The right of the people to keep and bear arms

WA Militia
Originally uploaded by Washington National Guard

The Batman shooting is just another sad example of the American love of firearms. To the extent that it’s what the US population want, it’s of course their choice.

However, Americans tend to simply invoke the American constitution as if that removes the need to any further discussion.

However, I find it interesting to have a look at what it is the constitution actually says:

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.

Although I admit the punctuation is a little bit unusual, this obviously means the same as the following:

Because a well-regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

… which again means the same as this:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia shall not be infringed because having a militia is necessary for the security of a free state.

The only thing that is unclear now is what is meant by a militia. However, this was defined quite clearly in 1792:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, by the Captain or Commanding Officer of the company, within whose bounds such citizen shall reside, and that within twelve months after the passing of this Act.

A militia is therefore an state-wide army consisting of conscripts. We can therefore rephrase the militia part as follows:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving as conscripts in the state-wide army shall not be infringed because having an army is necessary for the security of a free state.

Interestingly, the state militias were effectively replaced by the US Army not long after the constitution was written, and of course conscription hasn’t been used in the US for a while now, so as far as I can see, the right to bear arms disappeared at the same time. After all, if a general right to bear weapons had been intended, it would have been much easier simply to state that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” without any mention of militias.

Perhaps the US should have adopted the Swiss militia system: “The structure of the Swiss militia system stipulates that the soldiers keep their own personal equipment, including all personally assigned weapons, at home.” In this way, lots of Americans could still have had weapons in their homes, but it would have been officially issued army weapons, the bearers would have been trained in their use, and it would have been very clear that they shouldn’t be used for shooting Batman fans.

Theft as marketing

It looks like Sony have vandalised an important landmark in Amsterdam in order to promote a new game (hat-tip: Dina).

It probably seemed like a fun idea to Sony’s marketing department, but I do hope they will be prosecuted harshly, because it sets a very dangerous precedent if you can commit crimes without punishment if it’s for marketing purposes.

I mean, in the first instance it might only be the letters in Hollywood’s logo that get stolen, but what will the next step be?

Will you be allowed to hijack planes to promote a new plane game, or perhaps even blow up a building to promote a new version of Worms?

1000 CCTV cameras to solve one crime

One nation under CCTV
Originally uploaded by jordi.martorell

There was a must-read article in The Telegraph yesterday about CCTV cameras.

It points out that very few crimes are solved due to the cameras: “For every 1,000 cameras in London, less than one crime is solved per year.”

I’m sure there are many other ways to spend the money that would lead to more crimes being solved.

But I guess Brits have got too used to them: “Britain has 1 per cent of the world’s population but around 20 per cent of its CCTV cameras – which works out as the equivalent of one for every 14 people.”

I remember that when I moved to Scotland, I noticed all the cameras and I really felt watched at all times, but after a few months they somehow became invisible – I guess there are simply so many of them that the mind doesn’t register their presence.

There’s also a revealing quote towards the end of the article: “The Home Office defended the use of CCTV, with a spokesman saying cameras could ‘help communities feel safer'”.

So the reason for having them is not to make communities safer, but to lull them into a false sense of security.

I think that’s a dangerous path. What will be next? Will they start publishing fictional accounts of successful police operation just because that would make people feel safer, too?

How to commit a crime according to New Scientist

I get to read New Scientist through my work (under the pretext of looking for new words). In a recent issue, a reader gave the following advice about how to commit a crime:

There is a simpler way for master criminals to throw the police off the scent. If they have blood samples from other people these could be placed at the scene. Or anonymous donor red blood cells could be mixed with DNA amplified from a hair from someone they want to frame to create a blood-like residue. Picking up an ashtray of cigarette stubs from a public place and leaving these at a scene would be the simplest way to create confusing DNA evidence.