My father gave me a .22 rifle for my 16th birthday. We shot it together at empty plastic milk containers for target practice far out of town. After heading off to college, my birthday rifle sat on a shelf for years. Then my mother and father had to move out of their house and into a retirement community. That was when I was reminded, after all those years: I am a gun owner.
I’m increasingly aware that people like me, folks all across this nation, millions of us, have an obligation. Together, as gun owners, let’s become better acquainted with the Second Amendment. It says:
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.
The first clause of the Second Amendment: Much has been made about the second clause: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” But rarely to do we hear about the first clause: “A well-regulated militia.”
“Well-regulated” is not a complicated concept. To regulate is to establish agreed-upon guidelines, to abide by those guidelines and to maintain some sense of common order as a result of those guidelines. Regulations are to be equally shared and equitably maintained, including penalties for those who fail to abide by them.
Gun violence rises at epidemic proportions. The safety of our children and of future generations depends upon how seriously we take this first part of the Second Amendment. Overlooked as it is, this first clause offers potential solutions. It also declares a stark warning.
The potential solution: We have great power. Regular folks like me, whether from childhood gifts or adulthood hobbies of gun ownership, hold massive leverage in the arena of public opinion.
According to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, we have 393 million privately owned firearms in our country. That is 120.5 guns for every 100 Americans, the highest rate of gun ownership by far of any country in the world.
In fact, it is twice the rate of gun ownership over the next country on the list, Yemen, at 52.8 guns per 100. YEMEN! And that country has been embroiled in civil war for the last nine years. This is not a statistic we should be proud of.
“If only half of us who are gun owners would begin to insist that we follow the first clause of the Second Amendment more closely, we could change our national trajectory on gun violence immediately.”
And yet, the very imbalance of these numbers indicates enormous potential for great power. If only half of us who are gun owners would begin to insist that we follow the first clause of the Second Amendment more closely, we could change our national trajectory on gun violence immediately.
The second clause of the Second Amendment: Regulations need not stifle our freedoms. Yes, the second clause of the Second Amendment appears to say that: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
But this second clause follows the first one. Therefore, they are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent. One is intimately connected to the other. The first clause lays the foundation for the second: we can keep and bear arms because and so long as we act as a well-regulated militia. And there’s more.
The evolution of firearms: Historically, of course, these words referenced firearms that took a number of steps over a series of minutes to reload. The aim was difficult and the distance of the shot was limited. Today’s firearms, even with my 50-year-old .22 caliber rifle (semi-automatic with a scope), would have demonstrated unimaginably effective firepower to those original framers of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The value of regulations: Regulations benefit us every day. With traffic lights and stop signs, driver’s licenses and seat belts, banned smoking on airplanes and public places, environmental regulations and pollution control, when they positively impact our lives most of us appreciate wisely applied and equally mandated regulations. Our society benefits and our public health improves. Surely this applies to guns and gun safety.
“We have a better way that is consistent with the vision of the framers.”
Sadly, our polarized society agrees on little these days. But this we know: We cannot continue on our current path. If we do, we face the expanding risk of predictable violence. Thankfully, we have a better way that is consistent with the vision of the framers.
We are the militia of today: Given the overwhelming numbers of guns scattered across our nation, we are the militia of today. Therefore, the expectation of a well-regulated militia means you and me. We are the descendants of those who made up the well-regulated state militias and a Continental Army of early patriots. Like them, we need to abide by the first part of this Second Amendment. Also like them:
We have the power to overcome oppression. Then, the oppressor was King George III and the Redcoats. Now, we stand against the pernicious but faceless enemy of gun violence. Yet, as it was in those early days, the daunting task of facing down an intimidating opponent need not deter us.
We have the power. We can make this crazy downward spiral of gun violence come to an end. Let’s use our overwhelming numbers and help our legislators envision a more peaceful tomorrow. Let us work for sensible, viable gun laws that will limit battlefield weapons like the AR-15.
Background checks, waiting periods, menial health requirements — these are reasonable, workable beginnings to what numerous polls tell us the majority of Americans desire. And there is more.
The real problem: We already are violating our own Second Amendment. Let’s review again the Second Amendment’s first clause that we hear so little about: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.”
Statistics bear this out: We are setting records for mass shootings. Children increasingly are becoming the innocent victims. The unpredictable violence in our society yields massive insecurity.
Therefore, this first clause of the Second Amendment is teetering on the abyss. The “security of a free state” is clearly being infringed by gun violence. Therefore, without any violation of the second clause, the viability of the Second Amendment is already being taken from us.
We deserve better. Let us demand renewed efforts to re-establish the order that a full reading of the Second Amendment demands.
Gun owners of the nation unite. The violation of the Second Amendment is happening in real time. And we can address violation about it right now. We are the militia that we must help one another regulate.
The security of our free state is at risk. We can do it. Let’s get to work.
David Jordan serves as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Decatur, Ga.
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