Our Colonial Militias Did Not Carry AK-47s and AR-15s.

The part of North America known as the United States has long had a gun culture. It’s one of our oddities that makes people from other countries shake their heads and wonder why we’re so gun-crazy. I’ve never liked this aspect of our character, but there you are; it’s enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution, which reads (as almost everyone knows):

 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.

Is the first part of that amendment about a well-regulated militia the most important, or the second part about the peoples’ right to keep and bear arms? Who knows? Who can say for sure what the adopters of that amendment in 1791 really understood it to mean.

In fact, the who, what, where, when, why, and how of this amendment have been debated so long and so heatedly that even I, as a long-time gun control advocate, am thoroughly sick of it. I do wish James Madison, who drafted the amendment, would have done us all a favor by being just a little more specific.

And there is this: There was good reason for the 2nd Amendment when it was added to the Constitution. The infant United States had only just won independence in 1783 from a Great Britain that had, among many other tyrannies, repeatedly tried to disarm the colonists to prevent their rebellion. When the Constitution was drafted in 1787 there was still great suspicion and distrust of a strong central government imposing its will upon the states and their individual citizens.

That is why Article I of the Constitution established the Congress and its powers, and Article II established the office of the Presidency and its powers. Congress’ duty is to enact the laws; the President’s duty is to see they are well and faithfully executed. Although George Washington was so revered after the war that some people wanted him to be an American King, the Constitutional framers intended the United States President to be subordinate to the United States Congress, not a supreme ruler over it, as in Great Britain.

Back to the 2nd Amendment: It was one of ten amendments added to the Constitution before it was ratified by the states in 1791. The purpose of these amendments was to protect those rights of individual citizens that had been abrogated under British rule, and that many citizens feared might still be abrogated under a too-strong central government. Twelve amendments were offered to the states for ratification; ten of the twelve were approved and added to the Constitution as the Bill of Rights.

In District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008, the United States Supreme Court ruled the 2nd Amendment does give individual citizens, not just members of the military, the right to own guns. So there you have it: Until and unless some future Supreme Court reverses that ruling, individual gun ownership in the United States is constitutionally protected.

But here’s what’s different today from when the Constitution and its first 10 Amendments were ratified in 1791:

In 1791 the United States had only a small standing army, with state militias providing the bulk of common defense. All able-bodied males in each state were considered militia members.

Militia members provided their own weapons. In 1791, that weapon was a single-shot, muzzle-loading smooth bore musket that initially took about a minute to load, and twenty seconds thereafter to reload. The smooth bore musket was notoriously inaccurate. It also discharged a great deal of black smoke as it fired. That is why armies stood and fired at each other in ranks at close range.

A rifle musket was also available, which had grooves inside the barrel to guide the bullet. It improved accuracy but took longer to load. It was used primarily by snipers and other individual marksmen, while the infantry carried the smooth bore musket. The most either of these weapons could fire was three rounds a minute.

In 1791, a state militia member could use a musket not only in war or for personal protection, but also to hunt game for food, if that was necessary. The United States was still an agrarian and frontier nation, and for many families, hunting was necessary.

Today, the United States has a large standing army, state militias have become national guard units attached to the states, regular army and national guard members do not buy their own weapons, there is no requirement to belong to either the army or a national guard, and not that many people still have to go hunting to put food on their tables. (Although many people still like to hunt, but that’s a different topic.)

Also today, in contrast to 1791, armies no longer use single-shot muskets. They use automatic assault rifles, such as the AK-47, which can fire 600 rounds a minute. A semi-automatic cousin, the AR-15, can fire 30-45 rounds a minute. Both rifles are designed to kill a lot of people very quickly. That makes them good choices for armies at war, but not particularly good choices for civilians hunting game if you hope to have anything left of your game after you kill it.

It is legal in the United States to own a fully automatic rifle such as the AK-47 if it was manufactured before 1986. If you can find one, you can buy it. If the AK-47 you find was manufactured after 1986, too bad; it is illegal for you to own it.

Fear not, though: you can go into a gun store and, as long as you pass the gun store’s required background check, you can buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that will look almost like an AK-47 and do almost as much damage. If you fail the store’s background check you can still buy that AR-15 at a gun show or from a friend, with no background check required. Or you might be able to score an AK-47 on the black market, if that’s your mass killing weapon of choice.

It’s estimated there are 5 to 10 million AR-15s in the United States, within a broader total of 300 million guns for a population of 327.2 million. That’s a lot of fire power and a lot of gun culture for a country that doesn’t now require military service.

So this is where we are with the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution, guaranteeing the right of individual gun ownership. We are just chock-full of guns all over the country.

I do wonder if, in 1791, instead of single-shot muskets that could kill at most three people a minute, the state militias had carried AK-47s or AR-15s that could kill anywhere from 45 to 600 people a minute.

Would the founders have thought it so important that the peoples’ right, when not serving as militia members, to keep and bear such lethal weapons not be infringed?

I do wonder.

Good Enough For Government Work

Before retirement, I worked for city government. My co-workers and I were well aware of the stereotype of government worker do-nothings with fat salaries and fat benefits and fat pensions, leaning on shovels all day or shuffling papers at a desk.

There probably were places where that stereotype was true, but I don’t think it was true of most of the people I worked with. I think most of my colleagues, whether working outdoors or inside, were dedicated to their jobs and enthusiastic about doing their best for the citizens they served. I worked with lots of bright, talented people.

Many of the people I worked with had wicked senses of humor, too. We liked to mock the stereotype by sometimes remarking, when we finished a task, “Well, that’s good enough for government work.”

In retirement, I still say it sometimes when I’ve finished something I know isn’t quite perfect, but is as good as I can get it at the time.

Every time I say it, it makes me smile. It makes me remember the good times I had working at the City and the good friends I made there, and it reminds me to be proud of the work I did there. And that’s a good thing.

Joy and Peace, and may you be good enough at whatever you do.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

How Blue Birds and a Mouse Got Me to Stop Sucking My Thumb

I sucked my thumb until I was seven years old.

Child development experts say it’s normal for a child to suck a thumb or a finger for the first one to two years. After that, it may indicate a problem. For me, it indicated a problem. I was an insecure little kid, and thumb-sucking was my Linus blanket.

I only did it in bed at night, and it was always my left thumb. My parents did everything they could think of to make me stop: bandages, gloves, bitter liquids, thumb splints, begging–everything. Nothing could make me give up my addiction.

Until the summer of my seventh year.

That year I became a Blue Bird (baby Campfire Girl), as did most of my seven-year-old school girl friends in little Seminole, Oklahoma. One of the joys of Blue Birding was you got to go to a summer camp with other Blue Birds and older Camp Fire Girls. (Yes, back then Campfire was just for girls.)

So off we went to summer camp, excited about what for many of us was our first time away from our parents. We felt so grown up.

We were assigned group cabins to sleep in, and my friends and I were all in the same cabin (neat!), along with a few other Blue Birds we didn’t know.

The first night we all got in our beds, and a counselor turned out the lights and wished us goodnight. In the darkness, I started to suck my thumb, as usual. Sucking my thumb made a little squeaking noise. I’d done it so long I was oblivious to it.

After a few minutes, a voice called out in the darkness:

“I think there’s a mouse in here. Hear that squeaking?”

Mortified, I jerked my thumb out of my mouth. The squeaking stopped instantly. My cabin mates listened a few moments in the dark silence and concluded the mouse or whatever was squeaking must have left.

I was safe. I had not been revealed as a thumb sucker. And after that, I never sucked my thumb again. Never wanted to. What my parents had tried for five years to stop, the fear of ridicule by my peers did in one night.

Sometimes you just have to wait for the right moment to break a bad habit.

Former thumb suckers, I’d like to know how you quit. Or did you?

Peace and Joy,

Thanks for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

In Case You Hadn’t Noticed . . . .

We are having a Constitutional Crisis.

I said in one of my early posts I would not write about politics because I wanted my blog to be positive and inviting to all, not just to some who might share my point of view. For the most part, I’ve stuck to my word.

But now is a time for all of us, regardless of political position, to pay attention to what is happening in our country.

We have a president who is claiming Congress has no right to investigate him for anything whatsoever, who is defying congressional subpoenas for anyone in his administration, present or past, and claiming he is above congress and, indeed, above the law.

The last time a president tried being above the law, it was 1972-74, his name was Richard Nixon (“when the president does it, that means it is not illegal“), and he had to resign rather than be impeached. That was a constitutional crisis, and we survived it.

Now we are in another. Let’s hope we survive this one, too.

When the nation’s founders convened in 1787 to craft the U.S. Constitution, they created three branches of government and articulated their powers in the first three articles of the Constitution. Article 1 defines the Legislative branch (Congress), Article 2 the Executive branch (the President), and Article 3 the Judicial branch (the Supreme Court).

It is no accident the founders defined the powers of Congress in Article 1 of the Constitution. There was vigorous debate about whether the Executive branch should be supreme over Congress or vice versa. It was assumed George Washington would be the first president, but some wanted Washington to be president for life, or even reign as a king, with congress subordinate to the monarchy, as in England.

Other delegates, mindful of King George III’s tyranny over the colonies that led to the revolution, rejected a monarchy and argued for a republic, with Congress having power and oversight over the Executive branch.

The advocates of congressional oversight over the Executive branch won. Thus, Congress and its powers are articulated in the first article of the Constitution, and the powers of the President in the second article. The president’s term of office is four years, and the president’s principal duties are to see that the laws Congress passes are faithfully executed and to preserve, defend, and protect the Constitution.

The founders foresaw the possibility of a rogue president. That is why the Constitution gives Congress oversight and impeachment powers over the President, but does not give comparable powers to the President over Congress. Congress is answerable only to the people, through elections. The President is answerable to Congress. Deadlocks between Congress and the Executive are to be settled by the Supreme Court.

In the last two years, this president has attempted to turn the Constitution on its head, with the President having ultimate authority over the Congress and all activities of government. He has even said–supposedly jokingly– it would be a good thing if he were president for life.

From the beginning of his presidency he has expressed admiration for authoritarian dictators. He tried many times in many ways to stop the Special Counsel’s investigations into Russia’s influence in the vote that elected him. He now claims that investigation is closed, that it exonerated him, and that Congress has no right to further investigate him or his administration. Thus he refuses to recognize any congressional requests or subpoenas for more testimony or records, and he now says he will refuse to work with Congress on any legislation as long as it is investigating him.

His latest act is to authorize an investigation into the origin of the Special Counsel’s investigation and to declassify all classified intelligence information so that his attorney general can build a case that the investigation into his election was treason.

If this president’s attempt to exert executive authority over Congress is unchecked, it is the path to tyranny. We have seen it happen in other countries many times before.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. The convention deliberations were held in strict secrecy, and when the convention ended anxious citizens gathered outside Independence Hall to learn the results.

Reportedly, a friend of George Washington, Mrs. Elizabeth Powell, asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin answered, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.” 

A republic–if you can keep it. Franklin’s words were never more true than they are today.

We are in a constitutional crisis. If you believe in prayer, you might want to pray for our country. If you believe in action, you might want to pressure your congressional representatives to do their duty to remove this out of control president.

MKJDKC Washington Addressing the Constitutional Convention. Image shot 1856. Exact date unknown.

I Wish I Had . . .

. . . Studied Latin.

I have a long list of things in my past I wish I had done differently, and my depression has to do with a lot of them. When I was depressed, I limited my options.

I thought I’d share some of those I Wish I Hads from time to time. Here’s the first one.

In high school and college, I studied French and Spanish. I didn’t study Latin.

French and Spanish are based on Latin. So is English. English was my best love and my strong suit in high school, and I knew I would be an English major in college.

It is said that to understand and use the English language well you really need to know Latin. But I never studied it. I thought I could get by without it. For an English major, how stupid is that?

If you study English language or literature, sciences, the law, medicine, government, et al (Latin for and others), you will be awash in Latin words and phrases.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, all educated English speakers would have known Latin. Our founding fathers were among them. Our national motto, e pluribus unum, (out of many, one) is Latin.

Latin is supposed to be a “dead” language now, but it thoroughly permeates our English language. (Permeate, from the Latin permeare, to pass through.)

We use a lot of Latin words in every day English. Here Are Just A Few:

Agenda, bona fide, consensus, de facto, et cetera, facsimile, habeas corpus, incommunicado, media, non compos mentis, onus, per capita, quantum, renegade, semper fidelis, terra firma, ultra, versus.

Pretty good for a dead language, huh?

I read more non-fiction than fiction these days (biography, history, medicine, politics, science), and I frequently find myself having to stop and look up a Latin word or phrase I’m unfamiliar with. I’m reading the redacted Mueller report now, and it’s full of academic and legal Latin.

So yes, I kick myself regularly now that I didn’t learn Latin.

Peace and joy, and I hope your “I wish I hads” are few.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck

On Language: Are you anxious or eager?

Today’s post is about the words Anxious and Eager.

Mary was anxious to buy a new car.

Sid was anxious to meet her.

We anxiously awaited the train.

All three correct, because anxious and eager mean the same thing, right?

Well, no.

Our language, being a living language, is always changing.

The English language would be much poorer today if the Norman French hadn’t invaded Saxon England in 1066 and brought with them a whole new vocabulary: words like ancestor, attain, bachelor, boutique, chevalier, clarinet, cul-de-sac–to name just a very, very few. Look up a list of English words of French origin and you will see just how thoroughly the French language embedded itself into English beginning with the Norman Conquest.

Similar things happen on a smaller scale whenever English-speaking peoples come in contact with people from other civilizations and cultures: From Greek, we get atlas, chaos, muse, and democracy, the very foundation of our government,

Mogul and Mantra from Hindi,

Algebra and Coffee from Arabic,

Angst and Kaput from German,

And last but not least, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and eight other U.S. state names, plus hundreds of county, town, river, and creek names from the Native American people displaced from their lands by their European invaders.

It seems early settlers loved Indian places names, but Indian people themselves–not so much.

Okay, back to anxious and eager.

The foundation of modern English and the Romance languages (Spanish,PortugueseFrenchItalian, and Romanian ) is Latin.

The word Anxious comes from Latin, and means uneasy, greatly troubled by uncertainties. The origin of Eager is also Latin, and means enthusiastic, wanting to do or be something very much.

Now go back to the three questions above.

Was Mary uneasy or greatly troubled about buying a new car? Or was she enthusiastic, wanting to do it?

She could have been either, depending on circumstances, but most likely the prospect of buying a new car made her enthusiastic and very much wanting to do it. Thus, she was eager .

The same could be said of the next two sentences: The desired word probably would be eager.

Yet nine out of ten times these days when you hear someone say anxious they really mean eager.

Language purists like me get their innards all twisted when they hear these meanings commingled. We don’t like perfectly good words taken over by other words that don’t really mean the same. We want anxious to mean troubled about something and eager to mean looking forward to something.

ALAS,

Language purists like me are fighting a losing battle on keeping words as they are. Because here we come to another truism about our living English language:

Over time, word meanings change.

Once, awful used to mean awe-inspiring. Now it means really bad.

Meat was once any solid food, as opposed to drink. Now it refers to animal flesh.

Not that long ago, if you said something was dear, you meant it was expensive. Now if you say something is dear, you probably mean it is loved and cherished.

This meaning migration is one of the things that makes English such a rich, vital language. Popular usage makes it happen, over and over again. We can’t stop it.

Anxious and eager could have different meanings to future English speakers. (Assuming there will be future English or any other speakers, given what we have been doing to our planet. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.)

HOWEVER,

In our lifetimes, I’m still a language purist. I’d still like to see us use anxious to mean uneasy or greatly troubled about something, and eager to mean greatly enthusiastic about it.

That’s my two cents’ worth.

As always, Peace and Joy,

And thanks for reading my blog.

Marjorie Beck