It was barely sunrise on July 11, 1804 when several rowboats pushed off the banks of Manhattan headed to Weehawken on the shores of New Jersey. One boat carried former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton and another carried Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President of the United States. Yet another boat carried pistols.
They understood the need to maintain deniability about carrying weapons and to skirt gun laws even back then. Dueling was illegal in New York, but legal in New Jersey. There was a perfect spot under New Jersey's cliffs, which was quite popular in its time for settling scores.
Burr shot his political rival after Hamilton fired, in the gentleman's way, to miss the intended target and end the event without bloodshed. Hamilton died the next morning; also dead was Burr's dream of ascending to the presidency.
It is a point about which historians argue, some believing Hamilton intended to miss since he was the first to fire. Others insist he was just a bad marksman. Members of the street gangs currently infesting American's cities are not gentlemen. They shoot to kill, as a young Lakewood, N.J. police officer found out last month. Guns these days no longer hold just one shot, as we saw in Tucson, Ariz., where a deluded individual wielded a semi-automatic weapon with a 31-round clip. Nowadays you do not need to be a particularly good marksman.
Burr was vice president to Thomas Jefferson from 1801 through 1804. During that time, Jefferson wrote: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." From the idea of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, that tyranny easily includes the right not to be afraid to walk the streets of your own neighborhood.
Gun violence in this nation is long out of control and the events in Tucson and Lakewood are just the latest evidence. These events also demonstrate that the opposing arguments about the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution are both flawed.
There is little doubt the founders intended Americans to keep and bear arms. That right is detailed in the Second Amendment, the key word being amendment. It was not part of the original document ratified in 1788 by 39 of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were not enacted until 1791. The argument that the right to bear arms is constitutionally sanctioned and cannot be repealed ignores the legislative process which bestowed the right in the first place.
The fact that a person can carry a concealed weapon, as can be done in Arizona, is simply too dangerous a reality. The argument is that if everyone is armed than then gun crimes will decrease because of the potential that they will be met with like force. If that is the case, why didn't the people in the Tucson crowd, who admitted to packing heat, take out the shooter? Fortunately, those with weapons kept them holstered. There were enough bullets flying. But it does eliminate one of the pro-gun arguments.
When then Senator Obama campaigned for the presidency, lunatics took the open carry law of the State of Arizona too far by going to rallies with rifles displayed. It made the Secret Service more than nervous and struck fear into the hearts of many in attendance, threatening the Constitutional right to peacefully assemble without fear.
Those arguing that all guns should be locked away are likewise wrong. In these hard economic times, some families really are being fed by the ability to hunt, fish and live off what nature provides. Target shooting is exciting entertainment in a controlled setting. And, yes, there is a rush watching things that go boom.
There is no room, however, for weapons that spray bullets faster than the human mind can count. Every American should have the right to protect themselves in their homes with a legal weapon of choice. That does not allow for weekend warriors to run around the woods with the types of weapons we are trying to prevent the Iraqis and Afghans from obtaining. There is little chance that Canada is going to attack neighboring U.S. states.
Weapons laws in this nation need to be changed. When Burr killed Hamilton there was just one shot available in the gun. The founding fathers never imaged a 31-clip semi-automatic handgun, which a deranged person can legally obtain.
Nonprofits need to facilitate these discussions. There is plenty of ammunition on both sides but in this window of civility, nonprofits have a special opportunity to show why they play such a vital role in the fabric of our nation.
There have been calls to ratchet-down the rhetoric in the aftermath of the Tucson slayings. This call for polite discussion of ideas should be used as an opening to discuss gun laws and their impact on this society. If we don't seize this opportunity, the concept of a civil society will become as fanciful as a unicorn.