for most active shooter events, if numerous people on the scene are holding guns, in the chaos of the moment how are the police supposed to tell which gun owner is the real threat?
While some would have you believe that our gun violence is caused by mental illness and the separation of church and state, those are mere distractions. Certainly, mental illness plays a role. But if the gun proponents believe that is the primary cause of gun violence, why have Republicans methodically cut funds from mental health services? (Before the Uvalde school shooting, Texas Governor Abbott cut $211 million from the state budget intended to provide greater access to mental health services.)
Bullying, poverty, broken homes, social media, and disinformation have also contributed to our problem. But the real issue – the elephant herd in the room – is the ever-increasing availability and lethality of guns!