Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Bill St. Clair, proprietor of End the War on Freedom, tells us of his experience on the G&A Forum.

Meanwhile on the Gunnyragg Forum, Gunnyragg himself does a little venting about being kicked off the G&A Forum. I should note that Gunnyragg had been a member of the G&A Forum for some time before I found out about it, & that was several months before a moderator was appointed there.

For summaries of what has happened at the G&A Forum, please look here for my account & here for Nicki's take on the matter.

In short it is as I feared: anyone with a dissenting view is banned. Feel free to check it out for yourself. Bill St Clair points to this thread which he started & subsequently was banned after only 6 paragraphs. In that thread you have the moderator himself argue that because of the majority of American’s, we will never have an unlimited Right to Arms, & that's as it should be, because 'Arms" constitutes more than just firearms. More or less he argues that reasonable is the way to go & anything beyond that is delusional.

So for the helluvit, let's explore that idea for a moment.

What would a literal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment mean?

From Merriam-Webster I offer you this definition of Arms:

Main Entry: 3arm
Function: noun
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: Middle English armes (plural) weapons, from Old French, from Latin arma
Date: 13th century
1 a : a means (as a weapon) of offense or defense; especially : FIREARM b : a combat branch (as of an army) c : an organized branch of national defense (as the navy)

So any weapons that can be used offensively or defensively are arms.

But what of the word weapon?

Again, from Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: 1weap•on
Pronunciation: 'we-p&n
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English wepen, from Old English w[AE]pen; akin to Old High German wAffan weapon, Old Norse vApn
Date: before 12th century
1 : something (as a club, knife, or gun) used to injure, defeat, or destroy
2 : a means of contending against another

So it's an object that can be used to injure, defeat or destroy. That is a fairly broad definition.

Just for the heckuvit, I found this definition for man-at-arms & offer it to you:

From Merriam-Webster:

Main Entry: man-at-arms
Pronunciation: "man-&t-'ärmz
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural men-at-arms /"men-/
Date: 1581
: SOLDIER; especially : a heavily armed and usually mounted soldier

So what we have defined arms as any object that can be used as a weapon. Now how does that fit in with the 2nd amendment?

Well, the 2nd amendment uses the term 'arms' & I believe there is a very good reason for this choice. Here's the 2nd Article to the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution:

"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."

Now at the time of the American Revolutionary War the Brown Bess was standard issue amongst British regular troops (although the name Brown Bess wasn't found in writing until around 1785). The Brown Bess was a musket; a shoulder fired muzzle loading firearm. It was a flintlock with a smooth bore & an average soldier could expect to fire 3 shots a minute. Accuracy was abysmal, with little chance of hitting a specific man-sized target beyond 50 yards.

The Americans were armed in a slightly different fashion. The musket was the most common, but in numbers large enough to note were rifles. Rifles of the period were similar to muskets except for two things; the most notable is that their bores were rifled (or grooved in a curved line to impart a stabilizing spin on the projectile) but often overlooked is that most rifles had no provisions for a bayonet. Rifles were more accurate, enabling a doubling or in some cases a quadrupling of the maximum effective range (the distance at which an individual soldier could hit an individual target) but slower to load at 1 to 2 shots per minute.

Because of the nature of that particular war, where many soldiers supplied their own arms (especially in the beginning) rifles were supplemented with knives, tomahawks, hatchets, swords & just about any other edged weapon that could be carried.

Later in the war, rifles were replaced wherever possible by muskets. Why would the Americans do this when the rifle was more accurate? Because it was slower to load than the musket & it lacked a place to mount a bayonet, which was (& is) a very important weapon.

Pistols also had their place on both sides, as they were much more compact & much more effective at dispatching a charging enemy soldier than a sword.

Of note is the breech loading rifle. It was invented by a British officer named Patrick Ferguson. The Ferguson Rifle was patented in 1776 & tested successfully in battle shortly thereafter. It could be fired accurately at 200 yard distant targets at a rate of 6 shots per minute. Compared with the 50 yard accuracy & 3 rounds a minute of the musket it's obvious to see which weapon would be preferred. Luckily for us, Major Ferguson was mortally wounded at the Battle of King's Mountain, N.C. & with his death the British military abandoned the Ferguson Rifle. (I grew up around 30 miles from Kings Mountain so I learned about Major Ferguson very early in life - he was a great inventor & very clever, but unfortunately he was on the wrong team).

It should also be noted that cannons & especially ships of war were often privately owned & operated. (Speaking of ships, on this day, the 4th of November 1776, Congress authorized 4 vessels & crew for the American Navy - the first 4 vessels & crew for the American Navy). A sailor or captain could simply make more money as a privateer, so naturally private ships of war were more plentiful. In fact, according the link listed earlier in this paragraph:

"In 1777 alone, Colonial privateers took 143 prizes. For this reason, it was always difficult if not impossible, to find able seamen willing to join the American Navy and often navy ships remained tied to docks for months at a time with no crew at all. There was even talk in Congress of placing an embargo on merchant shipping during a critical time to encourage sailors to join the navy, but this was never enacted."

(For more on the weapons & tactics of the American Revolution, look here)

So in the founders’ day private citizens possessed the contemporary version of pistols, assault weapons, sniper rifles, howitzers & Destroyers. The founders saw the coming of the breech loader, which would be like comparing a semi-automatic rifle to a single shot breech loading rifle that used modern cartridge-type ammunition.

So why did they use the word 'arms' instead of flintlocks or muskets? Simple. They recognized that technology was changing, & muskets simply wouldn't encompass all that was necessary. In their time, in their own experience, muskets were the most common, but bayonets, rifles, pistols, swords, cannons, warships, knives, hatchets, grenades, tomahawks & other implements were used to wage war. The word 'muskets' would have been too limiting even then.

The primary purpose of the 2nd amendment was to ensure that the citizenry would never be disarmed & helpless should a government, foreign or domestic, attempt to enslave or kill them. As such it was meant that the average citizen should be able to possess the arms typical of the common soldier that he/she might have to face. In the 1770's that meant, but was not limited to, a musket & bayonet. In the 1870's that would have expanded to include a lever action repeating rifle & in the 1970's that would mean an M16 (although I would argue that any ten rednecks I know armed with Garands could equal 100 regular troops armed with M16's any day of the week & twict on Sund’ys). In 2070 this might mean the phaser rifles of Star Trek fame. But the founders’ intent was clear: the people should be able to be armed equal to or better than the average professional soldier.

Now this would exclude nuclear arms, chemical arms & other such weapons. Why? Aren't they still weapons & arms & therefore fall under the definition of arms in the 2nd amendment? Well, on a day when I have nothing to do, I'll entertain arguments that they could be included. But for our purposes here, no they wouldn't be.

Nuclear arms, chemical & biological weapons aren't the arms issued to a typical soldier. The difference is they are not discriminate weapons. They take out areas of people without distinguishing between friend and foe. Would it bother me if someone on my block had one of these types of weapons? Well, consider there may very well be someone on any of our blocks with these types of weapons, no. If that person has no harmful intent then it doesn't affect me. If that person does have harmful intent then there's not much I can do about it, & odds are I wouldn't be in any condition to do anything about it once I found out.

But what does make sense is for the citizenry to be able to have the same types of weapons that a small military unit, or in some cases a large military unit would possess. This means hand held weapons, shoulder fired weapons, & to some extent even crew served weapons should be privately owned. Grenades? Ayup. Same thing as with the nukes; if they have no harmful intent then why should it bother anyone? If they do, then they may kill a number of people, but no more than they'd be capable of doing now, with either a grenade bought on the black market (& thus illegal), a home-made grenade (& thus illegal), or a car (legal to own in all 50 states) driven on a crowded sidewalk at 30mph.

So while some cringe at the idea of common citizens owning weaponry fit for an infantryman, they do so in ignorance of history. There is little that's illegal to possess that cannot be had or its equivalent manufactured by those who really wish to cause harm.

For example, the shootings at Columbine High School a few years back brought bans of 'assault weapons' in various cities across the country. What they fail to realize is that the same effect could have been had with non-assault weapons - regular firearms. The murderers were walking through a school full of unarmed people unmolested, shooting at will. They didn't do anything that couldn't have been done with manually operated weapons. & to really put it in perspective, they murdered 13 people & wounded 21 others between 11:19a.m. & 11:35 a.m. That's 16 minutes. Assuming they hit each person with just one shot, that would be just over 2 shots per minute total, or just over 1 shot per minute per murderer. A musket from the revolutionary was could have provided that rate of firepower. In the library where they murdered 10 people & wounded 12 others, they did this all in 7 &1/2 minutes or so. That would have equated to almost 3 shots per total or 1.5 shots minute per murderer. Again, well within the capabilities of the Revolutionary War musket.

But of particular interest were the explosives. There were approximately 76 bombs planted in & around the school. Two large bombs were in the cafeteria & it's estimated that had they detonated they would have killed or severely wounded almost everyone in the cafeteria. That would have been over 400 students during the peak lunch break. Those bombs failed to explode, but if the murderers had spent a little more time on their explosives & instead of firearms had solely relied upon bombs, then many, many more people would have been murdered or injured. The bombs they made were illegal. That didn't prevent them from making them & attempting to use at least some of them.

The point of all that is that the weapons that some would be afraid of falling into the hands of those with harmful intent do fall into those hands right now despite laws aimed at preventing this. Fortunately when they're used they're used ineffectively relative to their potential. But more importantly is that they are typically only used where there is no fear of immediate & violent repercussion of their actions. Therefore the danger of the public having access to military weaponry is unfounded, as the criminals have access to them or their equivalents.

In case you still don't see the point, 2 of those bombs could have blown up the cafeteria, possibly causing enough structural damage to collapse it. That's less damage than two hand grenades would have done, or to some extent less than two 40mm grenades launched from an M203.

What matters most is not the weapon, because they can be bought on the black market, made or stolen right now. What matters is intent. Most people would not have harmful or negligent intent merely because they have access to military grade weaponry. The few that do have access to the same weaponry or their equivalents now, so denying access to the general populace is ineffective.

Prohibiting machine guns, grenades, even cannons use the same logic as prohibiting handguns: people will break the laws against murder with these implements so we'll make their possession illegal to stop the murders. Ask anyone in D.C. (a resident, not a politician) how well that's worked so far.

But one thing prohibiting grenades, machine guns & other military grade weaponry does is tilt the balance of power heavily to the military & away from the people.

Let us not forget that while personal self defense & hunting were taken for granted as being protected by the common law & therefore not mentioned, the protection of the use & possession of military grade weapons by the civilian populace was the primary objective of the 2nd amendment.

Firearms are essential, but they're not enough. Any item that could be useful to a soldier should be available for purchase to the civilian without restriction. That would include machine guns, grenades & artillery, but let's not forget the bayonet, knife, pistols & other implements of warfare. For those of you who shudder at the thought of grenades & machine guns being sold at the local hardware store, let me once again remind you that these items are available on the black market &/or their equivalents can easily be made right now. Those with harmful intent already have access to them, so absolutely nothing would change in that regards were the 2nd amendment to be interpreted literally. As far as artillery & other similar implements they are not available currently on the black market, at least not commonly enough to note. This is for two reasons; the price is prohibitive & the use of these weapons is limited. You actually think someone will attempt to wheel a field howitzer in place in order to shoot up a school? They'd be better served using a catapult, as most people would at least think it so quaint that they wouldn't see the danger at first. Although they would make the ultimate drive-by weapon. Tanks? Again, cost prohibitive & not particularly suited to the type of crimes that are most feared. I admit that any & every weapon (or the threat thereof) can be used in a crime, but some are more suited to certain crimes than others.

& considering that piracy is not something limited to old stories or complaints from record companies, I see not reason whatsoever why a pleasure boat should not have at least 1 heavy machine gun & a grenade launcher, doubly so if it's a sea-faring vessel.

So while the moderator at G&A Forums might wince at the thought of being able to walk into the hardware store & buying a belt fed machine gun over the counter, if one thinks about it a little then one will (or at least should) realize that those are precisely the kind of weapons that the founders intended to protect from governmental intrusion.

The 2nd Amendment protects the ability of the individual to own & possess weapons suitable for military use. That encompasses a broad spectrum of weapons & weapon types. It should not frighten anyone if a civilian possesses martial arms.

It should frighten us that martial arms are only freely permitted to the military & police. After all, that idea frightened the founders enough to place the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution.

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