HISTORY BOOK CLUB
Rockport Public Library
Program for Wednesday, November 28, 2018
Wednesday, November 28, 2018: Guns in American History. E.g. American Revolution and the Minutemen; Going West with new technology: six guns, repeating rifles, Twentieth Century automatic weapons after World War I: pistols, rifles, Tommy guns, The St. Valentine’s Massacres of 1929 and 2018. Control vs. freedom of gun use. and Machine Gun laws, mass shootings in America: rifles, pistols, military style weapons, Guns laws in 21st century America
A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America 1st Edition, Kindle Edition by Saul Cornell (Author). 2006.
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states, "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."
Saul Cornell has done his homework. He has researched the Second Amendment from before it became law. Thoroughly.
People who view the Second Amendment with religious fervor probably have no idea what this amendment was intended to do. They argue that it gives them the right to own a gun for self-defense, hunting, or if necessary, to take up arms against their government.
Neither do those who call for “gun control.” They argue that this Amendment simply protects a collective right of the states.
The Founding Fathers put the Second Amendment in the Constitution to ensure that Americans in each colony armed themselves and maintained readiness to muster in a “well-regulated militia” to defend their town, or state from the enemy, whether British, French or Indian. Without a standing army, it was America’s single line of defense.
Were we to restore the original meaning of the Second Amendment, neither side would like it and there would be chaos from shore to shore. Gun rights advocates would be shocked to see that they were required to register their arms, to muster and train with their “well-regulated militia” and allow inspectors to come into their homes to inspect their privately-owned weapons, as they did in Revolutionary days. Gun control advocates would be unhappy that they were required to own a gun, learn to use it, and muster frequently as part of the “well-regulated militia”.
The Founders feared a standing army of professional soldiers as a potential threat to freedom. They saw that in the years before the Revolution when the redcoats marched through the streets of towns. Their militias, when they were well trained and equipped, were the “Minutemen”. When they were poorly trained, sloppily equipped and poorly led, they were simply a mob.
Early in the nineteenth century the Second Amendment began to take a different shape, as legislatures, in response to fears of a threat to social stability, sought to regulate firearms and knives. This led to a violent backlash that led to an intensified commitment to gun rights.
At this the author pronounces that the gun rights ideology is the illegitimate and spurned child of gun control.
The blurring of the distinction between the constitutional right to bear arms for public defense and the individual right to bear a gun in self defense took shape in the Jacksonian era (the 1830s). Public debate over gun control has run up against this ever since.
To understand the intensity of this debate one must consider the fiery debate in the early years of our government regarding federalism and anti-federalism. Strong federal government vs. states rights. The anti-federalists viewed the Second Amendment as revolutionary, giving the state militias the power to resist federal authority by force of arms.
You can see that we have a good bit of that sentiment in America today.
The end of the Civil War brought on new ways to view the Second Amendment. Republicans wanted to extend all rights of citizenship to newly freed blacks, but Democrats worked all kinds of ways to withhold their rights, including the right to bear arms. South Carolina and Mississippi created “black codes” which severely limited blacks in many ways.
This brought on the Fourteenth Amendment, which simply sought to spell out the equal rights of newly freed Americans. However, in the south, it was bitterly opposed by whites. If you look at yesterday’s run-off election in Mississippi, you can see we haven’t progressed too far in the way we handle racial differences.
Author Cornell takes his readers on a detailed trip with the Second Amendment through history and ends up at modern times.
On one hand today we have gun rights advocates. With heat provided by the National Rifle Association, this has become an ideology, far from the original intent of the Founders to provide a “well regulated militia” wherein each able-bodied man was expected to own a firearm, and know how to use it, and assemble periodically with his local militia, and submit to all the regulations expected of such an organization.
On the other hand, we have gun control advocates, and they have been around as long as there have been guns and have every right to be heard. However, it appears that the right of a citizen to own a gun is deeply embedded in our culture. America is awash in guns, but we need to figure how to allow law-abiding citizens the right to own and use guns, and still put in place safeguards to curtail needless deaths by guns.
The author brings up the question: What to do about the obsolete Second Amendment? Clearly, we now have a standing army, with soldiers (and sailors and airmen… and women) so there is no need for a militia, even one that is well-regulated. Then he begins to answer his question by suggesting that we leave the amendment alone but work on what really needs fixing. The Second Amendment addressed a population committed to service to the community. Yes, men had the right to bear arms, but they were expected to attend musters and train to use those arms.
He asks: What if we instituted a system for each young person to perform some form of public service, either military or civilian?
The typical gun rights adherent today has no connection to the concept of a well-regulated liberty.
Cornell advises that fashioning a regulatory system for guns that recognizes the deeply contested role of guns in America today must (1) not demonize gun owners or proponents of gun regulation. Registration, safe storage laws, and limited bans on certain types of weapons are all consistent with the original vision, while wholesale gun prohibition or domestic disarmament are not.
The author goes on to suggest that the simplest way to regulate firearms would be to return to the model used by the Founders, installing a form of taxation of firearms, requiring citizens to pay the costs of public defense and providing a framework to monitor this system of taxation. This would allow society to shift part of the cost of gun violence back to those gun owners who do not act responsibly. For instance, Congress could provide a series of generous tax incentives for those who take gun safety courses and encourage sensible gun storage by giving a tax break to those who lock up their guns.
Cornell also suggests that a way to regulate guns without getting the government into it would be to require that guns be insured, with insurance rates adjusted according to the degree of safe or unsafe use.
The notion that the Second Amendment somehow belongs to a small number of gun rights advocates is simply wrong. The Second Amendment belongs to all Americans. Defining a way to handle this is something all Americans have a stake in.
HISTORY BOOK CLUB FUTURE TOPICS
Wednesday, January 30, 2019: Horses in History. Read any book about horses, from Caligula to Triple Crown, from Richard III to Pony Express, from mythology (Pegasus) to literature (Arabian Nights) or music (Von Suppé’s Light Cavalry Overture), from battle tactics (Genghis Kahn, Templars, conquistadors, light cavalry of Napoleon) to transportation and military logistics, from money making business of breeding to prestige and rivalry of kings and sheikhs, from fundamental needs in agriculture to the vanity of Derby fashion. [Suggested by Janos Posfai]
Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Visiting the Founding Era of America. Looking at the events that led up to the American Colonists’ rebellion against Great Britain, and the work of our Founding Fathers to create a nation. Read any book about those days when Minutemen at Concord and Lexington fired the first shots of the Revolution at British Redcoats, then chased them back to Boston…. the days when the Founding Fathers labored over the Declaration of Independence. Or, read about the U.S. Constitution brought together, in one remarkable document, ideas from many people and several existing documents, including the Articles of Confederation and Declaration of Independence. Those who made significant intellectual contributions to the Constitution are called the "Founding Fathers" of our country. These include George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry. Rockport Public Library will schedule a special moderated discussion focused upon The Declaration of Independence, featuring a noted historian and scholar, on Sunday, February 24 or in case of snow, March 3. [Suggested by Christiann Guibeau]
17th Century Surgery
Wednesday, March 27, 2019: Medical Discoveries in History. Germs, Anesthesia, Inoculations against Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Polio; Birth Control; Mental Illness, X-Ray Insulin, Pasteurization, Penicillin.
Wednesday, April 24, 2019: From Fur Trappers to Fishermen to Settlers: How Montréal began; Plymouth; Salem; Gloucester; New Amsterdam; The early colonization of America.
Wednesday, May 29, 2019: Progressive America in the first two decades of the Twentieth Century: Teddy Roosevelt and the Robber Barons; Woodrow Wilson and World War I.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019: Westward Ho: the westward expansion of America; Manifest Destiny; The Louisiana Purchase and Lewis and Clark; James K. Polk; The Union Pacific.
Wednesday, July 31, 2019: The Crusades—what caused them? The Seljuk Turks; Pisa, Genoa, Venice and Amalfi; Byzantium and Jerusalem; The Children’s Crusade; Attacking the Jews in Germany; The Popes and Kings; Saladin and Richard I of the Lion Heart; how the Christians massacred Moslems and Jews and made Moslems intolerant.
Wednesday, August 28, 2019: Intelligence Gathering and Spying in History: Julius Caesar’s Spy Network; Sun-Tzu, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Espionage Act of 1917, the KGB, MI-5, the OSS, CIA, Pinkerton’s Union Spies, Confederate Spies.