There is these days much discussion in the United States regarding the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The text of this amendment is short: “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.”
There has been much debate over the years as to how this sentence is to be interpreted. The debate is now very prominent. It is now, as it generally has been, characterized by passion, anger, accusation, fear, and often no small amount of confusion.
I don’t know what we, as a nation, are to do. In the wake of the Newtown, Clackamas, and Aurora and other shootings, and against the background of constant gun violence–I read the front page of the Chicago Tribune nearly every day and it seems that city is under siege from gun violence–it is clear that we must do something.
It is important that what we do is as right as we can make it. Some people would ban private ownership of firearms altogether. Others would find some way to “amend the Amendment.” Still others will tell you that they will accept no change and that you “can pry their firearms from their cold, dead hands.” Somehow all, or the significant majority of, these people must be brought together in agreement for any change in current law to succeed.
It may be significant that the Second Amendment does not specify what type of arms the people have the right to keep and bear; nor does it specify what keeping and bearing may mean. I’m not trying to split hairs here. The flexibility available in defining these terms may be the key that unlocks the troubling question of what are we to do now?
I am of a military background, was raised in Texas, and have been a gun-owner since my father bought me my first rifle when I was fourteen. I was an officer cadet through all four years of high school, qualified on what was then the U.S. Army’s regulation bolt-action, single-shot .22-caliber target rifle, and fired the M1911 pistol, M16 assault rifle, and M60 machine gun during advanced training. I note this to demonstrate that I have a certain acquaintance with and knowledge of firearms.
It is forbidden in the United States for private citizens to own most types of military weaponry, including the M16 and the M60. The firearm I currently own is a .22-caliber bolt-action, magazine-fed rifle. What this means is that it does not fire a bullet every time I pull its trigger. It has to be operated with two hands in a simple but specific manner in order to fire a bullet. It could conceivably be operated with one hand, but this would be slow and unwieldy.
My point is that there are types of firearms that the citizenry is currently allowed to keep, and types that we are not allowed to keep. Semi-automatic firearms, which fire a bullet every time their trigger is pulled until they run out of bullets, and which can be and often are fired single-handedly, have been used in all the mass slaughters and are used in most urban gun violence. They are a type of firearm that, within certain restrictions, private citizens are currently allowed to own and use. It may well be time for us as a nation to consider semi-automatic weapons to be weapons which possess a power which should be reserved to the state and not placed in the hands of private citizens.