A 'well regulated militia' has little in common with the arsenals of today

Gordon Stewart
Gordon C. Stewart: The photos of gun shows send chills up my spine.
Submitted photo

The Rev. Gordon Stewart is pastor of Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska and a source in the Public Insight Network for MPR News.

Had I grown up on a farm or a ranch, I might see things differently. Had I had a good use for a gun — to protect the sheep from the coyotes, or to put down an injured horse — I would likely feel differently.

We all see things through our own eyes. It's difficult to see through someone else's eyes when talking about the Second Amendment: "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."

Walk into a gun show or a gun shop. What do you see? Do you see the arms of a well-regulated militia necessary to the security of a free state?

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The photos of gun shows send chills up my spine. What I see is a drug store for addicts — precision, man-made machinery. To a gun aficionado, do the wares for sale compare with methamphetamine or crack cocaine? Do they offer the means to reach an illusory high of power and invulnerability, a cocoon of godlike power over life and death?

A bow and arrow is a hunting instrument. One shot at a time is all you get or need. The "well-regulated militia" deemed "necessary to the security of a free state" assumed arms like that: Load, shoot, reload. Equally important, the well-regulated militia of the Second Amendment was a concession to the demands of the slave-holding states whose plantation economies were threatened by slave revolts. Those states insisted on the right to state-regulated militias. Once the slaves were freed, the militias took another form: They moved under the white sheets and hoods of the not-so-well-regulated militias of the Ku Klux Klan, burning crosses on the lawns of blacks and of whites who had forgotten who they were: members of a supposedly superior race. "The people" were male white supremacists then. Their weapons were midnight torch parades, burning crosses, rifles and nooses.

My experience with guns is shaped in no small part by playing cops and robbers or cowboys and Indians with neighbors in the back yards of the small town where I grew up. The closest we came to a gun was a water pistol or a cap gun. We'd yell, "Bang, bang! You're dead!" and the victim would fall down, playing dead ... and then we'd get back up to play again. We were also trying to make sense out the world of cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers — shorthand for "good guys" and "bad guys." But even then, we sometimes wondered whether maybe the Indians with their bows and arrows were better than the better-armed "good guys" who had conquered them and their land.

When I see a convention center filled with tables displaying every imaginable pistol and rifle, I see an unregulated store filled with shoppers sorting through different brands of methamphetamines. I see a form of legal insanity: the fascination with power and the worship of power over the lives of others.