Citizen with an M60

“The notion that registering gun purchases somehow violates the Constitution is unmitigated nonsense,”

so said former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. He also said that

“[n]othing outrages me more than the conduct of the National Rifle Association (‘NRA’).”

Former NRA Vice President Neal Knox once said that the assassinations of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were possibly “part of a conspiracy to enact gun control” and “could have been created for the purpose of disarming the people of the free world.” This past week, the NRA has eclipsed its ordinary standard for bad taste by attacking the President’s children, asking why the federal government provides them Secret Service protection but not other children in our public schools. Anyone want to suggest a distinction that the NRA might understand?

Our public discussion might improve, among the rest of us, exclusive of the NRA leadership, if we got some of the facts right — like what the Second Amendment actually says and what it truly meant when it was written. 

When the Declaration of Independence was written in 1776, our colonies were concerned about “standing armies” because the King had “kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies, without the consent of our legislatures.”

When we had won our Independence and we had to concern ourselves with self-government under the Articles of Confederation. Revolutionary War Veterans led by Captain Dan Shays demanded cheap paper money, lighter taxes and the suspension of bank foreclosures of their farms. They were going to close down the courts foreclosing on their property. Massachusetts raised a militia to put down Shays’ rebellion and open the courts.

The Shays’ Rebellion became a part of the rationale for retired General George Washington and his aide, Alexander Hamilton, proposing a stronger federal government. The resulting U.S. Constitution, in Article I, Section 8, clauses 15 and 16, said that the state militias going forward would respond to Congress’ call “to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections and repel invasions,” and Congress would provide for “organizing, arming and disciplining the militia” reserving certain rights to the states.

The States, however, remained concerned about a “standing army.” Colonel Geroge Mason wished that the constitutional plan “had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights.” He got his way and the so-called Military Amendments in the resulting Bill of Rights were the 2nd and 3rd Amendments, with the 3rd Amendment prohibiting the quartering of troops and the 2nd providing for “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 States were thus empowered to do exactly what they had done at Lexington and Concord. It was a collective right, not a personal right to bear arms, and for a certain well-defined purpose, stated in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

In United States v. Cruikshank, in 1875, a plaintiff charged citizens had been deprived of their constitutional right to bear arms, and the U.S. Supreme Court found that “[t]his is not a right granted by the Constitution,” and that this Second Amendment right “has no other effect than to restrict the powers of the national government.

In 1934, in United States v. Miller, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the National Firearms Act regulating the transfer of firearms and imposing a transfer tax, concluding that the weapons at issue lacked “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.

Actually, as a result of the National Defense Act of 1916, the “militia” has since been supplanted by the National Guard, and that same Act transformed the militia from an individual state service into a division of the United States Army, rendering the Second Amendment somewhat irrelevant as originally contemplated.

There was a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, that struck down DC’s strict gun-control law but most agree that decision was less than meets the eye. 500 or more challenges to gun laws since have been defeated.

Former Justice Justice Paul Stevens, who dissented in the Heller decision, reportedly said that, even if you “generously” construe Heller,

“the Second Amendment provides no obstacle to regulations prohibiting the ownership or use of the sorts of automatic weapons used in the tragic multiple killings in Virginia, Colorado and Arizona in recent years.”

He also made a pointed observation about Congress:

“The failure of congress to take any action to minimize the risk of similar tragedies in the future cannot be blamed on the court’s decision in Heller.”

Congress has failed to act. The NRA may be fine with that. But are you?

Photo courtesy of planetc1. Some rights reserved.


  1. Epluribusunum

    And the usual apologists try to object that “nobody commits crimes with bazookas or machine guns (well, except for that cop who murdered his wife with a machine gun)” and then, whoops, the true believers who won’t just be sensible and stay quiet say things like this:

    The 2nd ament was designed to keep tyranny in check. One only needs to spend a little time studying our founding fathers to learn that. The only way we can keep tyranny in check is if we have the same weapons as the government. Which is what the 2nd amendment is for.

  2. passer by

    This article seems like another entry in the agenda-biased category of comments on the debate over the second amendment. Glossing over the fact that the question of individual arms ownership was integral to the concerns which led to the second amendment, and citing Cruikshank are both actions which find their oppositional equivalents when gun zealots cite Dredd Scott and ignore the language of the second amendment which draws a distinction between individuals’ access to firearms and the organized preservation of liberty. Neither of these cases hinged on issues with the second amendment: Cruikshank was about whether the Bill of Rights applied between citizens, and Dredd Scott was about whether African Americans could be considered citizens in pre-Civil War America; the Second Amendment portions of the opinions were thus incidental when compared to those opinions in cases in which the issue was central. Also, it is a fact that the debate leading to the Second Amendment was spurred in part by people who viewed an arms-based force in the general population as the preferred pathway to balancing the power of the government, and it is also a fact that the language of the Second Amendment represents a compromise between this group and those whose opinions led them to have an entirely different preference.

    You know what I wish? I wish people would be clear about their agendas when making statements connected to this subject. To use the photo included with the article as a starting point, let’s ask ourselves why the author (or editor or curator etc.) chose to use this particular photo, and why the subject of the photo appeared this way when the photo was taken. Many elements of the subject matter are worth discussing, and as a means of illustrating actions present on both sides of the debate, this picture represents a particularly poignant launching pad for an illumination of motive and intent.

    First, why such a gun? For the person in the photo, there are two reasons to own such an object: to either kill or be able to kill people, embodying its utility as a weapon or political tool; or to use it in a non-killing context, embodying its use as an object of entertainment and interest. For the blogger, the inclusion of the weapon in the photo illustrates the extreme firepower available to the citizenry in the United States, and works as a ready example of a point on which many are likely to agree: important sections of this debate center on the question of whether non-military citizens should be allowed to possess such extreme objects.

    Second, why the gold chain? For the person in the photo, because it symbolizes style, wealth, social alignment/orientation/position/posture, humor or design. For the blogger, it also works on a number of levels, portraying the gun owner in a specific social context, which from the point of view of what I would daresay is the intended audience for this writing, will often seem as that of an unfavorably connoted “other.” These same things can be said of the tattoo displayed on the forearm, the hat, the beard and the fact that he’s a fat dude. These are decisions which are taken into account when illustrating points through self presentation, and also through photojournalism.

    I join two final elements of the subject for separate consideration because I feel they speak to a different class of values than those mentioned in the preceding paragraph: the expression worn on his face, with his mouth open and the direction of his gaze, and the placing of the subject in a vegetation-less background against a clear blue sky. For the person in the photo, the setting may be entirely incidental, and so can be discarded for the purposes of this discussion. However, the expression symbolizes ecstasy, power and (possibly) humor through (possibly ironic) communication of like concepts. For the blogger, these same elements might be leveraged in either a sarcastic or serious way to portray owners of such weapons as individuals who approach the practice of gun ownership in search of a type of expression akin to the religious experience. In the physical setting, we are reminded of photos which exist in the popular consciousness as representations of Islamic militancy, thus incorporating this undertone in describing the argument to readers of the article.

    The common thread running through these descriptions of motive and circumstance is the presence of two sides of the same coin, neither of which seems to be fully “owned” by their opposing constituencies. There are gun owners in this country who approach their activities with an intentionality that matches the most extreme assumptions made by anti-gun constituents. There are anti-gun activists who believe that the populace should be disarmed and who feel that guns have no place in the U.S. under any circumstances. This is the reality; hiding these facts from each other will only fuel pointless debates such as the one witnessed in the comments on this blog. We have a clash of cultures in this debate and a difference of vision in what constitutes the ideal scenario as concerns the republic. If people would be honest (brave) about their motives, we would have a significant portion of gun owners admitting that they don’t really care what the Second Amendment is trying to do, as long as they can have what they want; and on the other side, there would be a significant portion of the anti-gun folks who would admit that they, too read the Second Amendment with an eye toward self-affirmation, and their deepest motive is in having things as they see fit. This is not to say that on each side of the debate we do not find a variety of viewpoints, motives and agendas, because we do: There are reasons to own guns which involve civil liberties, and individuals whose motives are in alignment with them. There are reasons to ban guns which involve public safety, and a very large constituency of people who are of this viewpoint. If the truest goal is to have both liberty and safety, which can easily be conceived as two different versions of the same thing, I think that real progress is only made with a genuine effort to satisfy all the needs which have bearing on a given situation, and to avoid muckraking and personal denigration. Good luck to all.

  3. Epluribusunum

    LA, I hope you get the point – your original comment here and on the other post attempted to hold this blog accountable for John’s involvement in the BOE case, and by extension assumed that all authors agree with each other about everything – let alone police each other’s professional lives. In fact, the situation is very much like how you describe TC – you all post and comment independently, as do we. If you don’t find this blog overall to be worth your time, that’s a perfectly valid choice. Everybody has limited time.

  4. Pariahdog


    Thanks for the fig leaf. I appreciate your support of GLBT rights.

    Regarding TC, if you make a “guilt by association” argument, you have to be able to take a “guilt by association” argument.

  5. liberal anthropologist

    John. I will read the judges comments and withdraw my comments until I do. I prefer detail myself and thanks for providing it.

    And I am liberal. I am a classic liberal. Not one of the new fangled statist liberals.


    I think there may be multiple misconceptions here. I post at TC independently. I have never met anyone involved in that site including the person I guess you are talking about. I don’t know what he has defended but he seems like a nice guy to me.

    I do not own or control that Site. I have no adninistrative power except over my own posts. The owner of the Site allows or disallows posters.

    You know I have been given hell by people for defending gays against bigots. And I have attacked Delgaudio over and over on TC as have other posters there. I think Delgaudio and his group are disgusting.

    If anyone posted gay bashing nonsense on TC, I would not delete them but I would debate them as I have here and several other sites including NVTH.

    So I want you to be clear. I have no control over who posts at TC and about what. I do like seeing lots of open debate. And I am especially glad to see you there. You and other progressive commenters should have your voice heard.

  6. Pariahdog


    We have lots of people who defend gay bashers posting comments here. You, on the other hand, provide them a soapbox to publish content on TC. Remember, that’s why I stopped reading your site. If I want to read hate and nonsense, I can find nationally renowned haters, or local politicians who are full of it.

  7. The Real Issue

    I have every right to privately bare arms. Are there people trying to ban T-Shirts!?

  8. John Flannery

    It appears our so-called liberal anthropologist is not very liberal and does not do much homework before he opines on high in his slandering barrage. I did represent the boe and from the first day I tried to work a compromise. The case turned into something like war and peace as litigants are entitled to have not just a day in court but sometimes days and weeks. The foia complainant insisted on complaints that were not legally or factually supported. I also expect to be paid unless i volunteer my time – and there was a statute that said i should be paid. The board of supervisors spent more funds opposing my fee than the cost of my fee. This is what we do instead of violence, we argue peacefully in court. And the complainant was entitled to her day in court and the people she argued about had a right to a defense. The “man” in this case was a board of supervisors who don’t want the boe reducing the taxes assessed by the former assessor, since fired. Anyhow you might do well to read the balanced opinion of district judge cannon who fairly described how frivolous were the claims and how everyone could have acted better –

  9. liberal anthropologist

    I would remind everyone that i think this is the same John Flannery that defends bullies.

    If so…

    He is also, in my opinion, one of the least intelligent, least educated, least moral, and least rational members of the 1 percent.

    I suggest the 6 readers of this blog not spend much time here until the Loudoun Progress team gets its act together and stops helping those who help bullies. Not a boycott. Just not worth the time.

    Time for me to move on and back to some more interesting discussions with people worthy of respect. True progressives will not spend much time here.

    Next thing you know there will be people defending gay bashers posting on here. 🙂

  10. John Flannery

    Apparently you can do little more than call names, Adam, the frustration of a poor advocate who understands too little how we use the documents you reference and invoke. The Federalist papers were the arguments of Hamilton and others on why we needed the constitution they created. There were anti-federalist papers as well including the words of Patrick Henry. True, the arguments in the federalist papers are invoked because they are thoughtful even when they are wrong and worth reading. The constitution, like it or not, was written in 1787 and a few things have changes since. The constitution was also written in the broadest possible language and has been repeatedly amended to reflect the errors of the original document including, for example, treating blacks and women as property and not persons. Starting with Chief Justice Marshall, the Supreme Court asserted powers that are not found in the constitution, for example, that the Supreme Court may decide whether co-equal branches of government are acting consistent with the constitution. It must be frustrating to speak with such certainty in such ignorance of the documents you invoke. What you want things to be is not necessarily how they are. Your thought that the Supreme Court does not create law is among the most simple statements I’ve heard though you are in good company, so many think and say the same nonsense. The Supreme Court not only enjoys the power to make law, it does every year – just watch the decisions when they’re handed down next June. If ignorance is happiness, you must be enjoying the delight of a thousand heavens.

  11. John Flannery

    I received a thoughtful comment on Justice Scalia’s opinion in Heller and asked whether it didn’t say that the 2nd amendment said owning a gun was a personal right and not a collective right. And the answer is he did say that, particularly when the law related to one’s home as the DC code did. His language was broader than was necessary to his holding, lawyers call this dicta, but it did appear to be a significant change at the time.

    The Dissenting opinion took Scalia’s opinion to task for ignoring all the precedent law on the issue that I reviewed in my comment – albeit in a summary fashion – and then something interesting happened.

    The cases on guns since have pretty much upheld every regulation, seemingly consistent with the earlier understanding of the second amendment.

    There have been various explanations for that. But it is the fact.

    One is that the dissent has had more effect than Scalia’s opinion.

    Another is the illogic of Scalia’s opinion.

  12. Hillsboro

    ” History begs to differ, in that modern “gun control” began with reaction to the Black Panther Party arming its members to resist race-based police harassment and violence. ”

    History begs you to read up a bit more on gun control. Are you forgetting NY’s Sullivan Act of 1911? The National Firearms Act of 1934? The Federal Firearms Act of 1938? The pre-WWII plans for a national registry by FDR’s Attorney General Homer Cummings? The myriad of gun control bills pushed after the assassination of John F Kennedy?

  13. Travis

    I’m no authority on Second Amendment issues but I have looked more into it recently. Since Sandy Hook I’ve had to be the voice of reason against several of my gun-nut friends on Facebook and quite frankly I’m at a loss for words when I see them drink from the crazy side of the internet. I support a permanent Assault Weapons Ban, magazine restrictions, universal background checks and many of the other options I’ve heard floated around and I agree with your quote of Justice Stevens that Congress has failed to act in the many ways available to it. I also view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual’s right to own a gun.

    I say all of this because I am surprised to see you take such a dismissive view of D.C. v. Heller. That case, which was decided only a few years ago, explicitly states that gun ownership is a fundamental right of citizens regardless of militia service. If you dispute that holding of the court there is a short list of ways to correct that but that is the current reading of the Second Amendment in this country. You do mention U.S. v. Cruikshank which is favorable to your side but that decision was effectively reversed in McDonald v. Chicago when the court said that the individual right to gun ownership affirmed in Heller also applies to the states and not just the federal government as Cruikshank stated. Also, I would like to see some support for your assertion that, “but most agree that decision was less than meets the eye”. I agree that Heller isn’t all that the NRA would like it to be, but your casual dismissal could use documented support to be more persuasive especially if you are trying to use it assert a collective right.

    Be aware that I’m not arguing the appropriateness of the Second Amendment as an individual right. I’m simply telling you that the Second Amendment, at least according to current Supreme Court decisions, is an individual right and not the collective right you assert it to be.

    Below are links to the oral arguments and decisions for the two cases I site above. I find the audio on to be quite a comfort during my long commutes.
    D.C. v. Heller –
    McDonald v. Chicago –

  14. Epluribusunum

    Pariahdog: I don’t think he got the Seinfeld reference. (John, provide us with another image if you prefer, we’ll change it out.)

    I think this thread has veered off track. The topic is the meaning of the 2nd Amendment. Some have indeed argued that it was intended to facilitate people arming themselves to resist the authority of the state, should it become “tyrannical.” History begs to differ, in that modern “gun control” began with reaction to the Black Panther Party arming its members to resist race-based police harassment and violence. Suddenly, for some reason, it was unacceptable for citizens to openly own firearms for self-defense, and it was the NRA and the hero of the political right leading the charge to reform gun laws. The NRA wasn’t defending the right of black citizens to defend themselves from tyranny.

    Let’s go back further, to the pre-Revolution “slave patrols.” These were the militias in slave states to which most white males were required to belong for the purpose of putting down slave rebellions, of which there were many. It does require a tyrannical police state to maintain a system of slavery, and these militias were a part of that police state. The original draft of the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution referred to “the security of a free country,” not “state,” in defending itself from invaders. Those representing the southern aristocracy feared that this language describing a national defense purpose would eclipse the southern states’ authority to maintain slave patrols, and therefore slavery. Patrick Henry:

    If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under the original 2nd Amendment language]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress…Congress, and Congress only, can call forth the militia…

    …In this situation I see a great deal of the property of the [white] people of Virginia in jeopardy, and their peace and tranquility gone.

    The federal government, Henry feared, could call black men into military service, ultimately resulting in their emancipation. So the language of the 2nd Amendment was changed so that the slave patrols of the southern states could be maintained as independent of the federal government.

    Given that history, do you think that those currently claiming the right or need to arm themselves against government tyranny are perhaps being intellectually dishonest?

  15. Pariahdog

    See Hillsboro, that’s the thing.

    I said:

    How can you not like me?

    You could have said:

    But, I do like you!

    Instead, you said:

    But I don’t dislike you.

    Such parsing of words, so double negative, so passive – no exclamation point to punctuate your feelings! And you missed the Seinfeld literary reference.

  16. Hillsboro

    You’re astoundingly hypocritical, and just a little too sensitive when your tactics are used against you. – Observed behavior

    But I don’t dislike you.

  17. Pariahdog

    “He was casing the joint” – Observed behavior

    “Are we going to…ground'” – Trevon Martin and a multitude of other documented cases. Check out the PBS documentary about Jim Crow era slavery and the way laws were written and applied almost exclusively to black people.

    “He looked right past me…” – Observed behavior

    Why are you protecting this guy who you didn’t see. How do you know that you wouldn’t have observed the same thing? I get the feeling that you just don’t like me. How can you not like me?

  18. Hillsboro

    I do see the difference – your projections were far more egregious in their implied illegal intent and racism: “He was casing the joint” … “Are we going to have vigilante thugs policing our public spaces, ever ready to ‘stand their ground?'” … “he looked right past me: A white guy with a picture frame; not a threat”

  19. Hillsboro

    “Naming the behavior is not only appropriate, it’s a moral obligation.”

    Which is exactly why you should not take offense at Mr. Vogt’s comment.

    And as many pointed out, reporting a threat is also a moral obligation.

  20. Pariahdog


    Other people, who apparently self-identify as thugs, took offense. One commenter even accused me of talking about him/her, and I have no idea how that commenter came to that conclusion. I wasn’t.

    The LTEs and on-line comments speak for themselves. Naming the behavior is not only appropriate, it’s a moral obligation.

  21. Pariahdog

    Mr. Voigt accused me of Hitlerian thinking. It doesn’t require “contortions” nor “intellectual dishonsesty” to draw the conclusion I drew.

    What do you think he was saying? Perhaps I over reacted. Perhaps I should toughen up and get used to people throwing “Hitler” accusations around.

  22. Hillsboro

    You’re doing some amazing contortions to reach such a conclusion from John Voigt’s quote.

    I think this intellectual dishonesty is why this site cannot seem to foster any real conversations.

  23. Pariahdog

    Well Hillsboro,

    I was not attempting to “stir up fear,” but appreciate the sentiment that “good guys” with guns may do that.

    The M-60 was used because there is this meme being brandied about that the Second Amendment was written so that the people could possess the same firepower used by the U.S. military. See “What it says…”

    John Voigt basically said the same in a comment on Leesburg Today.

    Clearly you think guns should be taken away from us like Hitler did in Germany and I think guns are not only for hunting but also to protect us from a tyrannical government. Given the situation when the bill of rights was written I’m confident what the framers meant when they wrote the second amendment.

  24. Hillsboro

    I sincerely apologize if I missed the credit for the photo.

    With that said, why would you post a photo of the M60 if not to stir up fear? Your motives are no better than that which you continously pummel the NRA.

    The M60 isn’t even on Dianne Feinstein’s list of proposed guns to control. Why is that? Probably because it is a fully automatic gun which is already so regulated essentially no one can get their hands on them. The absence of crimes committed with the M60 is a testament to the effectiveness of the AWB.

  25. Pariahdog

    John wrote the post and I curated it. I added the photo, credited the photographer, and included a link to the Creative Commons license. The photo attribution was part of the original post. It was not added as an afterthought. The Creative Commons license is pretty lenient. Follow the link and take a look.

    Life is short. Why spend so much effort picking fights? The point of the photo wasn’t to claim that M-60s are used in crimes. It was to further the point of the article, that there isn’t a private right to own weapons. If there is a right to own a handgun for self defense, that narrow right doesn’t extend to fire power equivalent to that used by the U.S. armed forces.

  26. Hillsboro

    The notice wasn’t there initially, John, but then I think you knew that.

    I’m curious as to when the last time an M-60 was used in a crime?

  27. John Flannery

    You should read more carefully – there is a notice about the photo and that it was published by this blog, by courtesy, with certain rights reserved. You may or may not know there are many exceptions to copyrighted materail that allow publication as well. Otherwise, as for the op-ed itself, you have nothing to say about the 2nd amendment. So what else is new?

  28. John Flannery

    The blog posted the picture. I presume it’s legit. Again, I presume, since you had nothing to say about the content of my op-ed, that you agree with what I said.

  29. Hillsboro

    Would it be unreasonable for one to expect an attorney to understand and honor a photographer’s licensing terms? I seem to recall said attorney (correctly) taking on a certain county supervisor for misappropriating someone’s photograph. Goose/Gander?

Comments are closed.