With all the talk about the Second Amendment to the Constitution these days, it might seem to some that those who we call the Founding Fathers were clairvoyant in their ability to foresee the future and guarantee that we should always have the unquestioned right to bear arms.

Alas, there are many instances that contradict that view. One is the inability of most people in general – Founding Fathers or not – to think outside the context of their time. Consider that America in the late 18th century had few cities – only major seaports like Boston, New York and Philadelphia – and a population of around four million inhabitants, not counting women, slaves and native peoples.

Most folks lived in the country, and since a long and bloody war had just been fought to secure our independence, it was thought only prudent to require a well-regulated militia to have a firearm handy and participate in a common act of citizenship should the occasion arise again.

What the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen was that a smooth-bore, single shot, muzzle-loading, short-range flintlock musket would ultimately develop into a rifled, rapidly firing weapon with a large capacity magazine that would in future years be available in most parts of the country to virtually anyone, often with no questions asked.

At the same time, something else started to occur that could not have been anticipated at the time; the relatively small population of the original colonies would explode from four million to almost 326 million in 2018, most of whom would live in cities. The combination of crowded places and military-style assault weapons would ultimately prove lethal.

In addition, no one could have anticipated the changes – not to mention, the sheer rate of change – that would occur in the future including the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the two world wars of the 20th century, the massive movements of people made possible by the airplane, the altering of human sleep patterns by the invention of the electric light, the advent of social media.

The list goes on and on, but since no one had a crystal ball, it doesn’t seem fair to try and assign blame. After all, most of us are restricted by the limitations of our own time and place; relatively few are able to peer over the edge of their lives and see the challenges that loom ahead.

Imagine though, if you will, that the Second Amendment guaranteed each citizen a horse-drawn carriage. By the end of the 19th century, the conveyance started becoming a horseless carriage, though the combustion of its engine would ironically be measured in horsepower.

Along with the increased growth of the population, the vehicle continued its inevitable development into the sleek, fast sedans and coupes of today. The combination of lots of cars and lots of people – like crowded places and military-style firearms – would prove lethal.

How to address the problem that populations had soared, traffic had burgeoned, country lanes had become crowded highways? If a wholesale return to the horse and carriage were proposed, we wouldn’t take it seriously, pointing out that times had changed, and that what was desirable or even necessary then was not suitable or safe now.

One solution would be (and, of course, was) to establish reasonable controls. Cars would not be banned, populations would not be reduced, but fewer accidents would likely occur if some regulations were applied. Drivers would be tested, vehicles would be licensed, insured and inspected, and their ownership and sale would be a matter of record.

Traffic laws would be enacted, violators punished. Is this approach perfect? Not at all. Accidents still happen, but far more would occur if such requirements were not in place. There’s no doubt that we are safer for having them.

Of course, the Second Amendment is about firearms not vehicles but the question remains: If we as a society can agree to regulate vehicles, whose sole purpose is transportation, with the intent of increasing public safety, why then are we unable or unwilling to do the same for weapons that are designed specifically to kill the largest number of our fellow humans in the shortest possible time?

The solution is concerted action. We need to combine our resources and direct our energy to create another common act of citizenship – one that will end the cycle of tragic violence that endangers us all.

Don Loprieno
Bristol