TO THE POINT: The Second Amendment is history – Get over it!

Perhaps Americans could benefit from a little Australian clear thinking.

A pair of cowboy boots in the street outside the concert venue after a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada (photo credit: STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS)
A pair of cowboy boots in the street outside the concert venue after a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada
(photo credit: STEVE MARCUS/REUTERS)
THE SCREAMS of the victims of Martin Bryant’s shooting spree in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996 echoed around Australia, reaching the ears of then-prime minister John Howard. Ten days after the massacre of 35 and the wounding of 18, Howard had convinced all Australia’s states to institute a national ban on private ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
A gun buyback for high-powered and rapid-fire rifles followed, with more than 650,000 weapons handed in. A strict, uniform system for registering and owning firearms was reinforced by heavy fines and long prison sentences for illegal possession. Polls showed that a staggering 90 percent of the public approved the stricter gun restrictions.
In the 21 years since, there have been no mass shootings in Australia. As John Howard declared at the time, Australia decided not to follow “the American way” on guns.
Just six weeks before the Port Arthur massacre, Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 elementary school children and their teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, with four legally acquired handguns. Then-prime minister John Major reacted swiftly to public petitions calling for bans on the private ownership and use of handguns in the UK, to join the ban on fully automatic and most semi-automatic weapons. He passed the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, banning all cartridge ammunition handguns, except 22 calibre single-shot weapons, which were banned later that year by the new prime minister Tony Blair.
Since Dunblane, there has only been one mass shooting in the UK.
Despite near universal conscription, and with soldiers generally allowed to bring their weapons home, Israel’s gun laws are strict and comprehensive. Only a small group of citizens are eligible for firearms licenses; proof of necessity must be established, age restrictions are high, frequent retesting is required for license renewal, while about 40% of firearm permit applications are rejected. In recent years, due to a spate of suicides and instances of domestic violence, soldiers on extended leave and security personnel are not permitted to take their weapons home. Ammunition is restricted to 50 rounds.
Mass shootings, other than terror-related incidents, are almost unheard of.
The latest massacre in Las Vegas at the beginning of this month has returned the spotlight to the incomprehensible – some would say, sick – gun culture permeating the United States of America. The statistics are well-known, but to recap: there is more than one firearm per person in the US compared to four per 100 in the UK; in 2015, there were 11.2 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the US compared to 1.2 per 100,000 in Australia; 31% of all mass shootings in the world occur in the US.
In the US, gun laws are disorganized; some are federal while each state has its own. It is painfully easy to legally buy a weapon through lightly monitored gun shops, the Internet, or at gun shows where restrictions are a joke.
Aside from legally owning a vast array of high-velocity weaponry, the Las Vegas shooter, who killed 58 and wounded some 500 others, had in his possession tens of thousands of rounds of ammunition.
So, those of us who live several oceans and a 180 degree mentality difference away from America ask why do citizens in the US, who have no perceived need for them, privately own weapons of mass destruction and enough ammunition to equip a small army? One blogger I came across said that owning a gun was “fun.” More pertinently, the real culprits in this tragic farce, I believe, are the interpreters of the Second Amendment of the US Bill of Rights.
I have seen the amendment written in two ways, though I haven’t been able to establish which is the official version. One 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.”
The other 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.”
Note the difference between the two: two commas, one after “militia” and one after “arms.”
These differences have unleashed millions of man-hours and words in trying to pinpoint the intent of the framers of this amendment.
However, I believe they have all been on the wrong track, some perhaps innocently and others more wilfully and malignantly.
WHEN I was in high school in Australia, we studied a subject called clear thinking.
Applying what I learned back then, there is no way to understand the Second Amendment other than as applying to a particular situation at a particular time, commas notwithstanding.
Supporting my historical theorem is the Third Amendment, which places restrictions on the quartering of soldiers in private homes without the owner’s consent, forbidding the practice in peacetime. Hardly relevant in the 21st century.
The Second Amendment also no longer applies in our times; as interpreted today, it is a recipe for death and misery. It should be repealed as was the far less lethal Eighteenth Amendment, which had mandated nationwide Prohibition on alcohol, on January 16, 1919, by the Twenty-first Amendment, which was ratified on December 5, 1933.
But, as one of my American Sukkot guests opined, “It ain’t gonna happen.” Not yet, anyway, and not before many more innocents are maimed or killed in the US.
The writer is a journalist and freelance English- language editor who made aliya from Australia in 2000 and lives in Jerusalem