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Friday, August 17, 2012

Wyatt Earp and Commonsense Gun Control


In the aftermath of the killings  a Colorado theater, a Seattle coffee shop over the past few years at Congresswoman Giffords rally in Tuscon it's time to reconsider our polices toward guns.  America has a Cowboys and Guns mythos that hangs over every effort traditionally discuss guns.  For many Americans, gun ownership, our most dangerous right, is also considered our most absolute right.   Historical untruths and legal fictions abound on the subject and  are even accepted by our legislative and judicial leaders.

The first the Second Amendment right of retaining guns was provided to "The People", not to individuals.

"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."

 In the legal parlance of the day, the terms "The People" was a collective, not an individual term, and the practice of the militias reflected that.  While in rural areas and small towns, militia members were usually allowed to take there guns home, in large cities armories existed to store weapons.  While congress required able bodied men, at one point, to buy a gun for militia duty, the insane and were usually forbidden gun ownership. Most of our founding fathers thought of the right as invested in the collective people, not individuals.  The only supreme Court interpretation of the  Second Amendment, U.S vs Miller, 1939, held the individual rights to gun ownership provided  under the amendment contingent on their usefulness to a civil militia (which have now been replaced by state National Guards).   So if any constitutional right to personal gun ownership  exists it is under the tenuous ninth amendment, that simply says that other rights that exist, still exist.  You have a right, for instance, to mobility, but that don't give you an unlimited right to a drivers licence.

The second great source of the idea of the right to gun ownership was the ever expanding American west.  As pioneers, trappers, traders, farmers, ranchers, etc pushed westward and settled land, the gun went with them.  Guns were not not necessarily viewed here as having anything to do with militias, but more with personal protection, hunting and property protection. Even a Quaker pacifist would be ill advised to wander among grizzly bears without protection.    If we take a Common Law view of the evolution of rights, we could hold that the practice of the American west established and conferred some right to use guns for these purposes, independent of the second amendment.

 But rights that evolve in this manner also evolve with terms, conditions and limits. In fact the one absolute thing we can say about rights, conferred by document or practice, is that there are no absolute rights.

In the face of the myth of the free wheeling, gun toting, fire at will American cowboy, let us remember a real American hero, Wyatt Earp.  Wyatt Earp was a true hero of the post civil war west.  His older brothers had fought in the war and he sought out being a lawman as a way to live out some of the pro-union values they fought for.  Gun slinger image aside, there is one thing that Earp was always insistent on.  He was, everywhere he worked in law enforcement,  a gun control advocate.  In both Dodge and Tombstone he got passed by local government and enforced rules requiring people to park their guns when they came into town.  What he saw was that hard working cowboy getting drunk at the local saloon and that guns and booze didn't mix.  His famous shoot out at O.K.Corral was all about enforcing the local gun control law against the wishes of an unruly family of free range riders.

The ammo clips that Jared Loughner used in his killing spree had been previously outlawed under the automatic weapon controls that have expired. The shooters in recent Seattle and Colorado shooting bought weapons and ammo legally, even though there mental health was rapidly disintegrating.  Please, in honor of both Wyatt Earp and the victims of this senseless tragedy, let us pass into law legislation to outlaw the kinds of ammo clips and weapons used in these tragedies again  them again.    Let us lengthen the waiting periods for guns, regulate handgun ownership and private weapons sales tightly, and put better controls on mental health and criminal records issues pertaining to buying guns.  If Wyatt Earp were still a law man in Arizona, we might have a fearless advocate for common sense gun control there.  Instead we will have to supply that voice.

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