Unlike many who recently have joined the debate about gun rights, I have a long history with guns, which I proffer only in the interest of pre-empting the "elitist, liberal, swine, prostitute, blahblahblah" charge.

I grew up in a home with guns, lots of them, and was taught early how to shoot, care for firearms and treat them respectfully. My father's rules were simple: Never point a gun at someone unless you intend to shoot them, and if you intend to shoot, aim to kill.

Dear ol' dad was a law-and-order guy — a lawyer, judge and World War II veteran who did everything by the book — except when it came to guns. Most memorable among his many lectures was a confidence: "There is only one law in the land that I would break," he told me. "I will never register my guns."

I suppose if he hadn't also opposed bumper stickers, he might have attached the one about "cold dead fingers" to his fender. He also might have liked a slogan I read recently: "With guns, we are citizens; without them, we are subjects."

By today's standards my father would be considered a gun nut, but his sentiments were understandable in the context of his time.

Like others of his generation, he had witnessed Germany's disarming of its citizenry and the consequences thereafter. Thus, the slippery slope of which gun rights advocates speak is not without precedent or reason.

But the history of gun control laws is not without contradictions and ironies that belie the current insistence that guns-without-controls is the ipso facto of originalist America.

In fact, the federal government of our Founders made gun ownership mandatory for white males, while denying others — slaves and later freedmen — the privilege.

Today, the most vociferous defenders of gun rights tend to be white, rural males who oppose any regulation. But theirs was once the ardently held position of radical African-Americans.

Notably, in the 1960s, Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Huey Newton toted guns wherever they went to make a point: Blacks needed guns to protect themselves in a country that wasn't quite ready to enforce civil rights.

In one remarkable incident in May 1967, as recounted in The Atlantic by UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, 24 men and six women, all armed, ascended the California Capitol steps, read a proclamation about gun rights and proceeded inside — with their guns — which was legal at the time.

Needless to say, conservatives, including then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, were suddenly very, very interested in gun control. That afternoon, Reagan told reporters there was "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons."

The degree of one's allegiance to principle apparently depends mainly on who is holding the gun.

While black activists were adamant about their right to protect themselves, the National Rifle Association wasn't much interested in the constitutional question until the mid-1970s when an organizational split produced a new leader, Harlon Carter, who was dedicated to advocacy and determined to dig a deep line in the Beltway sand.

The Second Amendment debate about what the Founders intended was clarified in 2008 when the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller determined that the right of the people to keep and bear arms included individuals, not just a "well-regulated militia."

However, as Winkler pointed out, Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion left wiggle room for exceptions, including prohibitions related to felons and the mentally ill. Scalia was not casting doubt, the justice wrote, on "laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

This still leaves open the loophole of private sales that do not require background checks, which President Barack Obama wants to close.

We will hear more about this in coming weeks, but the call meanwhile to ban assault weapons or limit magazines in the wake of the horrific mass murder of children and others at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is hardly draconian.

It won't solve the problem of mentally disturbed people exacting weird justice from innocents, but it might limit the toll. Having to stop one's rampage to reload rather breaks the spell, or so one would imagine.

One also imagines that the old Reagan would say there's no reason a citizen needs an assault weapon or a magazine that can destroy dozens of people in minutes. He would certainly be correct and, in a sane world, possibly even electable.

Kathleen Parker writes for The Washington Post; kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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(2) comments


Ms. Parker would do well to further the education her father prudently started by fleshing out the context of her pointed remarks. For one thing, 'militia' is not a government conscription, it is an organization of citizens who voluntarily come self-armed to serve - the reason for Justice Story's concern respecting their regulation - the quality and use of their weaponry, and there in parity with the regular military. Most today think of our national guard as a 'militia' heritage. Actually, it follows the French example of a nationalized force pusuant to authoritarian administrative structure, either conscripted or volunteer, but, in any case, government armed and controlled, and there central. For the 7th Illinois at Shiloh, a privately armed regiment with Henry Repeaters, they were glad for forgoing the privilege of Springfields. Anyway, an armed citizenry, as politically demonstrated to make the point on those steps in California, and we all know that Reagan opposed infringement of the right, has always been an American heritage, a great one, given any study of our wars prior to the 20th Century, all without going to the policing of crime in peace time.

What happened in Conn, where, reportedly, now, no assault rifle was used, only pistols, it appears that, particularly given the inaccuracy of public reporting, keeping the policing at a level where accurate assessment can be made is the best approach - as local as possible, with assistance going beyond, even to the citizenry at large.

And, certainly, at Congress' level, where the Constitution limits its power to call out militia and, further, bars the national government (Congress, Executive, Judiciary) from 'infringing' on the 'palladium' of our rights, all with respect to matters going beyond crime to military action against organized/disorganized force affecting the function and structure of our national government, attempting to police private citizens in the States in their possession and use of arms, and there to impacting self-defense against unlawful action under the color of law or otherwise, is more than a stretch, but a subversion if not an injury.


Wow the voice of "reason" hopefully you won't be shouted down by the rabid vitriol that we are hearing from those that wish to stockpile M16's and thousands of rounds of ammo. We already have laws on the books, but they do need to be more uniform, so federal law should prevail, and we need to now see to it that those current laws are upheld. Closing the gun show loop hole should be done immediately. Do you know that there is a gun show being held inside the gym of a school in WI? With all the mental illness out there that is secret due to our HIPPA laws, there has to be at least a handfull of people that should not even enter that building. HIPPA stops the MD's treating anyone over 18 from telling the parents or those close to the person who came in the hospital and is deemed a danger to himself and or others. THAT also needs to be changed. Treat em and Street em is not a mental health plan. Several changes need to be made in the mental health area as well as better enforcement of our current laws, and does anyone really need a 30 round magazine? Or an assault type semi automatic to pump them through?

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