Colonial Mass Murders–Rare as Hen’s Teeth

The Bill of Rights is a compromise. The Second Amendment is part of that compromise. Its adoption in 1791, two years after the Constitution, was the realization of a promise to appease the states’ rights factions, who would not have ratified the Constitution without it.

After the Revolutionary War the Continental Army was disbanded so fast that we nearly lost our, then defenseless country before it got started. Under the Articles of Confederation no army was authorized and, for many, that was just the way they wanted it. Standing armies were deemed a threat toward individual freedoms.

Thus came the growth of state militias, armed and ready to defend in the event of aggression by another country. Eight of the 13 states had Second Amendment-like verbiage in their own laws under the Articles. Most assured the right to own guns for self-protection, hunting, and use in trained militias for national defense.

While writing the Constitution, Federalists (Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay, et. al.) concluded that to preserve the fresh, new government and allow it to prosper, it needed to be able to defend itself from foreign threats and ideology incompatible with America gaining commercial power, wealth, and sovereignty.

Article 1, Section 8, Clauses 12 and 13 allow for the creation of a standing army and a navy and the ability to pay for them in chunks of two-year commitments. Further, the new president was deemed Commander-in-Chief–the stuff of possible tyranny.

That may have squeaked by, but then they added that the government also needed to be able to control its citizens. They tried to appease the states righters by stating that government also needs to control itself.

That didn’t fly.

To keep the Constitution on the books, the crafters had to include the Second Amendment allowing for the continuation of state militias and the right to own guns for that purpose. The personal protection and hunting language was, somehow, not overtly stated.

The idea that the writers of the Constitution wanted the Second Amendment is bunk. They didn’t. They just wanted to be able to raise a national army and this was the only way to get it. There were plenty of people who still feared tyranny.

State militias continued until 1903 when the National Guard was adopted and became part of the U. S. Army as opposed to being under state control.

So, no more state militias, and by the time of the World Wars, the American Armed Forces had become so strong that any attempt by a citizen to forcefully thwart any assault by the federal government on personal rights was simply out of the question. Today, I doubt the Supreme Court would ever uphold citizens’ rights to develop backyard missile silos capable of delivering nukes to defend themselves against the government.

It seems the original usefulness of the Second Amendment has shrunk to pea size. We still, correctly, cling to the personal protection and hunting notions even though not specifically mentioned. Also not mentioned is the fact that several of those eight states with gun ownership provisions, pre-Constitution, did have limiting clauses in the event an individual was deemed a threat to others.

If we can infer from the 27 words of the amendment that the right to gun ownership is unimpeachable even though there are no longer any state militias, we can also argue that limits imposed due to being a public danger are also implied. We know because the original 13 states plainly stated as much.

A gun advocate recently scolded me that the AR in AR-15 does not mean assault rifle, rather ArmaLite, the name of the original manufacturer. I didn’t know that, but I didn’t call them assault rifles. I think he was just showing off. I did know they are semi-automatic, and that means that only one bullet can be fired with each trigger pull.

I did not know that they had a range of calibers from .22 to .45. The argument was that they are indeed just sporting guns that happen to look really menacing.

Absent from the scolding, and my point in this particular rant, is that the issue behind strictly controlling these guns isn’t caliber or appearance, it is capacity. The muskets of Second Amendment days had one shot and took around a minute to reload. One person could not possible carry out a mass execution. Shooters could be stilled after a single round. Today’s AR-15 can be equipped with a 100 round clip. No matter how ordinary the guns are made out to be, 100 rounds fired in rapid succession–in the time it took a musketeer to reload–is well worth a legislative ban.



  1. Duggins says:

    That’s your take on the Constitution, not shared by all. That is why this Presidential election is so important. We need to keep you Liberals from using the supreme court to rewrite the Constitution.

  2. Jeanne O'Malley says:

    There is nothing like an actual education (along with the fine writing) to make a good and strong point. As my historian husband says, “Those who do not know their history are putty in the hands of …” Well done as usual, Terry!

  3. The second amendment was not put into the constitution for hunters or personal protection. The second amendment was meant insure that citizens would not again fall under the yoke of a tyrannical government (either our own or external).

    An example would be the cultural revolution in China where millions (yes millions) of unarmed citizens were murdered by political zealots. Many were hacked or burned to death, cannibilism has come to light. Unthinkable? The regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot say not. Dictators do not adhere to election results nor to peaceful protest.

    As for citizen militias they can be formed when the need arises as long as the people have will and the weapons to throw off an authoritarian regime or outside threat.

    Lastly, it seems the Orlando tragedy has brought renewed fervor to the gun control movement, however if you look at the perpetrators and their daily actions worldwide, Jihadis kill thousands. Daily. Yes with guns, and bombs, beheadings, acid attacks, stoning and the dropping of accused homosexuals off of buildings in public displays. They are here and an unarmed population will make their sworn mission so much easier.

  4. Wayne Benenson says:

    Good civics lesson. It is notoriously difficult to the cultural mindset of the late 18th C on the political landscape of the 21st C. History DOES matter. Understanding the context (which is part of the public record) by which the 2nd Amendment was passed allows us to be more deliberate in making an informed decision today. Alas, there is so little calm & sober voices articulating the complexity of hot-button issues. Thank you Terry for maneuvering so forthrightly in the minefield.

  5. Aquaman says:

    Terry – It good to know someone was with our founding father to get the insight why they wrote the bill of rights. I always thought they wrote the second amendment to control our own government. In order to control the people they must be disarmed and then the government can do pretty much what they want. There is an ad on T.V. from the NRA that states it just right “…when evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share.”

    Do you ever wonder America has been so successful in the world? Maybe It’s our Bill of Rights and our Constitution. They may be old, but the writers knew about the abuses put on people who cannot defend themselves. Government only has the rights people give them, not the other way around. No other country on earth has the freedom we do, However, many of those freedoms are being taken away by un-elected government agencies and that is why we are slipping in the world. Let’s make America Great again!

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