BY ALEXANDER GRANADOSPublished: April 4, 2009
"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."--Second Amendment, United States Constitution
I can still remember the first time I fired an AK-47. On a cold, dewy morning, I drove with my friend Mark to an outdoor gun range somewhere on the North Carolina countryside. Mark's friend, a certified gun nut (kidding), brought his arsenal, and the two of them prepared to show me what all the fuss was about.
It was .38, .45 and .357 calibers later that we decided to add AK-47 to the number soup. Not fully automatic (my enthusiasm dulled at the news), the AK was impressive enough in appearance that I handled it with great care. Setting up on the back of a truck for balance, I took careful aim at the target in the distance and slowly, methodically, shot for the heart of the bulls-eye. I wasn't too far off the mark, I think.
Up until that point in my life, I had fired a gun a total of once, and that was a 9 mm my brother let me use at an indoor gun range near his home in Wake Forest, N.C. I have shot once more since the AK-47.
Despite my inexperience and previously liberal views on gun control, I seem to be surrounded by gun enthusiasts. A large vault in my brother's garage houses his small stockpile of guns, and a compartment in the wall of his bedroom conceals a 9 mm that can be accessed only with the application of the correct thumbprint to a special sensor.
In the event of the apocalypse, I will go directly to my brother's house. That is, unless I am in Manassas, in which case I am fortunate to have a local friend with something of a gun fetish. The last time I saw his bedroom, I noticed a box displaying a revolver behind clear glass. Words written on the box frame said, "In case of zombie attack, break glass."
Not too long ago, I fired his AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle he purchased near the time Obama was elected. My friend feared he wouldn't be able to buy such a gun after the new president took office. Shooting the AR-15 was surprisingly underwhelming. A small revolver I shot the same day made more of an impact on me--so to speak.
Not until I met people with an interest in guns, and especially not until I began firing guns, did I begin to pay closer attention to the hubbub over gun rights. The gun owners I know are very cautious, methodical and responsible, for the most part. They treat guns with the respect and deference their killing capacity warrants. What I have taken away from these people and from my experiences with guns is the simple fact that these weapons are tools. Much like other tools, used properly, they serve a function, though some seem to think otherwise.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine recently vetoed some bills that provided for the expanded presence of firearms in reasonable ways.
One bill would have allowed retired law enforcement officers to bring their guns into restaurants that serve alcohol as long as they weren't drinking. The government already entrusted these people to use firearms in an official capacity, but for some reason they can't be trusted after retirement. [PVC - Not quite. This bill was really the retired LEO concealed carry & drinking bill that ensured retired LEOs could drink in all restaurants while carrying concealed firearms.]
A similar bill vetoed by the governor would have allowed concealed- handgun permit holders to carry their weapons into alcohol-serving restaurants, also with the stipulation that they not drink. The government trusts these people to carry concealed weapons, just not in restaurants. Given Kaine's veto of these two bills, one could surmise that the ambience of restaurants reduces the human ability for reasonable thought and action.
And then there was another bill that would have let active-duty military people buy more than one gun a month (current Virginia law restricts purchases to one per month). So, they can defend our country, but their private access to guns must be restricted?
The state clearly feels OK with our law enforcement and military personnel using guns for government cause. And the state is comfortable with certain people concealing these tools for their own causes. But with his vetoes, Kaine is turning around and showing that he believes none of these people to be trustworthy.
The overall debate about guns seems to move in two directions: one toward total government control, and one toward total individual freedom. Kaine's stance definitely veers toward the control end of the spectrum. But the reason this debate even continues its wobble between the two extremes is because of unresolved ambiguity arising from the debate centerpiece--the Second Amendment.
Much of the discussion about the intentions of the framers revolves around the wording of the amendment. Some say that the "well regulated militia" is a prerequisite to "the right of the people to keep and bear arms." Others say that the right to arms is paramount and unconditional.
Being a writer, I come at that discussion with a grammatical eye. I consider how I would have framed the Second Amendment to express different motives. If I had wanted the "militia" to be a prerequisite to the "right," I would have framed the sentence much as it already is, but with a few minor changes:
"Since a well regulated militia is necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms for that purpose shall not be infringed."
If I had intended for the right to arms to be unassailable, I would have made it so by saying: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
Of course, I did not write the text. Nevertheless, what seems clear is that "a well regulated militia" was much more in the minds of the original writers than it is in the realities of modern humans. So, if we really want to do away with the dispute, we should cease arguing over contentious wording and instead hold a nationwide vote on amending the Second Amendment. The vote should be to replace the old wording with the last set of quote-enclosed words I mentioned above. So you don't lose your place, here it is again:
"The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
A yes vote will declare once and for all our national position on guns and assert that we, the people, bend toward individual liberty in gun ownership. And if the vote is no? Then let's argue some more.
Either way, maybe I'll go shooting this weekend.
Alex Granados is the editorial page editor and reader representative for the News & Messenger.