Friday January 25, 2013

I read with interest Jeffrey Brace’s Jan. 21 letter, "Militiamen of Berkshires -- unite!" It is a great letter, but I have to say I had to read it twice before I understood its intended irony.

It tells a familiar story from American history -- the rugged individual carving out his place in the frontier wilderness with the support of his trusty firearm. Much of this story is a myth. While an average household in early America may have possessed a shotgun, firearms did not proliferate as they do today. They were rudimentary, expensive and not always reliable. You had to load a gun one bullet at a time, along with wadding and gunpowder. It was a time-consuming process that required deliberation and consideration of one’s actions. A hunter could not go down to the village store to buy an assault weapon with a clip capable of firing off many rounds in a few seconds.

Brace asks why the Second Amendment specifies "a well regulated militia"? At the time the Bill of Rights was written, the U.S. had recently won its independence from Great Britain, which was still a threat and would remain so until after the War of 1812. The population was living in close proximity to Native Americans, whose attacks were fresh in many people’s memory. Our nation had no standing army, no police force, no organized means of defense. A militia was a necessity.

Do any of these conditions pertain today? They do not. We have an Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Marines. We have local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. We have a cabinet department devoted to homeland security. Yet the National Rifle Association and its supporters maintain a devotion to the Second Amendment that verges on the religious.

They worship a false god, however. In the extreme pursuit of the individual’s right to own any and all kinds and quantities of firearms, they lose sight of one of the best reasons this nation was founded -- to prove to the world that reasonable people can govern themselves collectively "in order to ... establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, [and] promote the general welfare." We have laws and institutions in place to work toward these goals. If they are not as effective as we would like, then it is up to all of us to improve them so they can carry out the best intentions of the Founding Fathers.

Hunters have the right to pursue their hobby. Individuals have the right to protect themselves, at home and in public. The population at large has the right to be protected from the danger of a never-ending proliferation of firearms, whose purpose at their most basic level is, let us not forget, to do harm. We have laws regulating food, drugs and health care, all things that in their essence promote life, yet we cannot have laws regulating agents of death?

JEFFRY BRADWAY

Pittsfield