1791:The Founding Fathers Discuss the Finer Points of the Second Amendment
Benjamin Franklin: So I’m wondering, with this well regulated militia and right to bear arms idea, that we might want to think about what that could mean in the future.
James Madison: Gah. Ben. Always with the future. I think I’ve made it abundantly clear - no need for a standing army. We’re preventing the abuse of power by the federal government in the event, for example, we elect, and I’m just spitballing here, a narcissistic tyrant who thinks he can use the military to back him should he fail to win re-election or decide to start a war with Mexico.
John Adams: Unimaginable.
Franklin: I’m just cogitating on this ‘right to bear arms shall not be infringed’ bit. Any chance for misinterpretation on that one?
Madison: How so?
Franklin: Oh well, I’m just thinking we might not want to make it sound like gun ownership is an immutable right for every single citizen. Could get messy.
Madison: But we all have guns! For food, for protection, for fun!
Franklin: Uh, well, Jim, we don’t all have guns. Remember our enslaved brethren?
Madison: I’m talking about white male citizens, not property, you nitwit. I can’t imagine someone trying to take away my flintlock.
Franklin: Jim, you’re a law abiding citizen…
Adams: Of course he is. He wrote most of them.
Franklin: …but what about the wisdom of allowing scoundrels, scofflaws and, well, men who threaten their wives and lady friends with harm, to keep and bear arms? Are we going to have a rule about that? Oh, and of course, those citizens suffering from any form of lunacy. Do we really want them wandering about with a loaded flintlock?
Adams: Too many questions, Franklin. My head hurts. I need some leeches.
Franklin: Or what if a disgruntled 15 year old steals his father’s musket and goes to school to settle a grudge with another schoolmate or, worse yet, the schoolmarm? As we all know, a musket weighs 10 pounds - an experienced marksman can fire a frightening 3 shots per minute.
Madison: Ha! In the time it takes for young master William to reload his Brown Bess, a 4th grader or even the schoolmarm could tackle and disarm him. You’re a worry wart, Ben.
Franklin: Well then, what if someone has a quarrel with, say, a particular group of people, and takes it upon himself to go into a house of worship and shoot the church goers? Or a general store frequented by the Irish? Or a dance hall filled with innocent men and women in festive costumes?
Adams: Costumed people in dance halls should be shot.
Madison: Impossible. We’re all good Congregationalists here.
Franklin: And Quakers. I’m just saying perhaps we should be a skosh more specific with this one.
Madison: Leaving it open to interpretation is the whole point, Franklin. I’m certain future generations will use an abundance of caution and goodwill when deciding the details.
Franklin: Alright then, what if, in the future, men design a weapon that can shoot more than 3 balls per minute. I’m wondering, and I’m just going to make up a word here, if they invent something that is ‘auto-matic,’ a gun that could, with just one pull of the trigger, fire off, say, 10 or 12 bullets at one time? Would we want every citizen to have access to that sort of firepower?
Adams: Oh horrors. Can you imagine mankind designing and manufacturing weapons that could cause mass destruction? Why, the depravity. Perish the thought.
Madison: You and your ‘what ifs,’ Ben. What if I look into MY crystal ball and see a United States where women have the right to vote? Appalling. The stuff of nightmares.
Adams: Ridiculous! Hilarious! Dangerous. Oh dear, now I can…barely…breathe…More leeches!
Franklin: I just think some very important decisions around the interpretation of this amendment will have to be made…
Madison: Good God, man, that’s why we invented the Supreme Court! The wisest, most honorable men in the land will be trusted to sort these details out.
Franklin: Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps over the course of the next 200 or more years, our government will use reason, science and compassion to settle any questions about these amendments.
Madison: Maybe, maybe not, who knows. Enough of this palaver, I’m parched. Johnny, how about we throw back a few cold ones at your cousin’s pub?
Adams: Indeed. Just as soon as I finish de-leeching my head.