As a 10-year-old in 1960 I earned my first gun, a .22 single-shot rifle, by selling Christmas cards to my neighbors.  Now I am a Maine Guide, Army veteran, concealed-carry permit holder, and NRA member with a degree in wildlife management, and I have been using my firearms safely for over 50 years.

As I write this, they are still holding news conferences about the Newtown school rampage, and the monster who did it has not yet been identified.

This incident was implausible, if not impossible, in the America of my childhood.  In the public schools of my youth, the U.S. Constitution was not a polarizing political document.  We read portions of it in junior high school and readily comprehended that it was the foundation of our freedom.

The Constitution prohibits the federal government from keeping a standing army (Article 1, Section 8).  This is why the Second Amendment begins with the phrase, "A well regulated militia".  Ordinary citizens, owning their own weapons and drilled and commanded by leaders chosen within their respective states, were expected to repel enemies both foreign and domestic.

Except for such unwieldy armaments as horse-drawn or shipboard cannons, the most horrific weapons of the day were single-shot rifles of the sort depicted in any image of the Concord minutemen.  There are people today who rationally argue that the Second Amendment assures the continuing right of any citizen to own any weapon that an invading army might possess, else how might a well-regulated militia repel an invasion?  While many in government regard a prohibition against possessing a gun as no infringement on the right to keep and bear arms, the sort of double-think only possible by government professionals, most of us who do own firearms are content not to insist on owning a battle tank or an aircraft carrier.

The authors of the Constitution, however, failed to envision an American society that did not impose any social order upon itself.  When I wonder what has happened between 1960 and today, this is the difference that I see.

I have begun to re-think my support of the Second Amendment.  I'm not talking about how it's interpreted.  It is written so plainly that there is no interpreting necessary.  It means what it says, and any restriction on the type of weapons that any citizen may own is an infringement, the unconstitutional existence of a standing army notwithstanding.  What I am re-thinking is the very sense of keeping the Second Amendment, as written, in the Constitution.

Its chief purpose was to assure an armed citizenry, like that of Switzerland or Israel, in the event of an invasion, and to assure that the citizens of the newly-formed country had the means to police their homes and communities, resist tyranny, and replace their government with new government by force, if necessary, at a time when no one, including the government, had very much at its disposal to annihilate people and property on the scale that is possible today. The federal government’s disregard for the prohibition against a standing army does not negate the responsibility of individual citizens to own personal weapons and be prepared to defend their country and protect themselves personally in a direct confrontation.

After today there will be more calls for weapons bans, calls for more support for the unenforceable UN treaty, calls for firearms registration, and so on.  As the Internet cartoonists have stated it in so many ways, restricting guns is like taking cars away from safe drivers in order to prevent tragedies by drunks.  Any infringement on keeping and bearing arms is unconstitutional, except where the citizen involved is already disqualified by conviction for crimes or failure to demonstrate emotional stability.  Laws and treaties and edicts from an imperial president are not the ways to prevent mis-use of guns in the United States. (And we are failing to address and treat emotional instability because, since the 1960s, any rude, even self-destructive behavior is excused as valid self-expression, lest we trample creativity and self-esteem; so shame on us as a nation for pretending that abhorrent self-expression is not a cry for help.)

Replacing the Second Amendment is the way to change who keeps and bears arms in the United States and what kinds of arms are sensible.  And I may just support such an effort, because I can see several irreversible realities: 1) We have become a society that prefers to protect the liberty of crazy people (not a clinical term, just as apoplexy and stupidity are not clinical terms but practical realities) to act out their insanity rather than assure them treatment and, if need be, to detain them for the safety of the rest of us; 2) The United States already has a standing army instead of a citizen militia, so any armed resistance to tyranny by disorganized individual "freedom fighters" with AR-15s is not going to serve to replace our existing federal government -- 21st-century minutemen are ridiculously out-gunned, and 3) what this country has already become, with over half of us, especially our urban populace, best described as self-indulgent, over-regulated government dependents, is not going to change until our economy and infrastructures have imploded under the burden and with them our distribution systems and social order.

Rights are not conferred by a government.  If it is your right to do something, to breathe, for instance, then it is your right whether others organized to govern you approve or not.  The exercise of some rights can be thwarted by a paranoid government, which is why the right to speak one's mind, or the right of certain citizens to vote, as well as the right of self-defense had to be codified into the Constitution -- it is a right whether your government wants you to do it or not.

The right personally to defend oneself, which is the right to own weapons as the means to protect oneself both from personal assault and national tyranny, is a right whether government likes it or not. The right to defend oneself is as basic as the right to breathe. It is not something you will infringe upon easily. And yet I still question -- as I say, I am re-thinking it -- whether it might be more productive to identify and treat the people who are capable of mass murder rather than punish the safe drivers, so to speak, for the crimes of the drunk.  But maybe the Constitution can do more both to assure our right to self-defense and to protect us all from those who are the enemies among us.

If the Second Amendment can be revised and can still preserve an alternative that permits us to defend ourselves and our loved ones anywhere we may be and to defend our homes and property, an alternative that lets us continue to kill our own range-fed organic food instead of paying someone else to kill and package meat-industry food for us, an alternative that lets us continue in competitive shooting inasmuch as it is much safer than football and auto racing and many other sports, and an alternative that lets us retain a modest level of local self-governance when the whole world falls apart, then I may support that revision.

Don't call upon your representatives in Congress to pass laws that simply ignore the Constitution. That will force many to ignore those laws and obey the Constitution. If the Second Amendment is treated as though it does not mean what it says, then we can all ignore the entire Constitution and have the anarchy now that we are being propelled toward by our politicians anyway.  But call upon them, if you will, to submit a re-write or revision of the Second Amendment to the ratification process, and you just may find some supporters among us reasonable citizens who are widely derided as gun nuts.

In case I’m labeled ignorant of mental illness, I have lived with two children, for many years each, who could stand in for the boy in this mom’s perspective: Mental illness needs to be identified and treated compassionately, but also, in many cases, by limiting the patient’s options for action and behavior.

14 December 2012