American Rhetoric: Once More, Unto The Breech

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Breech: noun \ˈbrēch\ (from the Merriam Webster dictionary)

3. the part of a firearm at the rear of the barrel.

     “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” These words are from Shakespeare’s “Henry V, Act III”, circa 1598. With the alteration of a single letter however, they become entirely applicable for our purposes; as we’re about to dive headlong, once more, into the national argument regarding gun control. I call it an “argument” for the mere fact that an argument is exactly what this is. It is not a debate, or even a national dialogue. What we have instead is more akin to the proverbial “pissing contest”, with each side engaged in recriminations, finger pointing and other judgmental words and actions. On the fringes of the conservative right, there are conspiracy theorists who insist that their guns are needed to protect themselves from a government gone awry. On the opposite end, are the ultra-liberals who insist that, since guns kill people, they need to be banned completely. Various politicians in the halls of power are also taking sides in the argument, with some going so far as to propose increasingly restrictive measures on gun ownership by the law-abiding citizenry.

     Quite often, I hear and see firearm advocates bring up the second amendment to the U.S. constitution, specifically the part which talks about the “right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Conversely, I seldom see the first part mentioned. Yes, my fine young readers, there are actually two parts to the sentence which makes up the entirety of the amendment. As ratified by the states and authenticated by one Thomas Jefferson, the amendment reads as follows:

“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 are a few important aspects to this that need to be considered. First, the framers of the “highest law of the land” did not speak “Yoda”. (George Lucas wouldn’t be born for another 153 years!) Therefore, it’s reasonable to assume that one part of the sentence has everything to do with the other, and vice versa. Second, there has been more than a fair share of debate with regards to the founding fathers’ intent when they wrote this amendment, going up to and including in the chambers of the Supreme Court.

     What follows here are mostly my own opinions on the issue. Please understand that I am by no means an expert (an “ex” being a has-been, and a spurt being a “drip, under pressure”!) on constitutional law, so I can only opine within the scope of what I know. That being said, the key idea that I can see already is one of a “well regulated militia” and what that entails, especially within the scope of the “here and now” as opposed to 200 years ago.

     In the 1790’s, firearms were a part of American existence. Not only were they used for hunting, but also to protect the homestead from hostile elements, which included the recently displaced Native American population, their sometime allies, and predatory animals that threatened crops and livestock. From an early age, young boys were handed a rifle and taught how to use it, clean it and keep it. Girls on the other hand, were more often relegated to keeping house, sewing, nursing and other things that were considered “woman’s work”. (How often do we hear that phrase used for household chores anymore? I apologise if that term sounded chauvinistic, but that was the way of things in the 1700’s.) Should the fledgeling nation come under threat, the framers of the constitution knew that there was a body of arms experience that could be drawn upon.

     What was / is a “militia”? In short, it’s a body of non-professionals that can be called upon in the event that the nation’s professional forces are not equal to the task of defense on their own. Of course in today’s society, there are a few very significant differences; women are now as equal to the task of defense as men, and our nation has a long-standing, completely volunteer army. In light of the latter part, one has to wonder if the very idea of the “militia” even applies in the new millennium. (If the concept of “militia” does still apply, then women should definitely be counted as a part of it. They (women) stand to lose just as much as the men do when their freedom is threatened!)

     In the 21st century, what exactly constitutes a threat to the “security of a free state”? The answer to that question can be summed up in one word; crime. Violent criminals are an ever-present threat to the security of our peace and freedoms. Over 200 years since the ratification of the second amendment, and the threat is no longer the one from without…it’s now the threat from within. It is with this threat in mind, that I would opine that the concept of the “well regulated militia” remains as valid today as it was yesterday.

     This seems like as good of a place as any to break for discussion. In the following article, I will attempt to expand on some ideas regarding the “regulation” of the militia, and how that applies to gun ownership.

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