Gray Watson Personal Thoughts 2002.04.15
Patriots Day

This morning my alarm woke me at 0440 which, if you know me, is very irregular. I had make up my mind over the weekend to attend the yearly reenactment of the start of the U.S. Revolutionary War on "The Green" in Lexington, Massachusetts. Ever since we had moved here from Pittsburgh 3 years ago, I have been meaning to attend. It's not just the "when in Rome" philosophy but also part of the responsibility that I feel comes (or should come) with being a citizen of this country.

The reenactment tells the story of the British troop attempt to capture and destroy the arms depot in Concord, Massachusetts. The troops were coming from barracks in Boston. The famous ride of Paul Revere, and others, was to notify the local militias that the British were on the move. The British marched all night from Boston arriving in Lexington early on April 19th. The reenactment begins at 0530 so I assume that's when historians believe it began.

The Green is a wedge shaped, tree lined, grassy park within a stone's throw of Lexington town center. It is 200 yards long or so and has some monuments around the perimeter. The police had blocked off traffic around the area and a couple of thousand people braved the rainy, foggy, cool dawn to watch.

Historians have first hand accounts of the day and the reenactment participants take the historical detail quite seriously. After the minutemen take their stand and the British form into a line, a couple of the rebels get scared and run. As the first shots ring out, no one to this day knowing who shot first, the rebels fall back in confusion and finally break and run leaving 16-18 dead or wounded. The British win this battle but would lose later in the day in Concord.

"The shot heard round the world" (which I believe was actually on the Concord North Bridge) was the first armed conflict in the war that would see the American colonies exerting their independence from Britain and forming a new country. Timmy is a bit too young to have been there with the very loud booms and flashes of the muskets, but I'm sure that he will be on my shoulders soon enough and the Watsons will make this a yearly event.

Here are some good resources about the day:

So seeing this morning's action brings a number of things to mind. The first is the 2nd amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It reads:

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.

I find myself very conflicted in my support of this sentence from our Constitution. First off, the amendments are in order. There is a reason why the First Amendment is the First and why the right to "bear arms" is the Second. Freedom of religion, separation of church and state, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedom to peaceably assemble were the cornerstones of revolutionary society. Without peaceful protest, condemnation in the press, and the right to openly criticize the government, our country would be a vastly different place.

The second amendment was an attempt by the authors of the Bill of Rights to distribute the military power throughout the country so that a federal standing army would never be able to conquer. It was the muskets over the door and at the back of the barn combined with the ability to mobilize the farmers and business men in a "minute" which was the inevitable downfall of the British soldiers. It continued to be important in case the government ceased to be interested in representing the wishes of the public. The founding father's were very afraid that a "king" might be elected by the general public, adding such antiquated procedural controls like the electoral college. The ability for the citizens to overthrow their government was even more important.

But times change. Here we are two centuries later when a gun can be tucked in a pocket or purse and can be purchased from a neighborhood store or online. Back then gunsmiths made them by hand and they were often taller than the men who carried them. You could spot a man with a gun a couple of hundred yards away instead of needing a metal detector or pat down to determine if someone is "packing". Today if you belong to a militia you are a crazy radical. So much has changed and yet the "right of the people to keep and bear arms" continues.

So I am fiscally conservative but a social liberal. In general people of my persuasion support the control of guns. I have given money and written my representatives in support of the Brady Bill, for example. I don't see anything wrong with cooling off periods and background checks. However, I understand the gun proponents position that central registration would give the government the ability to squash a revolution easily. Not that a bunch of guys with M16s in their attics would be much competition to M-1 Tanks and Apache helicopters these days, let alone precision munitions, cluster bombs, and tactical nukes. It is the principle however.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is a mighty force in U.S. politics and will be for some time even with the recent passing (thank the lord) of a campaign finance reform bill. The NRA does not want to get anywhere near the slippery slope of gun freedom. To them, any restriction on guns, however limited in scope, brings us closer to the registration or outlawing of them all. And that would put them out of a job (gasp).

In reality, although the U.S. handgun deaths are more than most of the rest of the civilized world, it is never that easy. There are statistics that show that victims brandishing weapons are less likely to get hurt by their attackers, but if you have a gun in your house you are more likely that a family member will shoot themselves or another family member. Each side of the issue passionately presents the statistics which support their side of the issue.

But even with all of the discussion about the merits and penalties associated with the 2nd Amendment, when it comes down to basics, if the economy is doing well and people have jobs and things to do, gun crime goes down. Nothing is more effective than that.

So some of this went through my head as I stood there this morning watching the smoke from the muskets roll off to the North and listening to the drum and fife lead the redcoated British regulars as they marched off to the West. There is a lot on the American collective consciousness these days. 9/11 still looms large of course. The Israeli and Palestinian conflict continues unabated with the U.S. taking it's usual pro-Israeli and often confused stance, only half on the field. The Recession shows little signs of being over although so far it doesn't look like the economic pit is too deep. The "War On Terrorism" continues as Amnesty International says that the U.S. has violated several international laws in its treatment of it's prisoners. We are the most powerful nation in the world and we can't even comply with the Geneva Convention. Sigh.

I'll leave you with some gun quotes from my archives.

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