The Friday report: The trouble with the Second Amendment
January 17, 2013
It’s strange that common words can be so individual as well. Take a simple word like “girl.”
Reading the word brings a mental picture to each of us, but no two of those images would be alike. We fine-tune our words with adjectives like “pretty” and she becomes a “pretty girl” but again, each of us adds our own spin. English can produce a mental train-wreck by adding another word when she becomes a “pretty unpleasant girl.” Each word we string together adds another layer of complexity that can lead us away from the author’s or the speaker’s original intent.
Languages also change over time. Words grow old and fall out of use. Take an old word like “kriboly,” which meant taking a bath in sheep’s blood, something most of us just don’t get around to anymore. Meanings and pronunciations change and words get added along the way. People 250 years apart linguistically would have a difficult time understanding each other.
Throughout history there have been many attempts to make language more precise by starting from scratch. A constructed universal language would have many advantages, not the least is that it would avoid the complications and errors of translation. Most successful of the many serious attempts at an engineered language is Esperanto. Developed in 1887 by L.L. Zamenhof, Esperanto is a politically neutral, international language. His goal was to promote peace through international understanding among people of different nations and continents. Estimates of fluent speakers of Esperanto range upwards of 2,000,000, mostly in Asia, Europe and South America. Last year it became the 64th language added to Google Translate.
This is a roundabout way to the Second Amendment. Why was it so important? Reading the arguments of the time, it’s clear that the majority opinion was that an armed citizenry was believed to be the best deterrent to the evils of an over-reaching government. That’s a hard-to-argue-with concept today looking at modern Syria.
America’s Founding Fathers had just as tough of a time arguing about gun control as we do today. They came from England where they’d seen the Catholics trying to disarm the Protestants before the Protestants turned table and disarmed the Catholics.
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The right, and even the obligation, to bear arms is rooted in more than a thousand years of English law. In 1181, King Henry II decreed that, to defend the crown, the minimum arms any freeman could own were an iron helmet and a wooden lance. The problem was then, and now, one of national defense: A dictator controls his people with a large standing military. Some saw the balance to this in a militia, a separate people’s army living and working their lives, but armed and ready to answer any threat to the nation, either as allies or enemies of the nation’s army.
Here’s exactly what our Founding Fathers finally said: “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.” They left us with 27 grammatically awkward, poorly punctuated, and mis-capitalized words that they couldn’t agree upon themselves.
Consequently our self-infatuated legislators today have an impossible task: tethered to a 250 year old mandate that doesn’t make a lot of sense and faced with a current population of 310,000,000 who keep 270,000,000 firearms in the nightstand, we expect them to reduce gun violence.
God bless us, one and all.