What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, "hooray for our side"

Thursday, December 27, 2012

That Pesky Amendment Language and Originalism

Amendment II
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.
People have been arguing the meaning of that one sentence for decades now. Originalists, Constitutionalists, and just plain whackadoodles have all said that they believe the Founders got it right, you know as long as you ignore the whole militia part and just focusing on what is said after that first comma. They then go on to say that we should take this at an absolute, even though almost all the other 9 Amendments of the Bill of Rights have been altered, amended, and in various ways infringed upon.

But, okay, let's go with that. Let's go with the concept that the Founders wanted to make sure everybody has not only the right, but the social obligation to own their own firearm of some type. You know, for hunting, keeping the damn British off our shores, personal protection, keeping those kids from playing ZZ Top, or in case the "guberment" goes all tyrannical on their asses… or, you know, Zombie Apocalypse.

Here I could talk about what is really necessary for all of those, the practicality, the fantasy of being Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, or any of the other delusions held by the general public about firearms. Or I could talk about how there already are existing limitations on the 2nd Amendment that even the NRA doesn't seem to be talking about, like the restriction on full auto firing or that you can't own a grenade launcher or TOW missile.

So, basically, as the insult goes, we've already determined the occupation, we're just negotiating the renumeration.

But I have a different idea. One that doesn't run afoul of the Amendment as written, keeps the Founders as the wise demi-gods some people think they are, and takes us back to the true meaning of "right to bear arms."

I'm not saying it would work, or would actually be a good idea, but it's the "bold new ideas" all the crazy conservative cats seem to dig (except when they go against them).

At the time the Amendment was written and adopted, the concept of cartridges was beyond them. Sure, premeasured powder packs were coming into use, but a firearm with a receiver and the all in one powder and shot cartridge wasn't even in their dreams. At the time, most people who owned their firearms would pour their own shot, although you could buy commercially made musket balls.

So, to stop mass killers, we phase out of commercial ammunition except for military and law enforcement use. At first we prohibit sales of both premanufactured ammo and blank cases, and after a few years we then prohibit possession. We don't prohibit home manufacture of ammo, so people can pour and press their own shot without limit (although we may want to limit powder sales to only so much per month/year). And you can own any firearm you want. See, your right to bear arms is not infringed.

However most people don't have the skill, time, or patience to make their own ammo. Possession of manufactured ammo eventually becomes a crime which can be pursued for prosecution. Those people who do have ammo to use would by necessity be a little more skilled in the use of firearms. It also would be incredibly difficult to amass the overwhelming stores that seem to be the hallmark of recent mass shootings (most of which goes unused anyway).

Of course this is unworkable for more reasons than I can really count, besides the obvious cynical nature of the proposal. But, ammo is not covered by the 2nd Amendment, no matter how much the NRA will say it is. That would only show the NRA for not really being the defenders of the 2nd Amendment as they like to say, but just a organization based and funded to sell as many firearms and ammunition as possible to as many people as possible. Notice how their answer to every problem (shootings, crime in general, liberals getting elected to office, low flying airplanes, whatever) is "more guns", ever wonder why? Don't look at their finances if you don't want to know.


Anonymous said...

Some good points, but you might want to check the history of the invention of the Cartridge. Especially during the Flintlock period.

Steve Buchheit said...

Anonymous, well there was experimentation with enclosed metal cartridges before the invention of inducing the ignition using fulminating powder in the early 1800s. The cartridges used with flintlocks were not much more that premeasured powder wrapped in paper. Some of the more sophisticated uses used heavy paper wrapped in a cylinder shape sized for ramming with integrated shot (ball munition) at the end. IIRC (and it's been a while since I've looked at muzzleloading) both would be torn (by biting), with the powder poured in and the paper then used as wadding for the shot. I believe there were examples of reusable metal cartridges prior to 1810, but I don't believe they were much more than toys for the rich or noble (and we're more like shotgun cartridges).

Some top troops were outfitted with breechloading weapons starting in the later Napoleonic Era, but they were very expensive. Even during the Civil War (half a century later) troops were normally outfitted with muzzle loading weapons. Although by that time most shot (the mini ball) was mass manufactured. It really wasn't until the Indian Wars and Spanish-American War that metal cartridge ammunition and the firearms that used them became standard issue for most troops.

So while, yes, there were some examples out there while the Constitution was being written, the modern equivalent would be the rail gun. Sure, there are rail guns out there, and the potential for them is great, but they're really too expensive, heavy, and temperamental (not to mention the power plant needed to run them) to be considered a personal weapon.