Daily Hampshire Gazette - Established 1786
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We must make new sense out of outdated amendment

To the editor:

The Second Amendment is much in the news these days, and is the primary argument used by those who wish to protect a citizen’s “right to bear arms.” That amendment was passed in 1789 when conditions in the United States were vastly different than they are now.

I often ask myself if such an amendment would pass today if it did not already exist. My bet is that it wouldn’t have a chance. So why did it pass when it did? The wording of the amendment gives a hint at the primary reason, namely that of a “well regulated militia being necessary ....”

The states didn’t have much money in those days and couldn’t afford to arm any needed militia, so they depended on citizens to arm themselves. There were also secondary reasons. Fights with the Indians were always possible on the western borders of several of the states and people living there felt the need to be armed. Also, the new federal government was given the power to raise an army, and some people worried that that army might be used against the states.

The meaning of “arms” was vastly different in 1789 from what it is now. In those days the standard weapon was the notoriously inaccurate single shot muzzled-loaded musket. Rifles, also muzzle-loaded, where reasonably accurate, but also had to be reloaded each time they fired. A man with a modern semi-automatic rifle and large ammunition clips has vastly more firepower than a whole company had in 1789.

My point is that what made sense in 1789 is totally inappropriate for modern conditions. The legal mumbo-jumbo surrounding the Second Amendment has difficulty dealing with the present reality. How is one going to define “arms?” Why stop at assault rifles and not include rocket launchers?

I would like to see the Second Amendment wiped from the books, but I realize that is not going to happen. Perhaps legislators can manage to find a commonsense set of regulations that will at least curtail the massacres that seem to be our present fate.

Bill Compton

South Hadley

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