Sunday, May 15, 2022

Guns and Originalists

More mass shootings.  More discussions of gun control.  More worries about it, because a judge recently upheld upheld a California law which would ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles to persons under 21 but was overruled by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, on the "originalist" assumption that "the arming of young adults is a tradition dating to the nation's founding."  This produced an absolutely reasonable letter to the editor a few days later in which the writer made the following arguments:

When the Second Amendment was written, most young people lived in rural areas and had to defend themselves against wild animals and roving bands of marauders, as well as having to hunt for food. Those in the more urban coastal cities had to worry about British invaders. Many had to provide their own weapons to serve in the militia.

Thank you, Joseph Chance of Emeryville; you're perfectly right. But you left out some other important differences between guns in the late 18th century and now.  I found all this information in an interesting site called NCPedia, a North Carolina historical site - I've linked it, and will now summarize what it says.  But do go read it.

In the 18th century, European militaries used muskets.  The British, being the ones we were fighting, used a musket they called a Brown Bess; but all muskets were alike.  The NCPedia site links a video showing how to fire a musket.  They were not rifles because the barrel wasn't rifled.  They weighed 10 pounds.  A 75 caliber musket had a barrel 3/4" in diameter and it could shoot anything smaller than that.  They had no sights.  You just pointed and pulled the trigger.  It was meant to fire at a rank of men, standing next to each other, shooting at you.  Also, you can load a musket in about eight seconds.

American settlers generally used flintlock rifles, although the British had made them illegal.  Rifles had (of course) rifled barrels (which spins the bullet and makes it fly straight), and sights - you could aim them at something and probably hit it.  Or him - that's why the British said they would hang any man caught with a rifle.  The Americans tended to aim at officers, and medics, not just the front rank.

Here's my point:  It takes two to three minutes to load a flintlock.  It was designed for hunting, not fighting.  And it has a lot of moving pieces.  At this point I strongly recommend you go to the site - Firing a musket: 18th-century small arms | NCpedia - and read the section labeled, How a flintlock works, because I couldn't possibly tell it as well as the man who wrote the article.  He does this sort of thing to educate people.

Having absorbed this very brief summary of the guns that were around when the Second Amendment was written, I now urge you to stop a minute and think about modern semi-automatic rifles.  These are not the same as those old rifles, and they don't require anything like the skill and experience it took to shoot a flintlock.  Any idiot can fire a modern semi-automatic, and a lot of idiots do.  Which is why the originalist argument that modern 18 year olds should be able to buy automatic rifles because 18th century 18 year olds had rifles is ridiculous.  Two of the 3 appeals court judges in this ruling were appointed by Donald Trump.  The third was a temporary on assignment from New York, appointed by Bill Clinton.