The NRA website has a page devoted to the history and meaning of the Second Amendment. The articles go into great detail on the thinking that went into its creation, and the meaning of almost every word in the amendment.
The NRA claims that, “To understand the true meaning of the Second Amendment, it is important to understand the men who wrote and ratified it, and the issues they faced in creating the Constitution.”
To this end, the article goes into depth on the definitions of “right,” “militia,” “well regulated militia,” keep and bear…,”
Everything goes back to what the Founding Fathers understood, what they intended, what they actually might have meant, and why they thought the way they did.
Rightwing 'religious' commitment to the Founders can become so extreme that it leads to intellectual blackouts such as Michele Bachmann’s claim that the founding fathers abolished slavery, or Sarah Palin’s insistence that the purpose of Paul Revere’s ride was to warn the British. (See "When Pretty is Pretty Awful")
It is this devotion these ‘prophets’ that best describes the NRA vision of the second amendment.
But when it comes to the NRA second amendment literalism, they make one exception.
The word “arms” as understood by the NRA bears no relationship to what arms were when the amendment was written or ratified.
There is no way the Founding Fathers could have imagined the rapidly expanding gulf between weapons designed for military applications and weapons appropriate to civilian life.
To them, the same musket used for defending one’s country is the same one used to kill a turkey for tonight’s dinner.
Not anymore. Today, semi-automatic and automatic weapons having no reasonable civilian use are sweeping the nation. When it comes to hunting, home protection, and target shooting, these attack weapons are probably are a worse option than almost any other firearm.
While the NRA cites how rarely these guns are used in violent crime, they sidestep the grim reality that one shooter with such a weapon can murder, and has murdered as many people in one incident as it would take several assailants with handguns.
Are such accessible military weapons what the authors of the second amendment intended?
Since the NRA has committed itself to a literal interpretation of the second amendment, and what each word meant to the authors, the NRA should be held to that standard in the context of what the founding fathers understood to be “arms.”
As such, let us embrace the entire second amendment precisely as it was understood at the time. This would not include any understanding of “arms” beyond that of the American Revolution.
Therefore, I propose that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but only those arms of the era. If an American wants to keep and bear a smooth-bore single-shot flintlock muzzleloader, a Brown Bess (a popular long land musket), a Kentucky long rifle, or even some 18th century mortars or Howitzers, he’s got this patriot’s support.
This might all seem sophomoric. However, is it any sillier than chaining a 21st century debate on guns in America to an 18th century understanding of the human condition and the role guns play in our lives?
If the NRA must play the "Founding Fathers Edition" “What What Would Jesus Do?” why aren't the NRA nabobs asking what the Founding Fathers would do about a nation in which nearly five thousand Americans have been shot thus far this year. That's about a sixth of Philadelphia's population at the time the amendment was ratified.
It's still January.
Would they do something about it? Or would the nation's founders behave like the NRA's marrionettes in Congress today, taking money from gun makers to do nothing while fellow citizens are being shot to death on a daily basis? Of course the founders would take action.
What they would do? Nobody will never know, or even make an educated guess. Less apparent is the freedom this endows us.
Once the nation realizes how futile it is to try to answer such questions about the Founding Fathers, America can move beyond the NRA’s unbridled insistence on retrofitting a simplistic18th century solution to a complex 21st century problem.