Some minds progress, others just stagnate

Posted by Tom Camfield

The above portraits include two intellectuals exemplifying an intelligence so disdained today by a rapacious self-serving political right wing seemingly determined to destroy public education’s ambience of free thinking and to erode as much as possible America’s Free Press. The other two images portray panderers of ignorance and narcissism.

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father who was the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and later served as the third President of the United States from 1801 to 1809. He died on the 4th of July, 1826. It was only 27 years later that my great grandmother Fannie Warner Camfield (died here in Port Townsend in 1952 at the local hospital) was born. I have no personally-related memories further back than the Civil War when Fannie was a schoolgirl; I was 23 when she died and took with her a wealth of memories now lost forever. How time flies. I now continue to read my early U. S. history from books. I have tried to do my own part in uniting  past and future with a number of my own books on family and local-area history. 

Meanwhlle, the mass of humanity remains caught up in the present. In addition to the necessities of daily existence, guns have become a major factor in survival from one day to the next. They rip and tear the fabric of our society’s being at any given moment. Innocent children often are the victims.

One associated thing that also upsets me is . . . every now and then someone is tossing out a brief quote from Jefferson seemingly in support of the Second Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, keeping and bearing arms and all that. But no one seems to want to pay any attention to this following comment by Jefferson:

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

That “barbarous ancestors” seems a bit heavy but I’ve left it in out of respect for truth in journalism. I believe he meant “barbarous” as somewhat primitive. And truly, Jefferson himself and his peers actually were pretty “barbarous” in today’s conception of the word—with their enslavement of Blacks. 

The men among us are not all wearing three-cornered hats these days, or powdered wigs to major public affairs, but many among us are determined to cling to their right, ratified in 1791, to collect and carry guns—hindering greatly in my opinion the “progress of the human mind” as envisioned by the principal author of our Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson’s briefer remarks sometimes are sort of like the Bible in easily being used to seemingly support one thing or another. But I think that more elaborate “progress of the human mind” statement above works philosophically for the ages.

As for Jefferson’s snappier one-liner comments on record, my favorites among the lot of them would be:

“Educate and inform the whole mass of the people ... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”

“No government ought to be without censors; and where the press is free no one ever will.”

“Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.”

And then there’s “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.” Yes indeed, there are those in reasonably comfortable circumstances who just don’t want to get involved. I believe we’re seeing a lot of that today.

First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Second Amendment: “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.”

So after Congress dealt with freedom of religion, speech, press and the right of peaceful assembly and protest, it turned to the matter of accommodating a “well-regulated militia” by allowing the ownership and carrying of guns. I have always argued that in this day and age, diverse individual citizens, no matter how well armed in private or in public, are in no way “well regulated” as a necessary military force. 

I find the current official application of that Second Amendment totally ludicrous.

We have a well-trained, disciplined militia that trains on a regular basis. It is the National Guard of the various states.The local militias of the American Revolution, which trained regularly, backed up the national standing army (that was hurriedly created for the first time after the Revolution broke out). Some militiamen also had seen important action in the Indian Wars prior to the Revolution. Donald Trump currently is calling up some state guard units to assist the border patrol. 

Incidentally, I feel Desperate Donald is blowing up a molehill into a mountain with his sudden concern over a couple hundred Central American refugees heading north through Mexico—to engender favorable public opinion for financing of the “beautiful” Great Wall he wants to erect between the U.S. and Mexico. He wants more Norwegians and fewer Hispanics coming into our country. I wonder how many troops and border patrol agents it actually will take to deal with those who don’t drop out of the caravan at Mexico City.

In addition to our well-trained Guard, of course, in this day and age we have our local and state police, our standing Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard . . . our FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, our military reserve units. We scarcely have any use for individual citizens here and there—some with assault-style rifles, some with semi-automatic handguns, some with “Saturday night specials,” etc.—totally unorganized, without logistics of any type, with no chain of command. All clinging to that ridiculous 227-year old “well-trained militia” straw that has no real application of any sort to them.          

As this year moves on toward the mid-term elections, I’ll be be more concerned for the moment with the Fifteenth Amendment when looking at the many “red states” where Republican legislatures have so blatantly gerrymandered voting districts to favor their party—or instituted voter-identification requirements turning away the poor, college students, etc. A good example of that latter would be Texas, where a gun permit is sufficient at the polling place but not a student identification card. A poor individual without a driver’s license also is up against it. Some areas in various states also shorten voting hours to make it tough on the working class. All over, Ohio or wherehaveyou, Blacks somehow come out short on this basic freedom. And they generally vote liberal.

Fifteenth Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

MORE ON GUNS—While the opportunity is at hand, I’d like to point here to a flagrant example of “fake news” picked out of thin air recently by someone in one of these local forums—Trump style. The comment contributor said that more people are killed by clubs, beaten with blunt instruments, than are killed by  guns.

I just found a chart listing the number of murder victims in the U. S. in 2016, by weapon. See: 

Handguns 7,105; firearms of unstated type 3,077; knives, etc. 1,604; weapons not stated 903; personal weapons (hand, fists, feet) 656; blunt instruments (clubs, hammers, etc.) 472; rifles 374; shotguns 262; other guns 186; narcotics 114; fire 107; and various lesser categories.

I make that 11,002 murders by gun and 472 by bludgeoning (or 1,128 if including fists etc.). Please note that this break-down is for just murders. Deaths including suicides would greatly increase the gun use total; self-infliction would tremendously increase the narcotics deaths. Accidents would include such things as a 7-year-old killing his 4-year-old sister with a gun he found in his parents’ bedroom.

Actually, more than 36,000 died from gunshot injuries in the U. S. in 2015, according to another source (https://www.thetrace.org/2015/12/gun-violence-stats-2015/ for those suspicious of my sources). That figure included homicides, suicides and accidental shooting. On an average day that year, 99 Americans died of gunshot injuries. 

Mass shootings actually account for less than 2% of annual gun deaths.

MEANWHILE, here are a couple of lines from one of the many items concocted by conspiracy theorists and circulated via social media—Facebook, email, etc. The material is picked out of thin air for convenience, in this case to promote gun ownership. If it sounds like something from the NRA, perhaps it is; at least it’s something they won’t dispute: “During WW II, the Japanese decided not to invade America because they knew most Americans were ARMED!”

Those of us who were around in that war (I was in high school) know that’s hogwash. I know no one on either side of my family who owned a gun. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, did family friends. There were acquaintance, of course, who still hunted birds or deer. My father-in-law hunted deer, but he mostly just loved exploring the outdoors. I don’t remember him ever actually bringing home a deer. I also don’t remember ever hearing of a school shooting, or of armed street gangs in the cities. One high school classmate’s father had a .45 pistol he’d brought home from navy service. We shot a few rats at the old garbage dump with it unbeknownst to our parents.

In any case, invasion of the continental United States was not a logically feasible thing for the Japanese. Their navy never got close across the wide expanse of the Pacific, despite how they weakened our own fleet with their 1941 attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor. They did at one point establish a minor foothold of combatants in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands (I had a couple of uncles who served there with our army) but their stay in that critical military waypoint for aerial attack (Attu and Kiska) proved short-lived, without prolonged bloody combat. 

That Alaskan incursion all was realistically close to Port Townsend, but citizens of Puget Sound were not arming themselves with 30-30 rifles and assorted  hand guns to meet an invading, coordinated military force on the beaches. Any logical Japanese initial attack would have been aerial. Enemy ground troops still are not our basic threat today. When we arm ourselves individually under delusions to the contrary, we are arming the wrong people.

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