By Annie Rehill
When the U.S. Constitution was signed in 1787, the Continental Army had already been disbanded because the Revolution had been won. In this brand-new self-declared nation, no standing military existed, despite George Washington’s recommendations. Instead, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution stipulated that the president would serve as commander-in-chief of the military services “when called into the actual Service of the United States.” So the militia would be called up when and if needed.
The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791 in response to many states’ belief that further clarifications and specifics were required. Amendment II of the Constitution (a.k.a. the Bill of Rights) states: “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.” The National Rifle Association and other gun fanatics conveniently omit the first part of that amendment, which renders the second part obsolete.
The Constitution also states that, “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due” (Article IV, Section 2). These provisions have been changed in the 13th and subsequent amendments to account for changing political environments and the majority of the people’s recognition of everyone’s right to freedom. In other words, the conditions under which the Constitution was written having changed as the nation became better educated, the fundamental guidelines for ruling the country were adjusted.
This is where we are today with gun laws. The National Rifle Association has hijacked the issue, reinterpreted the U.S. Constitution, and sold its version to a substantial—but not the majority—portion of the U.S. population. In today’s world, we have a very efficient, permanent, and all-volunteer military service. It is far from perfect, but it is also far from nonexistent. It is well established as part of the U.S. culture; it is funded; it is continually evolving and striving to improve itself. The vast majority of military service members—and I know and have worked with many throughout the services—are deeply committed to protecting their country and to helping improve the condition of others around the world.
In 1787, we did not have this national asset, nor did we have local or state police forces, a Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a National Security Agency. All of these organizations have taken the place of local militias. Despite their imperfections, their raison d’être is to protect the people. We no longer have or need a militia.
Today, in this modern world, the extent to which individual citizens should be allowed to own firearms could be limited, reasonably, to uses for hunting, firing ranges, and very limited, selective self-protection for those feeling the need. No automatic weapons of any type should be owned by individual U.S. citizens.
On a radio program last week while driving to work, I heard a man voice an opinion that has resonated with me ever since: Everyone once claimed that the tobacco industry could never be controlled, he said—until it was.
The time is long past. We must support the Florida high school students; Gabrielle Giffords; the Sandy Hook Elementary parents; and survivors of Aurora, Colorado, Las Vegas, and all the other atrocities with which we, as a nation, have been putting up through our failure to maintain pressure. The NRA continually strives to wear down resistance with its seemingly limitless financial resources and political influence.
Why is it that we have not seen widespread investigative reporting on this? I look forward to investigations being pursued—relentlessly—by such respected, high-profile venues as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the PBS NewsHour. We urgently need journalists with the courage, commitment, and institutional backing to carry out in-depth, repeated reporting into the National Rifle Association, its political ties, its patterns, its associations, and its extensive influence. It is long past time to illuminate the many—and appalling—reasons for which this country has yet to act on national gun control.
Meanwhile, any politician who accepts donations or funding any kind from the National Rifle Association must be named and held accountable.
The Constitution can be changed so that Amendment II is repealed and replaced with another amendment, one that is appropriate to the realities of today’s world. The process is in place. This is our Constitution, which is a living, continually changing document. It does not belong to the National Rifle Association or to gun fanatics; it belongs to every one of us who choose to live in this country.
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Annie Rehill is a writer, editor, and member of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. She lives in the Annapolis area.