As a kid growing up in eastern South Dakota in the late 50’s and early 60’s, it was a sort of rite of passage to get your hunting license and going on your first hunt where you might be fortunate enough to kill your first pheasant or duck. When I was fourteen I could apply for a hunting license by taking a gun safety course out at the Isaac Walton Club shooting range. If I remember correctly there were several weekly sessions I had to attend on gun safety, how to carry your gun in the field without endangering other hunters, the laws governing upland bird hunting in South Dakota and some sort of final demonstration of gun safety and knowledge of the laws and rules of good hunting practice. I didn’t have a gun, so my Grandfather let me use a single shot, 16 gauge, Winchester shotgun he seldom used.
My first hunting trip was on the first day of the waterfowl season. We went to one of those “prairie potholes” that dotted the eastern South Dakota rural landscape before they began to be drained to enable farmers to farm more land. My Grandfather, Dad, Uncle, and younger brother (who didn’t have a license) and I spread out along the edge of the water in tall reeds for cover. I remember it was a bluebird day. Warm sunshine and a gentle breeze. There small flocks of Green and Blue Winged Teal darted across the water. Some came within range of our shotguns. I managed to take several shots with no effect. Other members of our party were more successful. I remember my Dad even shot a Lesser Canada goose! Finally, I managed to hit something and Green Winged Teal crashed into the reeds not 10 feet from me. I will admit I had mixed emotions. On the one hand I was excited and somewhat proud of the fact that I had shot my first duck. On the other hand I felt a sense of guilt of having killed such a beautiful duck who wasn’t bothering anyone. It was a dilemma that haunted me all the years that I hunted. I was afraid to say anything to anyone, less I be called a “wuss” or a “wimp”. Later, I gave up hunting when I felt I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone.
I suppose this introduction is an around-about way of approaching the gun rights issue. The horrific carnage of the latest mass killing and wounding of over 500 people in Las Vegas begs the question? What the hell are we doing to protect those who think an AR-15, AR-16, and/or AK-47 is their” right” under the Second Amendment of the Constitution?
Let me first say, I have nothing against people owning shotguns and rifles for hunting and to protect their livestock from a variety of varmints. I used a shotgun in both instances. I can assure you that the tragedy in Las Vegas would not have been pulled off by someone using a shotgun or a standard bolt-action hunting rifle.
Having said that, I think we can begin our discussion by looking at the Second Amendment. In an article in the Huffington Post, Jeffery Sachs states: ” purpose of the Second Amendment was to prevent the new Federal Government established in 1789 from disarming the state militias and replacing them with a Federal standing army. It was a concern that was relevant perhaps for a few years around the birth of the country. It is irrelevant today. Americans do not rely on state militias for our freedom from the federal government.” It is obvious that the framers of the Constitution knew nothing of semi-automatic assault rifles, butt stocks (essentially converting a semi-automatic rifle into a machine gun which are banned) or the ability of people to purchase assault rifles at gun shows or through the internet without background checks. The founding fathers were no infallible. The Constitution has been amended 17 times. An overview of some of the more important ones are as follows:
Amendment XIII (1865) outlawed slavery and gave Congress the right to enforce the amendment.
Amendment XIV (1868) gave all persons born in United States the rights of citizenship
Amendment XV (1870) The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Amendment XIX (1920)The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Amendment XXIV (1964) The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
Amendment XXVI (1971) The right of citizens of the United States, who are 18 years of age or older, to vote, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of age.The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
The nation has responded by amending the Constitution when certain circumstances demanded it. Given that it is 2017 and not 1789, we need to take a hard rational look at amending the Second Amendment. For Congress to do nothing and succumb to the gun lobby is not only unconscionable but the height of shame and cowardice. Those who take their thirty pieces of silver from Wayne LaPierre and his ilk should suffer the consequences at the ballot box in 2018.
This is the first installment of a discussion on gun rights. The next installment will be tomorrow. Thanks for your interest in this topic.