The Second Amendment – an historical examination

Yet another school shooting in America. Sixteen children and a teacher murdered by a former pupil, who callously set off a fire alarm, knowing that would bring many victims straight to him.

The eighteenth school shooting this year – and we’re barely seven weeks into 2018. To call this a serious problem is to completely understate the very, very obvious. And yet there are still many people who won’t even consider talking about the clear need for stricter control on these weapons.

They try to deflect. They talk about mental illness being the cause – as if other countries are all so very sane. They talk about video games and movies being excessively violent – as if we don’t get the very same material. They talk about criminals still getting guns if the ‘good guys’ can’t. They talk about only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.

All utter rubbish, of course, as we’ll discuss. But there’s one thing that they all talk about, which they believe somehow negates any gun control debate. Their precious second amendment.

So let’s take a look at what this actually says…

“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.”

It’s necessary to pop into the way-back machine to understand the thoughts, environment, and intent behind these twenty-seven words.

In the aftermath of the US War of Independence, America was a very different place to the nation it is today. They had no standing army, no police force, no central means of defending themselves against multiple real threats – the renegade Brits that they had just overcome, other Americans who remained loyal to the Crown, and – then as today – fear of attack by ‘those pesky natives’.

As an attempt to formulate some kind of security structure in this potential vacuum, the Congressional Convention in 1787 proposed that Congress should have the power to raise a standing army and navy, of unlimited size. This caused a rift between anti-federalists and the new government, and so compromises began to take place so that a US Bill of Rights could be adopted, replacing the hated British legislation that still held sway.

One of the key elements in this series of compromises was the fear that, with an armed military force and an unarmed population, it would be too easy in the early days of the nation for the military to take over states by force. As such, the argument for an armed population – for defence of the nation – raged on.

Eventually, after several years and many iterations, the wording was adopted in 1792 as laid out above. The US now had two things – a standing army, albeit under some serious restrictions, and a population with the ability to possess guns, for the express purpose of forming a well regulated public militia force, should the need arise and should the standing army become more of an occupying force than a protecting force.

Let’s pause a second, and consider the phrase ‘well regulated militia’. What does that actually mean?

The term “regulated” means “disciplined” or “trained”. In fact, the US Supreme Court has even defined the phrase “well regulated” as implying the imposition of proper discipline and training.

So as far as the second amendment is concerned, a well regulated militia, is a force of trained, disciplined people, working in protection of their nation against aggression of government.

Over the years, between 1888 when law review articles were first published in the US right up to 1959, every single review article that references the second amendment concluded that it did not guarantee an individual the right to own a gun.

So let’s bring this back to the present, and try and reconcile that with the way that these 27 words are being misinterpreted today.

Well – that in itself is a challenge, because the second amendment isn’t even being used in its entirety.

In the lobby of the NRA headquarters building in Fairfax, Virginia is the second half of the amendment only, emblazoned in gold letters across a wall. They are – unsurprisingly – very keen to declare that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” but conveniently ignore the qualifier about a well regulated militia being necessary. And here’s why…

In 1977, the NRA held it’s annual meeting. People still refer to that meeting today as the “Revolt in Cincinnati”. The leadership of the NRA had decided to move it’s headquarters to Colorado, signalling a retreat from politics. More than a thousand angry pro-gun, pro-republican rebels showed up at the annual convention. By four in the morning, these dissenters had voted out the entire leadership, and activists from factions called The Second Amendment Foundation and the Citizens Committee forced their way into power.

The new leadership was overtly dogmatic and ideological. They started to ferment unrest against federal control in many areas of life, such as taxation and land policies. And, as an attempt to remain in power, politicians adjusted their stances on these matters to keep in with the new zealots.

Back to the law, then. In 1960, articles began to appear that strongly argued that the amendment, as written and as accepted for over 160 years, didn’t mean what it always had. I guess Hollywood must play a part in that shift, with their westerns portraying the concept of ‘a good guy with a gun’ to the masses. White hats and black hats, and all that.

Initially, the legal articles didn’t make much difference in the shift of public opinion, but as soon as the radicals at the NRA came to power, that started to change as they combined massive investment in lawyers (to argue their case in law review submissions), political lobbying (together with the promise of backing and financial incentives for politicians that aligned themselves with NRA thought), grants to write pro-gun book reviews, and the establishment of many organisations, such as ‘Academics for the Second Amendment’. Massive amounts of money, pressure, and coercion from the NRA and their activists brought about a seed change in the way that most Americans now view the second amendment.

It’s ironic that most of the people yelling “SECOND AMENDMENT!!!” don’t even realise that they aren’t supporting the constitution, but the NRA bastardisation of an ideal.

And it’s tragic that – unless this changes once again – these same people will defend the rights of people like Nikolas Cruz, who murdered seventeen people at a school in Florida on Feb 14, 2018. They will defend the rights of Stephen Paddock, who on October 1, 2017, murdered 58 people and injures 851 others in a ten-minute shooting spree from a hotel room in Las Vegas. They will defend the rights of Adam Lanza, who on December 14 2012, walked into the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, killing twenty children aged between six and seven years old, as well as six staff and his own mother.

They cite mental illness. They cite influences of video games and movies. They cite all manner of things.

They cry that if you take their guns, only criminals will have guns. Personally, I’d far rather the police arrest someone for owning an illegal gun, than arrest them for massacring seventeen people. Because – and this is very important – all of the people I named above were legal gun owners, right up to the point when they became murderers.

However, gun supporters never cite the one thing that would have absolutely prevented these atrocities.

It’s impossible to kill 58 people and injure 851 others in 10 minutes, from a 32nd floor hotel room across the street, without the guns to fire.

It’s impossible to walk into a school and murder seventeen people if you don’t have the weapon to do so.

It’s impossible to massacre twenty children barely starting their school life, if you don’t have the means to deliver that death from the barrel of a gun.

Yes, health issues need to be addressed (although with Mental Health funding in the US being gutted at the moment, and restrictions on mental health suffers owning guns being lifted, it’s hard to see anything going well there). But we all have mental health issues in our countries. Only America arms their mentally ill. And that must stop.

Survivors of the attack in Florida are vocalising their anger towards the laws that failed them and their classmates. One can only hope that their voices are as loud, and as persistent, as they need to be. Because if they aren’t listened to, then all we are doing is waiting for the next time.

 

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The American Way, or the Highway…

I’m following current events in the US with increasing dismay.

The protests / counter protests in Charlottesville over the weekend showed just how much white supremacist fascism feels enabled by the actions of the present government over there.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and the injuries suffered by many others is horrific, but I fear that the underlying cause that created these events runs far deeper.

‘The American Way’ is often touted as their utopia. It’s all about people being free – free to do, say, live, behave, worship however they want, with little or no interference or control from the state. In principle, that’s a good idea. Sadly, it relies on a principled population to work.

Let’s take the First Amendment – the freedom of speech. Basically, you can say what you like. Even if that’s not what other people like. and they can say so, and you can argue, and you can confront each other’s views, and then suddenly there’s a car being driven into a crowd of people simply because they think differently to you. And people die.

That’s not an issue that specifically surrounds white supremacism, although pretty much all of the recent events have been due to their actions. And the alt-right need to take responsibility, as do all groups, for the impact their views have on society as a whole.

Let’s take the Second Amendment – the right to bear arms. Written in the late eighteenth century at a time when there was a clear danger from Native American Indians, rogue English-supporting vigilantes, and claim-jumpers looking to secure the best land for themselves, it made sense that a homestead could be protected.

But it’s not been updated for over two hundred years, and you now have people with an armies’ worth of assault weaponry, quoting ancient legislation as their ‘right’. The rights of these gun-toting mavericks legally outweighs the rights of the rest of society to be protected from their potentially murderous intentions, or any accidents caused by a trigger-happy citizen out shopping (such a dangerous pastime in some states, clearly).

Most other ‘civilised’ countries understand the need to draw a line between the rights of the individual and the rights of society. They know that free speech is important, but hate speech is illegal. They know that having an armed population will only lead to people being shot.

America needs to wake up to the fact that ‘The American Dream’ is in severe danger of being left for dead on the sidewalk, and that only by bringing the edge-case lunatics (white fascists, survivalist weapons hoarders, etc.) into line by protecting the many against the few, will the US start to regain it’s freedom.

Because – after all – the anthem doesn’t just talk about it being ‘the land of the free‘, it also declares itself ‘the home of the brave‘, and it’s time that the brave stood up – like Heather Heyer did – and start to make a difference.

 

I’m feeling lost…

Ever since I was first able, and ever since I knew what it meant, I’ve been a political animal.

I’ve looked at the issues, I’ve listened to what each shade of political opinion had to say,  I’ve formed what I always believe to be informed opinions, and I’ve been able to align myself with people, and with a party, that shared, if not all, then certainly most of my views. That has tended to move me to regard myself as a conservative, to vote that way in local and national elections, and to feel that a country led along those values was more or less the country I wanted to be a part of.

Only now – for the first time – I don’t feel that way.

I look at what’s going on locally, domestically and internationally, and I’m really struggling to find any of my values reflected in any single political stream.

I strongly believe that leaving the EU is the wrong thing for us to commit to, unless we really know what the conditions for life outside the EU will be. If life is better (or at the least not significantly worse) then fine, that’s what we will end up with. I can’t be the only one whose concerns centre around that fact that nobody has a clue, we’re simply heading full-pelt towards an edge without knowing if there’s a good landing place or not.

My local MP (and now Prime Minister) Theresa May campaigned to remain in the EU, and is now seemingly one of the most hard line anti-EU protagonists. This is showing a lack of consistency and personal character that are surely a requirement for anyone in her position. If there was an election tomorrow, I don’t think I could vote for her. Trouble is, I can’t see myself voting Labour or Lib Dem either, whilst UKIP turn my stomach with their views.

As we’re on the topic of leaders with no moral compass, let’s talk Trump.

I utterly abhor what’s going on in the US at the moment. There’s an upsurge in bigotry, racism, hatred and sexism that is given legitimacy by the words and actions of the President. There’s such a clear attempt to stifle any and all dissenting voices, there’s blatant lying from all and sundry, there’s people like Betsy DeVos, surely one of the most unqualified people even in an administration led by someone such as Trump. She’s bought her job, without a doubt. And she’s just one of the many people whose background and documented views should surely disbar them from the very important roles they now fill.

Would I have voted for Clinton? I’m not sure she’d be that much better (although she would certainly be better) so I don’t know.

I certainly wouldn’t have voted for Donald Trump. His actions leading up to the election (mocking disabled people, branding Mexicans as thieves and rapists, repeatedly lying about his achievements and refusing to release his tax returns) and his actions since taking office (the ban on muslims from countries he has no business dealings with, his faux-divestment of his companies making it very believable that he’s skimming vast amounts of tax dollars into his personal accounts, and his refusal to act in any manner befitting a US President) gives a hint on what’s on the way.

So what do I do, and where do I go? If I didn’t care, it wouldn’t bother me so much. It’s because I do care, that I have to ask the serious question: When you know you need to engage, but all the options make you shy away, how do you make a difference?

 

UPDATE: The 2017 Election Cometh…

 

Hi, I’m Peter Griffin, and today…..

…. this is what’s grinding my gears!

Yes folks, it’s time for me to start channelling the spirit of Peter Griffin once more, because at the moment my gears are well and truly grinding….

Where to start? Let’s kick off with something that’s always annoyed the bejeepers out of me, and it’s this: people who appear mentally challenged when they navigate traffic.

You see them all over the place – not just on the roads, but in the supermarket as well. Picture the scene: you’ve got your basket, and you’ve planned your route via the fruit and veg section, over to the cheese, then swoop through condiments and flavourings before heading towards the mecca of all male supermarket visitors: the beer and DVD aisles.

Suddenly, appearing much as the shopkeeper used to in Mr Benn, you’re stuck behind someone who has appeared from nowhere, pushing a trolley in which they have a single can of tuna chunks. Or maybe some quiche. And despite the speed at which they travelled to get in front of you, the first thing they do is to suddenly stop dead right in your path, causing you to fully check the anti-lock brakes in your ankles. And the purpose of their action? Organically pressed chilli-infused yak’s yoghurt from Mozambique. Nobody in the history of shopping has ever actually brought any of the stuff, but for some reason fate, evolution or intelligent design has thrown into your path a specimen who feels the need to check out the sell-by date and the serving suggestions.

So having stopped sharply to avoid impaling yourself on the end of her walking frame – because they are always elderly women – you squeeze between her trolley and the pallet truck the store shelf-stacker has thoughtfully placed in the worst possible location and turn the corner, only to have another old lady ram you in the shins with her trolley. And all this to the soundtrack of a half-dozen screaming kids.

Cars are only slightly different – the screaming kids are rarely an issue, and thankfully, old ladies seem more intent on dithering at junctions as they strain to peer above the steering wheel at the empty road ahead. But don’t imagine that the danger is averted. Because you have someone even worse in your rear mirror. Someone I shall term “Audi Man”.

He’s the guy who will zoom along the dual carriageway, doing eighty-seven miles an hour (must be 87, he hasn’t yet managed to disappear back to 1955 so the flux capacitor can’t have kicked in, and that only happens at 88, as we all know) completely ignoring the three hundred yards of empty lane behind you – then he swerves into the non-existent gap between you and the car in front just as you get to the roundabout. He then hugs the bumper of the car ahead, but only for the time it takes to get over the roundabout, before he pulls out again and zooms off in a cloud of diesel fumes, thus rendering his entire dangerously reckless manoeuvre completely unnecessary.

He used to be BMW Man, of course, but these days BMW drivers are only interested in getting their clubs to the golf course, and so pootle along in their own time. They have been replaced by Audi Man, about whom I have come to agree with Jeremy Clarkson – who thinks they are all ‘cocks’.

Talking of objectionable individuals, this brings me on to my second point today, which is Julian Assange, recently granted asylum by Ecuador and currently living at their expense at their London embassy, which I read is now surrounded by police to make sure he doesn’t make a run for the airport.

Now I have never been able to get inside the mind of someone like Assange. I really don’t understand how his brain functions. As we all know, he’s the founder of Wikileaks, the website that somehow gets hold of classified, confidential documents relating to governments, armies, financial organisations etc., and publishes them. He’s the grown up equivalent of the spotty kid that always got bullied at school for being a ‘tell-tale’. His whole philosophy appears to be that ‘The Truth’ is the only important thing.

Well here’s an open message for you, Jules: why not face ‘The Truth’ about the sexual assault charges you are wanted for in Sweden? Why not admit that ‘The Truth’ is you are subject to a European Arrest Warrant, and that you’ve only taken asylum in the embassy because you don’t want ‘The Truth’ to be told about you? You can bleat all you like about how much the Americans dislike you (and after what you have published about them, I’m not surprised) but there are always consequences for your actions, and you have zero credibility if you continue to expose other people’s secrets but run away from your own guilty actions.

All you were interested in was publishing and becoming famous. You should have realised that just because you could publish, it doesn’t mean that you should.

Maybe next time, you’ll think twice about making powerful enemies.

And finally, on a lighter note, it appears that paragon of footballing virtue, Joseph Barton, may be off to Marseille on a season-long loan. As a QPR fan, this possibility fills me with joy. Barton has been a liability from day one, a ticking bomb, a lit fuse fizzing away. Some of which you can maybe accept – but only if he was the star of the show when he stayed on the pitch. Sadly, Joey, you are not only a disciplinary statistic waiting to reoccur, you’ve not been a very good player. So farewell hopefully, I wish you a great career a long way from Loftus Road.

It’s always possible that he doesn’t leave, and sits sulking in the reserves and on the payroll – which is enough to grind anyone’s gears!