Was gonna post this in response to a topic post on a recent US Appelate Court decision striking down Washington D.C.'s gun law that I saw on the boards at Blue Blood.com to-day, in the forums there. But, was informed that my post was much too lengthy to be posted there, without some trimming down.
Well, decided instead to simply post my answer here, and, the next time I posted my answer there, I would simply enclosed the link to my response here.
So, for better or worse, or neither of the two, here's the link to the original Blue Blood topic post, http://www.blueblood.net/boards/showthread.php?t=8718, and the full text of my response below.
Anyhow, Folks. There they are, for better or worse. Hope they prove to be of some interest.
Oh, man, is this a tricky question to address, particularly as down here in the States, it's such an emotionally charged one, and has been for at least thirty years.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution's Bill of Rights states that a well-regulated militia, since it's necessary for the common defence of American soil, property and liberties, means that the rights of the citizenry to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
On the face of it, that would seem to be a pretty straight-forward statement that all American citizens, as either current or at least, potential members of a well-regulated, probably meaning either locally- or state-run units of a much larger state and national militia body, have the right to keep and bear arms as a means of providing for the common defence in the cases of either a civil disturbance or foreign invasion of the United States and its territories.
But, and, no, I don't know the legal history here, so I will leave that in Mr. Jackie's capable hands to explain, this is certainly no longer the generally accepted interpretation of the Second Amendment, both in legal circles and generally speaking.
It certainly hasn't been customarily seen that way for quite a long time now, since, and am guessing here, probably at least the early 20th Century, when the various state militia bodies were formed into what to-day's known as the National Guard and Reserve, which itself, especially within the past twenty-six years, has become more and more an important component of the American defence establishment, rather than as just a set of local defence units acting as a supplement to the Regular Army, Navy and other Armed Services of the United States.
The UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, among other countries, have had auxillary militia and volunteer components as part of their defence establishments for much of their histories, and both the concept and word come from the Roman Republic and Empire, which, I believe, first started the idea, though I could be wrong on that score.
Switzerland, whose armed forces are mainly composed of either conscripts doing a one-to-two year term of national military service, a relative handful of military professionals, and a larger force of reservists, who are called up every now and then for military service, works on much the same lines, and Swiss citizenship, and the right to vote in Swiss elections, is conditioned on the individual's willingness and ability to serve in the Swiss armed forces. That's why Swiss women, and I don't know if this is still true to-day, historically couldn't vote, because they weren't permitted to serve in any branch of the Swiss military.
As for gun possession in Switzerland, I don't know if civilian gun ownership is permitted there, outside of reservists' having government-issued weapons stored in their homes in case of civil disturbance or foreign attack, but certainly for military reservists, gun ownership is allowed, though I don't know if there are any conditions as to how the weapons and ammunition in their possession are to be stored and maintained. I imagine there may be some, but I don't know.
Why bring these examples up??? Well, to show that there are and have been different interpretations of militias and the right to bear arms in other parts of the world throughout history, and how they contrast with the current popular American definitions of the terms.
To most Americans currently walking around, a militia brings more to mind the image of a far right wing paramilitary group out running around someplace in the boondocks, looking for those ever-evasive UN black helicopters in the service of the "New World Order", as was at least the popular conception of them in the US in the mid-and-late '90's, especially after the Oklahoma City bombing in April, 1995, than a legally-constituted body of armed local citizens in the service of whatever locality or state where they lived, as would have been the case for the bulk of American history.
Now, those groups, which, ideologically, were generally the descendants of right wing paramilitaries like the Posse Comitatus, that was popular in a good part of the American West and Midwest in the late '70's through mid-80's, and the Minutemen(No, not the boys who gave the British Army a bloody nose at Lexington and Concord back in 1775, even if that organisation named itself after their Revolutionary War predecessors), which was one of the more important, and feared, by both the general public and the American political establishment and Left in the 1960's, and sought, by organising themselves into militias, to both protest the Brady Act, which placed a ban on certain types of self-loading(generally known as automatic or semi-automatic weapons, which is kind of a misnomer)handguns and rifles, back in the late '80's, and, if need be, to both get around that act, and to move against any projected government attempt to seize whatever weapons their members had.
All that said, the militia movement in the US began fading out, after a few years of brouhaha about their existence and beliefs, in the late '90's, and, after 9/11, have been keeping a very low profile for the most part.
Either way, the common definition of the word militia in this country has changed considerably from how the Founding Fathers' generation, and many generations after them, would have understood the term.
As for gun possession, well, back in the early Republican(meaning the American Republic and not the political party, folks)period of US history, the sorts of firearms then available would have been single-shot, flintlock muskets or pistols, or single-shot rifles or shotguns, that used loose gunpowder, wadding and shot for ammunition, and that would have taken probably around a minute or so for a reasonably well-trained user to load, aim and fire. Muskets generally tended to effective at no more than about fifty to a hundred yards, while rifles, such as the famous Kentucky Rifle, could probably go up to about two to four times the distance a musket could.
Now, without getting into a loooonnngg dissertation on firearms technology and its history, which I wouldn't even know that much about anyhow, by the 1870's, there were pistol revolvers, like the famous Colt 1873 "Peacemaker", pump-action rifles and shotguns, like the Winchester '73, where you'd just load in a rifle bullet or shot, pump the lever or handle either below the weapon or below its barrel, aim, pull the trigger, and, Presto!!!, one or more dead sons-of-bitches.
Breech-loading rifles and pistols had also been developed by that time, and those meant that, by being able for a shooter to load and aim a pre-made cartridge or bullet into the gun's breech, which is a Helluva lot closer to him or her than the muzzle, or end, of a muzzle-loading musket, rifle or pistol, would be, one could easily and more safely load in more ammo, and throw off more shots at a given target or targets than ever before.
Then, with other innovations like the magazine-loading bolt-action rifle, the self-loading, or automatic, pistol, the machine-gun and sub-machine gun, the fully-automatic rifle, assault rifle, and greater ammo magazine loading and storage capacities, combined with smaller, more easily managed and operated weapons, whether handguns or long guns, weapons technology just exploded from the 1880's 'til the present day onwards, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
With each of these innovations, came an even greater killing and other destructive capability than had existed before.
Hence, a good deal of the problem with the social effects of having that kind of weaponry around.
Whether school shooters or mass murderers in the US and other parts of the developed world, or child soldiers, private armies and terrorists in other parts of the world, it's now far easier to train, learn, and use even a relatively simple assault weapon like the various makes and models of the AK 47 or M16, for individuals and groups than ever before, and, because of the large number of weapons of various sorts making their way around the globe than ever before, they're also generally easier and cheaper to get than at any time in history prior to the late 19th and 20th Centuries.
This means that it no longer takes as many people, if sufficiently equipped and trained, to potentially devastate a given area of a locality as it might have even, say, 50 years ago.
Mind you, street gangs, militias of various ideological persuasions and the like in the developed world have yet to get their hands on grenade launchers, shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, mortars, and heavier grades of artillery, and Thank God for that, or otherwise, some parts of American inner cities and European suburbs would look like Beirut at the height of the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-90.
But, as in Lebanon of the period mentioned above, or in Yugoslavia of the 1990's, some such groups in other parts of the world have and did, with disastrous results for those societies.
Do I think that street gangs, etc, will get their hands on such weapons? Probably not for some time to come, as they aren't manufactured in quite the mass quantities as handguns, shotguns and rifles are.
But, even without those heavier weapons, an individual or a determined group can do an incredible amount of damage with the kinds of modern infantry weapons I've described above.
Thus far, in the US, we've been relatively luckier than many around the world, in that we've not had the kinds of genuinely determined and able political and social armed groups, like, say, the Lebanese Phalangist Party or Hizbollah, that could capably make urban warfare, or just plain classic warfare, on a large enough scale and for a long enough time to really bugger things up here.
Yeah, there have been groups like the Minutemen, the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the Posse Comitatus that have been potential threats.
But, whether because of Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies(sometimes illegal and unConstitutional efforts like the old FBI Cointelpro programme)operations, as in the cases of the Minutemen and Black Panthers, or a combination of similar law enforcement efforts combined with sheer ineptitude on the targeted groups' parts, as in the Weathermen's and SLA's cases, those groups were eventually whittled down to size and quashed.
Instead, urban, suburban and rural discontent and anger has generally manifested itself in the US through riots, one-on-one, or group-on-one assaults, murders and other crimes, and occasional out-breaks of mass murders and school shootings, as well as gang violence.
There are a whole lotta factors that go into that, and I won't discuss 'em in this post, which is Hellaciously long enough already.
Safe to say, though, that a long simmering anger and discontent with much of the ways in which business of all sorts and life is lived in this country, combined with a perceived declining sense of community, too, is a contributing factor in these problems, and, sad to say, there aren't any really nice, simple, easy-to-implement answers to them, waiting to be taken out of the can.
The late science-fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, once wrote that "An armed society is a polite society."
If the only thing holding any society together is armed force, whether through a government monopoly on it, or through millions of individually armed people, then it will eventually fail, because, without some commonly understood customs and manners about how an individual or group should conduct him-,her- or itself in public, without having to resort to force, unarmed or armed, as well as laws and customs that punish the use of force outside of commonly understood boundaries of self-defence and defence of other people's lives, whether by public servants or private citizens, there will eventually arise an individual or a group, or even a set of groups, that will simply call everyone else's bluffs, and have both the willingness and abilities to successfully do that.
No matter how fast and accurately one thinks that he or she can fight and shoot, sooner or later, the likelihood of one running into someone else who's that much faster, more accurate, or just plain sneakier or luckier, than oneself, and losing a fight with that opponent increases over time.
Better by far to have a polite society, armed or unarmed, than to have one, where everyone's armed to the teeth and then some, but that's not only impolite, but actually dangerous to go out into.
Arms alone have never provided security, nor can they. By themselves, they're just objects, with no consciousness whatsoever.
They can hang on a wall, make dandy paperweights, or wound or kill people and animals, and they'll have no problem doing those, because they have no cognitive ability at all.
People with arms, however, can and do wound or kill. Sometimes individually, sometimes in vast quantities of suckers, but they do wound or kill.
Whether the person doing them is a soldier, guerrilla, outraged householder and taxpaying citizen, gang banger, street thug, or angry husband, wife, lover, parent or kid with a grudge, quick temper and a score to settle, the end result comes out pretty much the same, one person making a stupid decision, for reasons of their own, to kill or wound another person.
Stricter gun laws in the absence of legal and other social sanctions against the use of violence won't make much of a difference in how many suckers get killed or wounded, just as stricter law enforcement, and locking everyone up and throwing away the key won't, and hasn't by itself.
Even a more strait-laced, conformist society than the one presently in the US wouldn't make that much of a difference in the absence of legal and customary rules about fire-arms, their possession, and the use of violence in the culture on which most people could generally agree with and effectively live by.
Laws, social rules, manners and practises, as well as other social, legal, political and economic factors, have to come together and be understood as making their own contributions to a culture,as does technology's role, and, as much as possible, some kind of general consensus has to be found to make a generally safer society in the US than at present.
But, that's gonna a long while and a lot of debate and work to accomplish.
As for how the US Supreme Court might rule on this appeal, I have no idea, save a vague opinion that the Roberts' Court might, and I repeat, might, see things in favour of the gun manufacturers and groups like the NRA.
But, then again, it could turn around and surprise the Hell out of us. I don't know.
If you've actually made it this far down, congratulations to you for slogging through this, and my apologies for the lengthy post here. Just had some notions that I had to cough up, like a cat does a hair-ball from time to time.
Be seeing you.