A second look at the Second Amendment

The sickening massacre of innocents at Sandy Hook Elementary School has haunted me. If it were the only recent instance of such madness, it might be different -- but it isn't. The question is what can we do about it?

I grew up in a family of seven kids whose parents had survived the Great Depression. Six brothers, one sister. My sister, so far as I know, never fired a weapon in her life. Nor did my mother. We boys and Dad hunted and fished regularly -- for food and brotherhood. Mostly, we ate what we shot or caught. I say mostly because we shot a few prairie dogs for target practice, left them lie for coyotes or buzzards. We didn't eat carp. Our recipe was to roast the fish between two shingles, throw away the carp, eat the shingles. We ate jack rabbits and cotton-tails.

At age 12, I tried some opossum. I even bit into a charred meadowlark -- learning only after the fact I had assassinated the state bird. The point is, I've never been a wimpy anti-gun nut. I'm not an NRA member either.

These days, I don't hunt. Too much work, not cost-effective. Anyway, killing creatures other than flies and spiders and mice doesn't thrill me anymore. Maybe that's because I'm older, have seen friends and relatives die, am more aware of my own mortality -- and more appreciative of the variety and miracle of species besides humanity.

Do I think guns are glorified in this country? Yes. Would I fire a weapon to defend myself, my family and friends, or the kids and staff at Sandy Hook? I've not been faced with the need, nor wishing for it. But, yes, I would. I don't think I would need a semi-automatic assault weapon, or a pistol with a 25-round magazine.

I have a copy of the Constitution at my desk. The Second Amendment isn't about hunting or target shooting. Two terms in it should stand out today. The first is "militia."

So what's a militia? As defined by Merriam-Webster, a militia is "part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency." The rationale for a citizen's militia was that our founding fathers wisely understood the dangers of a standing army. While the Constitution does not use that precise term, Article I, Sec. 8 grants government the power "to raise and support armies" but to be funded for no more than two years at a time. The intent was to disband armies in times of peace.

The Declaration of Independence lists among its complaints that King George "has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislators." Today, our own country has a standing, very professional army -- a blatantly obvious fact.

Our country has a mentality of perpetual, worldwide war -- with at least 900 bases in at least 130 countries. Of the $1.2 trillion total spent annually by the top 10 global military powers, the U.S. spends almost 60 percent.

Two observations:

First, given the fact of an exorbitantly-funded standing army (including national guard and border patrol) a citizens' militia seems superfluous. Unless, of course, the purpose is not to defend against foreign enemies, but against the forces of a U.S. government no longer Lincoln's -- one "of, by or for the people" -- but against us.

Second, if that is the rationale for assault rifles, it is inadequate. To militarily resist a professional standing army with the remotest chance of success would require more sophistication and clout -- beginning but not ending with mortars, surface-to-air missiles, mobile rocket-launchers, landmines and reliable communication systems -- all of it outside the sight and purview of "the" government. Is that what we want?

So what do assault-weapons suffice for today? Well, you can blow away a fence-post and feel manly -- if you have a need to demonstrate it. If you're a conspiracy enthusiast, you can brag to your buddies that, looky here, you're all set for the imminent Islamist/socialist/commie/illegal immigrant coup -- or some other thrilling Armageddon.

Alternately, if you're some mix of boozed or drugged up, mad at the boss, your mom or dad or your spouse. If your girlfriend has taunted your sexual prowess. If you feel unappreciated or injured by the world. If you're violently psychotic just for a critical moment or clinically long-term nuts -- well, then you can load up a multi-round weapon and kill more innocent people quicker and more efficiently before you have to reload and risk everybody running away. You won't have some brave soul tackling you at the knees. You won't risk a principled old lady kicking you in the crotch, then everybody else piling on. With a Bushmaster .223 caliber assault rifle, you can mow 'em all down handily and save the last bullet for your gutless self.

So, is controlling the availability of such weaponry "the" answer? No. Is it a significant part of the answer? Yes.

We should underline, understand and apply the other standout word in the celebrated Second Amendment: "well-regulated."

Bob Hooper is a fourth-generation western Kansan who writes from his home in Bogue.

celtic@ruraltel.net