Some 228 years ago — it might have well been 1,000 years for all the “progress” that’s since been made in weapons — our nation’s founding leaders stuck a compromise phrase in our Bill of Rights: “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.”
Other than being the tortured syntax of a decades-running tortured debate about the role of weaponry and citizenry — and even the role of weaponry in maintaining slavery — have you ever read a more obtuse, unclear sentence in your life? No, you haven’t, and that’s because its writers were attempting compromise with so many competing alternatives that might have actually been efficacious.
Now, centuries later, our nation has become, through unbelievably effective lobbying, slaves to this 228-year-old sentence that barely made sense then, and certainly makes less sense now.
“Keep and bear arms.” The types of weapons were primitive then, arms being essentially muskets. Lord knows, they didn’t include personal cannons in the mix. Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago, founders recognized reasonable limits on the firepower one could personally possess. You couldn’t have just walked around with your own personal cannon when bellying up to the local saloon.
Funny thing along the way to modernity: The “assault weapons” of today contain more effective slaughter power than most cannons of way back yore. Those old guys who compromised on the Second Amendment’s tortured text never in their wildest dreams saw the firepower of those perfectly legal “arms” the crazy dude hanging out the window of a Las Vegas hotel used, mowing down half a hundred country music fans and ruining the lives of thousands more. And all because of their stupid tortured syntax sentence – with its intent bent, contorted and distorted by lobbyist money later allowed to flow into politics like the blood that’s flowed out of our 50,000 annual gun violence victims.
No, they didn’t see our day. They didn’t see electric cars, moon landings, Elon Musk’s rockets landing on their butts three at a time. They didn’t see fighters — or planes at all. They didn’t see computers, cyber warfare, five-lane freeways, iPhones, Facebook — and they didn’t see these nut jobs, all jacked up on weird internet postings, committing ever more shocking domestic terrorism with the damnable 21st century weaponry their single tortured Second Amendment sentence would be contorted to allow…
And they didn’t see — this time in Gilroy, at something as innocent as a garlic festival — a damn 19-year old, legally bought a damn hand-held war machine in Nevada and thought it a fine thing to post a couple of snarky right-wing Nazi racist posts on the internet and back up his lunacy with the slaughter of fine folks just having fun at a garlic festival in Gilroy.
Do we really need these assault weapons hanging around your community for your safety? Or is it the other way around? I’ve not heard of many evil-doers stopped in their tracks by American patriots whipping out their AR-15’s. Nor, have I seen any citizen militias battling back against the tanks, fighter jets and nuclear weapons of our oppressive standing American army. No Joe, you can’t beat back the U.S. Army with your home stash of G.I. Joe wannabe hardware…
This is all nuts.
We have become slaves to an anachronistic, tortured sentence, and as slaves, we’re passive bystanders to the slaughter of our own people. Thousands of them. Tens of thousands of them. Thousands every year. White, black, male, female – everyone.
And so very often these mass killings aren’t by the “brown folks from s—hole countries” we’re made to fear, but rather our own home-grown hate group nut jobs who legally buy “bearable arm” war machines subsequently killing us on a level never remotely imagined by the crafters of that one tortured sentence.
The Revolutionary War lasted just over eight years. And in those eight years, some 33,000 revolutionary fighters died from battle and war injuries. Thirty-three thousand patriots died over eight years with the war instruments of their time.
Today, in our time, about 40,000 Americans die every year from guns. More than the entire Revolutionary War. Sixty percent kill themselves with the god-awful things. About 16,000 get offed unwillingly by others, usually armed with the legal mayhem machines allowed by that tortured Second Amendment sentence exacerbated by special interest lobbying.
Forty thousand Americans dead. Every year from guns.
If our forefathers could have seen our day there’s no way they would have put up with all this. Hell no, they wouldn’t go. We’re living in insanity, made normalized by the sheer frequency of the insanity itself.
So, why should we care about the latest of weekly mass killings in the mass-killing capital of the world? Gilroy is half a state away and who cares about a garlic festival, anyway?
Except… you and I are supposed to enjoy rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Theoretically, without fear from the abuse of our other rights.
In today’s America, plainly something has to give. Either we forfeit our rights to pursue happiness unfettered by fear of gun violence, or we revise a tortured sentence from 228 years ago to get real with the realities of the modern killing machines of our day.
Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006.