Thomas: Up in arms

Jan. 23, 2013 @ 11:51 AM

Once again, the nation is divided. Some want a ban on semiautomatic rifles, while others are up in arms at the prospect of surrendering their right to own these nifty but nasty weapons.

Along these lines, you have to wonder what James Madison would think today. He introduced the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the first U.S. Congress in 1789.

Perhaps he was really just a terrible speller, and simply wanted to give people the right to “bare arms”? After all, America was a hot and humid place during summers in the pre-airconditioned 18th century.

Whatever his intention, we are left with the interpretation that people have the right to keep and bear arms. The word “gun,” however, does not appear in the Second Amendment: citizens only have the right to “bear arms.”

Arms is an abbreviation for armament which, according to our trusted encyclopedic friend Wikipedia is “a tool, device, equipment, or instrument used in order to inflict damage or harm to enemies or other living beings, structures, or systems.”

This broad definition of arms would suggest that when defending your person or property, you have the right to bear sticks and stones; spears or knives; medieval spiked flails and Viking battle axes; boomerangs and slingshots; pistols, rifles, and 30’s mobster style Thompson submachine guns; bazookas and Scud missile launches; and pretty much anything else you can arm yourself with for defense.

So can you really pick up a brick and hurl it at the punk trying to steal your Toyota Prius; pull out a concealed revolver and warn off a pickpocket; toss a stick of dynamic at an invading force of paratroopers landing in your rose garden; or even whip out your 30-round assault rifle and turn any assailant who threatens you into Swiss cheese?

Well, sort of. But the Supreme Court has ruled that some arms are just too dangerous in the hands of ordinary citizens. For instance, most of us can’t own fully automatic weapons such as machine guns (banned since the 1930s), which fire continuously when the trigger is held down.

Nor can we legally buy, own, or use explosives, which is probably a good idea. I’d hate to see this scenario play out in our neighbor’s home:

Husband: “Honey, pick up a six-pack at Wal-mart, will ya? Oh, and a half dozen hand grenades. Gotta move that stump in the backyard.”

Oh yeah, beer and explosives in the hands of young American men!

Nor is it just the biggest and baddest arms that are prohibited. What about the world’s smallest gun? Surely that little peashooter should be legal to own, right?

The Swiss Mini Gun is a 2-inch long revolver that weighs an ounce, and fires 2.34 mm bullets. It’s the world’s smallest gun, according to the Guinness World Records.

First made in 2005, these little guys sell for over $6,000 and are collectors’ items. But these “arms” are also outlawed in the United States because the bullets disintegrate on contact and could never be recovered should ballistics evidence be needed after a crime.

So while in the interest of public safety, some arms will always remain banned, no president or Congress is going to take away your right to legally own most guns. For better or worse, it just ain’t going to happen.

As for the current debate on semiautomatic weapons, banning them becomes a moot point if the capacity of gun clips is limited instead.  By outlawing the use of high capacity magazines you essentially emasculate an assault weapon. So maybe you will be able to keep your AR-15 and shoot it too, just not quite so rapidly.

And if you’re a hunter still up in arms because you can’t take down a deer with a mere 10-round clip, then maybe you don’t deserve to have a hunting license.


Thomas' features and columns have appeared in more than 270 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at his blog: