"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.
Those are the actual words of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, held sacred by our nation's gun nuts.
They are powerful words indeed, regardless of the fact the clause is poorly written, and clearly means something different than almost everyone thinks it does. No matter that many of its fervent defenders don't even know what the Second Amendment really says.
True, others have memorized and can unthinkingly recite these words, sort of like Roman Catholics in the old days repeating Latin incantations they didn't understand.
Language and the meanings of words change over time, but it is clear that what adoption of the Second Amendment really meant was that people should be allowed to have weapons (arms) in case the government had to quickly throw together a militia to drive off marauders, or put down some local illegal uprising, like the Pennsylvania farmers who rebelled over whiskey taxes a couple of years later.
Naturally, it logically follows that the citizens ought to be able to keep these arms in their homes, as in, on two hooks over the fireplace, since most people didn't have anywhere else to put them to begin with, and many used their rifles to go hunt dinner, much of the time.
Bear in mind too that the nation in which the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written was a collection of small, rural states, with a total population of slightly less than four million people about the size of metropolitan Detroit today. High-tech arms meant a single-shot musket, accurate to within a hundred yards or so, maybe.
Once you fired it, it took close to a minute to reload. If you shot it more than a few times in a row, it was apt to overheat and misfire or blow up in your face. This was not seen as a weapon of mass destruction, but more like a household appliance one could use for defense.
So it was logical to stipulate that the citizens had "the right to keep and bear" arms, when these were the arms. What's crazy is that these words, written for practical reasons in a primitive, largely rural world, are today being used to justify making it legal for a mentally troubled person to buy a high-tech weapon of mass destruction and turn it on helpless civilians.
Anyone who thinks the framers of the Constitution intended that is, to put it politely, crazier than a shithouse rat.
Nobody I know has remarked on this, but what's going on here isn't a problem of rights so much as a problem, first of all, of language, specifically, the word "arms." Throughout much of history, "arms" meant bows and arrows and pieces of metal that men whacked away at each other with, at close quarters. Then came gunpowder.
The Founding Fathers may have expected continued improvements in weaponry. But none of them could have imagined anything like Jared Loughner's Glock, a weapon of mass destruction good for one thing only: killing.
There is more difference between a Glock and a Revolutionary War-era musket than between a musket and a stone club. Maybe even between a musket and the pistol Sirhan Sirhan used to shoot Bobby Kennedy in a hotel in 1968.
Had Loughner had a normal pistol, he might have gotten five or six shots off before being subdued. Instead, he killed or wounded 19 people within seconds, and might easily have got even more, if he could have gotten a second clip into his gun.
Nobody in their right mind thinks the Founding Fathers would have wanted to make it possible for this sick young man to spray a peaceful crowd with lethal ammunition. Yet that's what all sorts of ideologues and ignorant fools, some of them on the nation's highest courts, claim.
All this really stems from a problem of semantics. Specifically, allowing the term "arms" to be applied to anything that kills people. Someone, somewhere, needs to come up with some way of defining "arms" in a common sense way. We also need, I think, to stop using the term "gun control," which immediately polarizes everyone, and ends anything like rational give-and-take.
These two steps may make it easier to move on and enact some sensible regulations. This won't be easy; someone has to stand up and defy the political power of the National Rifle Association, a group run by fanatics who are determined to block any limitations on weapons.
Otherwise, we are going to continue to be doomed. More than 10,000 of us a year, anyway; the number killed, like little Christina Greene, by gun violence. Another 85,000 or so are shot and survive, like Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
If that's the world we are willing to settle for, very well. If you are young and poor, you are probably more vulnerable than I am.
But even so, if that's the case, I have one demand that the NRA should find reasonable. I want a personal, five-kiloton nuclear weapon. If a mentally disturbed kid who was expelled from community college has the right to buy a Glock, then, damn it, I should be allowed a nuke. I have a master's degree and a responsible work record. Even with a Glock, there's a chance someone attacking at night might hurt me or my little red dog and manage to escape.
With a personal nuke, they wouldn't have a chance. Well, sure, there would be collateral damage, like much of Huntington Woods. But you get collateral damage with a Glock or even a .38, all the time. Just ask Jim Brady. The NRA often says that an armed society is a polite society, which ought to mean that a society where everyone has a nuke on their belt, in their handbag or in their back pack would be a society that makes Miss Manners proud.
How can any of us be denied one? Doesn't the Second Amendment guarantee our right to bear arms? Can you say, logical fallacy? Hold that thought. Common sense, here we come.
End of the beginning? For years, Matty Moroun has gotten away with virtually anything he wanted, from illegally seizing part of a city park to buying off legislators to prevent construction of a new, badly needed, internationally owned bridge.
Last week, however, something happened he wasn't expecting, thanks to a hero I've never met, Wayne County Circuit Judge Prentis Edwards. For a year, Moroun and his goons have contemptuously ignored a court order to demolish illegal structures he built on land he does not own. When Dan Stamper, Moroun's top employee, showed up in court, the judge threw him in jail for a few hours.
Edwards didn't let him out till crews showed up to begin work agreed to in the bridge company's contract with the state. That doesn't mean the battle is over. The Ambassador Bridge mogul keeps losing in federal and state courts, but fair play is not in his vocabulary. Moroun, an 83-year-old billionaire, has repeatedly shown he'll do anything he can to serve his greed at the expense of the public interest. Yet finally, someone in authority stood up to him. Next time, let's hope some judge puts Moroun himself in the slam, not merely the Mouth of Sauron.
That would be worth living long enough to see.