Posted by: danielfee | February 1, 2013

An Open Letter to All Gun Nuts

Dear Gun Owner,

Anytown, USA

If you believe that the Second Amendment was written by the Founding Fathers so that you can protect yourself against a tyrannical government, then you qualify as a gun nut. This letter is intended for you. If you believe the Second Amendment provides you a right to own a gun for self-defense, and don’t view reasonable regulations as tyranny, then you are not a gun nut and this letter is not intended for you. But read it anyway and share it with your friends who may have gone over the edge and think they will be taking on the government in an armed resistance.

Lately I have been reading and hearing many more people on TV and radio making the claim that the original purpose of the Second Amendment was so that the people could protect themselves from a tyrannical government (usually meaning the Federal government). Beyond the fact that it is totally illogical that the Founding Fathers would write an amendment to the Constitution that said “let’s give everyone the right to own any type of weapons they want so that one day they can overthrow this new government we just set up”, it shows a total lack of knowledge of history. By the way, the Founding Fathers did provide you with a legal way to overthrow the government; it’s called voting! However, my guess is that if you believe that overthrowing a tyrannical government with arms was the original purpose for the Second Amendment, then you must have flunked your American History course in high school, if you made it that far.

Let’s start with some basic facts. I have put some historical events in chronological order to show how one event followed the other, which lead to the adoption of the Bill of Rights containing the Second Amendment, and the first time it was put to use. A trick of those who have an ulterior political motive in this argument is to place events out of order so that they will lead the reader or listener to a different conclusion. They also like to project today’s cultural norm or opinions back a couple of centuries in an attempt to alter the history to suit their purpose. There is none of that in this letter. If you don’t believe me, Goggle it and look up the dates and events yourself to verify. Let’s start at the beginning of the Revolutionary War era.

September 5, 1774: The date of the First Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia. It was a convention of delegates from just twelve of the colonies because Georgia did not attend. It was called in response to the British Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774, also known as the Intolerable Acts by the colonists. The Intolerable Acts were to punish Boston for the Boston Tea Party which occurred in December of 1773. The First Continental Congress had two primary accomplishments. The first was agreement among the colonies to boycott British goods beginning on December 1, 1774. The second accomplishment of the Congress was to provide for a Second Continental Congress which was to meet on May 10, 1775. This First Congress was attended by several people who would later have prominent roles throughout the Revolutionary War, establishing the first government and drafting the Constitution. They included: John Adams, Samuel Adams, John Jay, John Rutledge, Roger Sherman and George Washington, to name a few.

April 19, 1775: Before the Second Continental Congress could convene, the Battles of Lexington and Concord occurred, which were the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. A detachment of British troops located in Boston, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, was secretly ordered to arrest Patriot leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock and seize the military supplies the Massachusetts militia stored at Concord. Note that the militia’s arms were stored in a central location. The Patriot colonials found out about the British plans and moved most of their supplies to other locations. They also received details about British troop movements on the night before the battle and were able to quickly alert the area militias of the enemy movement. The Battles of Lexington and Concord ensued the next day inflicting heavy casualties on the British as they were retreating back to Boston.

May 10, 1775: The starting date of the Second Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia. By this point, it was clear there would be no reconciliation with Britain. The Second Congress managed the colonial war effort as they slowly moved towards declaring independence from Britain. George Washington was appointed the commanding general of the Continental Army. Throughout the war, General Washington ran into continual problems keeping an army in the field due to lack of pay for soldiers, lack of food and clothing, short subscriptions which would expire every year and many times they would run short of guns and ammunition. These were all a direct result of the Congress’s lack of ability to raise revenues directly, therefore they had to depend upon voluntary contributions from states and borrowing to run the federal government and support the war effort.

July 4, 1776: The Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence declaring the colonies independence from Britain.

November 15, 1777: The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles of Confederation for ratification by the individual states. In practice, the Articles were in use effectively starting in 1777 even though it took several years for the states to finally ratify them, which Maryland – the last state to ratify – did on March 1, 1781.

March 1, 1781: The Articles of Confederation were finally signed after a three and a half year process to get all thirteen states to sign them. When the Maryland delegates signed the Articles, a meeting of the Second Continental Congress was held the same day and they were declared ratified. Although none of the membership changed from the Second Continental Congress, the next day a meeting of the new Congress of the Confederation began operating under the Articles of Confederation and assumed oversight of the Revolutionary War to its conclusion. Missing from the Articles of Confederation was any reference to the rights of the people to keep and bear arms. But more importantly, the Articles did not provide Congress the ability to raise taxes for the operation of the new government and fund the war effort. However the Articles stated “but every state shall always keep up a well-regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accounted, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition, and camp equipage.” So it was expected that each state would maintain a militia that could be called into national service as needed and their guns and ammunition were to be kept in public armories.

September 3, 1783: The Revolutionary War finally comes to an official end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. With peace at hand, the Congress turned its attention to domestic and operational issues that were hampering the functioning of the federal government.

August 29, 1786: Te start of Shays’ Rebellion, which was an uprising in central and western Massachusetts. The insurgents, including many Revolutionary War veterans, were shutting down county courts in order to stop the judicial hearings for tax and debt collection. They became radicalized against the government following the arrests of some of their leaders and began to organize an armed force. By mid-January of 1787, the rebel leaders were openly speaking of smashing the “tyrannical government of Massachusetts.” The federal government was unable to recruit soldiers for the army, primarily because of the lack of funding, the same recurring problem that plagued Washington throughout the Revolutionary War. Therefore with private funds, the government of Massachusetts raised a state militia to put down the rebellion. While the government militia was organizing, Shays and the other rebel leaders organized their forces and made the federal armory in Springfield their first major target. However, they were thwarted by General Shepard and his 1,200 man militia which had taken control of the armory by orders of the governor.

There are two main points to take away from this rebellion. First, the militia is the government’s army and not that of the armed rebels. Second, the federal government was inept at raising an army to deal with rebellions against the new government. Therefore they had to depend upon the states, which may or may not have a ready militia, causing the response to an uprising to occur in a haphazard manner. These issues would later factor into the drafting of the Constitution due to the weakness of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation.

It was in reference to Shays’ Rebellion that Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a friend in November 1787 that contained his famous quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Note that this letter was written before the Constitution was ratified and long before the Bill of Rights, which contains the Second Amendment, was ratified.

September 17, 1787: The Constitution is approved by the Constitutional Convention, subject to the ratification by nine states before it became effective.

Although the Convention was initially intended to revise the Articles of Confederation to allow Congress to operate more efficiently, the intention from the outset of many of its proponents, chief among them George Washington, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, was to create a new government rather than trying to fix the existing one. The result was the United States Constitution which transferred many powers to the newly established Federal government from the state governments. Knowing that state legislatures would be reluctant to give up any powers, they called for each state to ratify the proposed Constitution in state conventions specially convened for that purpose. Note that the Bill of Rights with the Second Amendment is not part of the original Constitution.

June 21, 1788: New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify the Constitution thereby meeting the minimum required to establish the Constitution between the states and form a new federal government with broad powers. The Constitution goes into effect on March 4, 1789.

July 27, 1791: The beginning of what would become known as the Whiskey Rebellion. In March 1791, the Congress passed and George Washington signed into law the “Whisky Act”, which was an excise tax on domestically produced distilled spirits. Farmers who were turning their leftover grain and corn into whiskey and using it as a medium of exchange were forced to pay the new tax. A preliminary meeting was held in western Pennsylvania which was followed up by a convention in Pittsburgh in September 1791. The protesters began to use violence and intimidation to prevent federal officials from collecting the excise tax. This went on for several years.

December 15, 1791: The Bill of Rights (first ten amendments) were ratified. The full text of the Second Amendment reads as follows:

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.”

Notice the first part about a well regulated Militia? It seems that most gun rights advocates forget about this part of the Second Amendment. Congress would soon define what they meant by “a well regulated Militia.” So the Founding Fathers had been operating some form of an independent federal government for approximately 15 years with no provision for a “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” until the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.

May 2, 1792: Congress approves the first of Militia Acts of 1792, just 4½ months after the Second Amendment became effective. The second of the Militia Acts was approved a few days later on May 8, 1792. In the first act passed on May 2, the stated purpose was:

That whenever the United States shall be invaded, or be in imminent danger of invasion from any foreign nation or Indian tribe, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, to call forth such number of the militia of the state or states most convenient to the place of danger or scene of action as he may judge necessary to repel such invasion, and to issue his orders for that purpose, to such officer or officers of the militia as he shall think proper; and in case of an insurrection in any state, against the government thereof, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States, on application of the legislature of such state, or of the executive (when the legislature cannot be convened) to call forth such number of the militia of any other state or states, as may be applied for, or as he may judge sufficient to suppress such insurrection.”

Notice the power given to the President includes calling forth the militia in both case of “invasion” or “in case of an insurrection in any state.” In the second act passed on May 8, its opening sentence states “An ACT more effectually to provide for the National Defence, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States.” This is what the founders meant by a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, …” Then in article 1 of the second militia act it requires, “That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, …” It then goes on to state what supplies each militia member must obtain within six months. The Act also establishes the military structure for each militia. So just a few months after the Second Amendment was ratified, Congress defined the intent and regulations for the “well regulated Militia.”

July 17, 1794: The Whiskey Rebellion comes to a climax when it escalated to the point that the rebels surrounded the house of tax inspector General Neville, who acted as a guide to Federal Marshall Lenox while he was delivering writs in western Pennsylvania, and the Battle of Bower Hill broke out. It ultimately ended with the rebels setting the General’s house on fire and rebels taking a few federal officials as prisoners. President Washington responded by sending peace commissioners to western Pennsylvania to negotiate with the rebels, while at the same time calling on governors to send a militia force to enforce the tax collection. However, before troops could be raised, the Militia Act of 1792 required a Supreme Court justice to certify that law enforcement was beyond the control of local authorities. On August 4, 1794, Justice Wilson delivered his opinion that western Pennsylvania was in a state of rebellion. On August 7, Washington issued a presidential proclamation announcing, with “the deepest regret”, that the militia would be called out to suppress the rebellion. He commanded insurgents in western Pennsylvania to disperse by September 1. With the 13,000 militia provided by the governors of Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, Washington rode at the head of an army to suppress the insurrection. Seeing the size of the army, the rebels all went home before the arrival of the army so there was no confrontation. After an investigation, about 20 men were arrested and brought to Philadelphia for trial. Eventually, a federal grand jury indicted 24 men for high treason. Two were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging before they were pardoned by Washington.

The Whiskey Rebellion, which began before the Bill of Rights was ratified and was on-going while the Militia Acts of 1792 were being adopted, was the first utilization of the “well regulated militia” clause in the Second Amendment.

June 26, 2008: In the District of Columbia v Heller Supreme Court case, Justice Antonin Scalia, the most conservative justice on the court, writing the majority opinion said that “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.” This was the first time in the nation’s history that it was decided that an individual had a right to own a gun for self- defense. But Scalia went on to say,

Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

So there you have it. The most conservative Supreme Court justice says you have a constitutional right to own a gun for self protection, but the government can regulate them, can prohibit certain types of weapons and they can prohibit some people from owning guns. So according to Scalia, a ban on military style assault weapons, high capacity clips and universal background checks would all be within the government’s authority to adopt and such laws would not unconstitutional.

The Founding Fathers were concerned about maintaining a standing army, so instead they relied on establishing a system of state militias that could be called into national service when necessary. Experience throughout the Revolutionary War and during the early years of independence demonstrated that the state’s militias were woefully inadequate, poorly trained and equipped. They attempted to remedy this situation with the adoption of the Second Amendment, followed shortly by the passage of the Militia Acts of 1792. In 2008, the Supreme Court confirmed an individuals right to possess a firearm for self protection. But they also said the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. So if the Congress wants to prohibit private citizens from owning military style weapons and high capacity clips, then it is Constitutional. If Congress wants to mandate universal background checks, and prohibit convicted felons and the mentally ill from legally obtaining any type of firearm, that too is Constitutional. I can understand your angst about the background checks, because your paranoid delusions about taking up arms against the government might just render you mentally ill and disqualify you from owning any guns.

So after this review of history, if you still think that the Second Amendment was written by the Founding Fathers so that you can protect yourself against a tyrannical government, then you are not a patriot nor a militia member. You are a whisky rebel and a gun nut. If you continue to escalate your rhetoric into action, the result will be that you will force the President to nationalize the real militias (aka National Guard) to put down your insurrection. Before you proceed any further, I suggest that you pull out your Constitution and read the preamble which states one of the purposes of the Constitution is to “insure domestic Tranquility.” If you are stockpiling weapons and ammunition in order to take up an armed conflict against the federal government, then you are threatening to disturb our domestic tranquility. Also, read Article III, Section 3 which states “Treason against the United States, shall consist only of levying war against them …” Once your insurrection is put down, you better hope that President Obama is as magnanimous as Presidents Washington and Lincoln were towards the traitors of their day.

Signed by,

A guy who has read many history books

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