Dear Editor,

The mindless slaughter in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, will lead to a predictable discussion of the 2nd Amendment, which states “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the safety of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” (Approved by the Virginia legislature in December, 1791.)

Discussion of this amendment in the 18th century was based on our experience with British rule. We feared standing armies under the control of a remote imperial government in far off London, at least two months away. In seeking approval for the new national government which would be weeks away from most citizens’ homes, a bill of rights was promised, limiting the reach of the new government. Virginia had earlier adopted the Virginia Amendments on June 27, 1788, which stated that ‘‘the right to bear arms” was tied to being a member of the militia (National Guard). Virginia’s proposed 17th Article stated, “That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty and therefore ought to be avoided, as far as the community will admit and that in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil authority.”

The line between a citizen’s rights and the government’s authority is not always clear. Farmers in western Pennsylvania revolted during the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 because they did not want to pay a tax on whiskey. President Washington sent in an army to crush the tax rebellion. President Jefferson later reduced the army from 4,000 to 2,500 men. He was less concerned about the fifth of American population made up of slaves since the Constitution considered slaves property. The world has changed.

In place of a single shot, not particularly reliable musket, we now have machine guns and submachine guns which can kill many in a few seconds. In fact, machine guns killed eight million young men during World War I. British, French and German generals concluded that a machine gun could fire faster than infantrymen could run. Many Americans seem to believe that a submachine gun is similar to an 18th-century musket.


Carl Krog