1972 “To unapologetically ignite, and together, rise” Citizens, in Arms

By Carly Priest

 

Via The Well Armed Woman Homepage: https://thewellarmedwoman.com/

Front cover of the “Where Feminine Meets Firearms” pamphlet I received in Oklahoma.

I shot my first semi-automatic weapon in the middle of Oklahoma, at a gun range with a huge sign out front that boasted: “women shoot for free.” As my friend and I selected our weapons of preference (five rounds, five guns, five dollars), I reflected on the fact that we were not required to have any experience with guns— not in firing them, owning them, or having a permit to carry them— to shoot at the range. When my friend and I left, two separate employees handed me pamphlets titled “Where the Feminine and Firearms Meet,” an advertisement for a national group called “The Well Armed Woman” that looks to help women learn to handle masculine guns in a more feminine environment (to each their own). Look, I do not pretend to have extensive experience shooting semi-automatic weapons (or anything with more force than a paintball gun), but I can speak to how rattled I felt with every recoil, as the pistol barrel jerked upwards after each bullet left the chamber with immense power.

Information about eighteenth-century munitions grounds the Second Amendment in a historical context. Congress passed the Second Amendment in 1789, where it was later ratified as part of the Bill of Rights in 1791.[1] In full, the Second Amendment reads: “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.”[2] Purposefully, the language of the Second Amendment equates “a well regulated Militia” with “the security of a free State” to elevate the importance of civic duty in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War: All are endowed responsibility to act as vanguards against tyranny.[3]

With the historical context surrounding the Second Amendment, we must now turn to acknowledge that the “arms” considered in the Bill of Rights were chiefly concerned with front-loading rifles and muskets. We must understand that the Founding Fathers practically understood the philosophic “right to bear arms” as Blunderbuss long muskets, dragons (Blunderbuss pistols), and long guns like the Long Land Brown Bess model flintlock musket.[4] In the eighteenth century and after, front-loading musket long guns took less time to re-load than rifles of the period (one historical reenactment society estimates eight seconds for musket reload versus a rifle reload of two minutes).[5] While the larger barrel of a flintlock musket allowed for a faster reload, the girth of musket-model barrels also made for notoriously low-accuracy weapons.[6]

Contemporarily, the debates surrounding the provisions of the Second Amendment ignore the realities of our modern world. To move beyond the fact that our weapons today far surpass anything imagined by our Founding Fathers in their call for a “well armed Militia,”[8] we must discuss the absent protections of American citizens in gun rights legislation.  Muskets of the eighteenth century and the automatic weapons of today are actually more similar as “arms” than most give credit: Both machines were created to spray as many bullets into a target as indiscriminately and quickly as possible.[7]  

In what conceivable world does a federal government require background checks for all persons who purchase their guns from a licensed dealer, but not those who buy weapons at private gun shows? What logic guides the prohibition of fully-automatic weapons of mass destruction but also renders fully-legal the sale of devices that can modify semi-automatic weapons with bump stocks and other devices so that they closely mimic the bullet sprays of an automatic gun? Why doesn’t the commonly-cited argument that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” translate to a sensibility that also condones background checks, magazine capacity limits, and gun registration to prevent those who are deemed potentially dangerous from access to assault weapons?

Of all 50 states, only 19 (plus the District of Columbia) require background checks for all gun sales, including those sold at private gun shows. Even fewer states (10, plus the District of Columbia) mandate a “waiting period” during gun sales. That only 20 percent of states require a waiting period becomes even more significant when we compare the 54 percent of states that require an at least 18-hour waiting period between the time a woman receives “abortion counseling” and the actual medical procedure.[9] Consider this: If I went to a gun show in Kansas, I could walk out with a brand new, semi-automatic pistol—all with no background check, no registration of my firearm, no magazine capacity limit on my new weapon, and no gun license or permit required for me to own and openly carry the thing.[10][11] Comparatively, I would have to wait 24 hours after receiving verbal counseling and accepting state-required literature (that incorrectly asserts a link between breast cancer and abortions and inaccurately attests risk to future fertility from abortion procedures) before actually receiving an abortion.[12]

Let me be clear: I do not advocate for a total recall of the Second Amendment in this article. People who want to own guns should have the legal right to do so. However, I want to take a moment to dismiss the fear-mongering that rides on the phrase “the government is trying to take our guns” when different pieces of legislation are put forth in Congress— legislation that looks to make it more difficult for statistically at-risk persons to obtain a firearm. The government is not trying to take the guns of those people who own and use their weapons safely. The imposition of federal legislation that would require universal background checks for all gun sales would make legal gun ownership safer, while still permitting American citizens to own and operate firearms.

To pander to traditionalism through simile— It’s like Paul Revere rides again and again through our lands to sound the alarm but our town slumbers on, stuck in some horrifying nightmare. I want to shake America by its twisted and stubborn articulation of archaic sensibilities and partisan foolishness and scream: “Wake up!” Wake up to Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech. Open your eyes to the Pulse Nightclub, the Aurora Movie Theater, and the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. Today, dawn breaks in the Sutherland Springs Baptist Church of Texas and the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Arise, America— Either join efforts to expand the legislation surrounding gun control, or acknowledge that to do otherwise means law-abiding citizens will continue to die at the hands of the few. Enough is enough—To quote Benjamin Franklin: “Join or Die.”[13]

[1] Lund, Nelson, and Adam Winkler. “Amendment II.” The Constitution Center. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-ii.

[2] Thompson, Bill. “Firing a Musket: 18th-Century Small Arms.” Learn NC. Transcript of a Historical Reenactment by Thompson. Archived October 2008. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/9919.

[3] Lund, Nelson, and Adam Winkler. “Amendment II.” The Constitution Center. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/amendments/amendment-ii.

[4] Thompson, Bill. “Firing a Musket: 18th-Century Small Arms.” Learn NC. Transcript of a Historical Reenactment by Thompson. Archived October 2008. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/9919.

[5] Thompson, Bill. “Firing a Musket: 18th-Century Small Arms.” Learn NC. Transcript of a Historical Reenactment by Thompson. Archived October 2008. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/9919.

[6] Thompson, Bill. “Firing a Musket: 18th-Century Small Arms.” Learn NC. Transcript of a Historical Reenactment by Thompson. Archived October 2008. Accessed November 6th, 2017.  http://www.learnnc.org/lp/multimedia/9919.

[7]“Second Amendment.” Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute. Accessed November 6th, 2017. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

[8] “Second Amendment.” Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute. Accessed November 6th, 2017. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/second_amendment.

[9] “Counseling and Waiting Periods for Abortion.” The Guttmacher Institute. Updated as of October 1st, 2017. Accessed November 7th, 2017. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/counseling-and-waiting-periods-abortion.

[10] “Gun Laws in Kansas.” Wikipedia. Accessed November 7th, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_laws_in_Kansas.

[11] “Kansas Gun Laws.” National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA). Published June 30th, 2015. Accessed November 7th, 2017. https://www.nraila.org/gun-laws/state-gun-laws/kansas/.

[12] “Counseling and Waiting Periods for Abortion.” The Guttmacher Institute. Updated as of October 1st, 2017. Accessed November 7th, 2017. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/counseling-and-waiting-periods-abortion.

[13] Belyeu, Misty. “Primary Source of the Month: ‘Join or Die’ by Benjamin Franklin.’” Colonial Williamsburg. Accessed November 7th, 2017. http://www.history.org/history/teaching/enewsletter/volume5/november06/primsource.cfm.

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