Merriam Webster: Anachronism— “a person or a thing chronologically out of place, especially one from a former age that is incongruous in the present.”
“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.” Okay, I’m a Second Amendment guy. I believe the uninfringeable right to bear arms was brilliant, appropriate, and necessary when the Constitution was adopted 231 years ago. Without the Second Amendment, the US Constitution would have never been adopted, nor should it have been. Among our founding generation, there were both strong Federalists and strong anti-Federalists. Patrick Henry, James Winthrop, and George Mason were strong anti-federalists. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison were among the leading Federalists. Without the Second Amendment, the anti-federalists would have prevailed. Without the Second Amendment, there would be no United States of America.
Two hundred and thirty-one years ago, the founders who gathered in Philadelphia to write our Constitution were all wary of the dangers of a standing army. They all knew that standing armies in Europe, from time immemorial, were used by ruling monarchies to repress their people. Nations (think monarchies) that maintained standing armies used them primarily to keep their people in check. The founders all embraced the idea of a citizenries’ right to bear arms and their right to establish militias as a bulwark against a standing federal army that might repress them.
Understand this: our founders understood that the people, because they could keep and bear arms and organize into local or state militias, could protect our new nation against a potentially tyrannical federal government emboldened with a standing army. The nation’s founders, all of them, embraced the idea that an armed citizenry could, if necessary, keep in check the new federal government they were creating. After all, any citizen with his single-shot musket was, potentially, as formidable a warrior as any federal soldier with his single-shot musket.
Looking askance at a standing army made sense nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. According to the first United States census conducted in 1790, there were just under 680,000 families or households in the new country. Almost every household owned a musket, so the country was well-armed and well-protected should the newly formed American republic go rogue. That was extraordinarily significant because the new republic, at the time of the constitutional convention in 1791, only had a standing army of about 800 men and probably not too many more muskets. The armed households of the country far outnumbered the armed army of the new United States of America.
But that was then, and this is now.
Every one of our nation’s founders embraced the idea of the second Amendment as essential at the time. However, all of them would turn over in their graves if they knew the utter folly the twenty-seven words of the Second Amendment have since visited upon the nation’s ability to fight gun carnage in America. And let us not be insulted with the inane refrain that guns don’t kill—people do. No demented individual ever mowed down a classroom, a church, a synagogue, a mosque, or a supermarket with a club or a knife.
So far, there have been 198 mass shootings this year (defined as three people shot, excluding the shooter), and the year is only 19 weeks old. What, one might ask, would the founders say if they understood the extent to which their Second Amendment had so crippled the nation’s ability to deal with domestic, home-grown gun carnage? Carnage in which the victims were invariably citizens of the very country they worked so hard to establish?
Over 500 Americans have been killed over the past decade in mass shootings, including the ten killed in Buffalo, New York, last week, the 11 killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, the 60 killed on the Las Vegas strip in 2017, the 49 lives lost at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, and the nine killed at the AME Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina in 2015. The founders never anticipated that their 2nd Amendment would turn so many Americans into clay pigeons at which deranged or simply malcontented fellow Americans would shoot.
We have a Second Amendment to protect us from a renegade standing army that has never existed in America. At the same time, the nation and its many communities are left bereft of any effective means to control or regulate and, yes, “infringe” upon the acquisition of all manner of handguns, long guns, and semi-automatic machine guns in America. While polls show that respect for our armed forces has diminished in recent years (largely because of the fruitless twenty-year deployment in Afghanistan and the mayhem that accompanied our final withdrawal from Kabul), our military is still, by far, the most admired and respected component of our federal government, especially when compared to our Congress.
One need not wonder what the founder’s appraisal of our standing armed services would be today, given the concern they all had about the dangers of a standing army 231 years ago. Civilian control of our standing military has never been questioned or challenged in the history of the United States. When American civilian Presidents or their civilian Secretaries of Defense (or Secretaries of War) have seen the need to fire some of our most popular Generals, the Generals have complied and immediately retired. Since our founding 246 years ago, eight high-ranking Generals or Admirals have been fired by their civilian Commanders in Chief, and they have immediately retired without protest or question. President Abraham Lincoln fired Generals John C. Fremont and George B. McClellan. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt fired Admirals James O. Richardson and Husband E Kimmel. President Harry Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur. Admiral William Fallon was fired by President George W. Bush and Generals Stanley McChrystal and David McKiernan were fired by President Barack Obama.
Today, the very notion that we need an armed citizenry to protect us from our men and women in uniform is as preposterous as it is unrealistic. The firearms available to the general public are rightfully available for self-protection and hunting or, perhaps, for target practice. Still, those weapons would be of no value against the weapons available to the United States military. However, too many of the 300+ million guns in private hands have proven remarkably effective in over 20,000-gun murders committed in the United States last year.
The right to own a gun in America is not, and should not, be an issue. However, the fact that that right cannot be “infringed” or effectively regulated or controlled is a great American anachronism for which we pay a terrible price every year.