By Chuck Nottingham
Today marks an important date in history when patriotic Americans died for a simple freedom.
"I'm not referring to the senseless deaths of members of the religious group outside Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993 although several parallels are often drawn between that sad last-decade confrontation of people bent on their ideas of freedom and government bent on its own ideas.
I write of another April 19.
Nor do I refer to the equally senseless deaths on April 19, 1995, caused by Timothy McVeigh bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City on this date, ostensibly in retaliation for the Waco incident. McVeigh's misplaced patriotism and the heroism of the Americans who gave their lives on the other April 19 are not only centuries distant, but ethical worlds apart.
On April 19, 1775 226 years ago less than a hundred American colonists stood fast against 400 British government troops under the command of Major Pitcarn.
Taxation without representation may have been at root of the rebellion. Impression of Americans into British naval servitude was certainly at issue. Holding Americans in prison without benefit of bail or trial was in some patriots' thoughts, as well as 22 equally "despotic acts."
But on this day, April 19, 1775, the cause was clear. The British government had come to confiscate American guns, and those Americans understood the fatal significance.
Major Pitcarn thundered, "Disperse, you villains! Lay down your arms!"
Captain John Parker chose not to reply. Instead, he advised his minutemen at Lexington, Massachusetts each free to go or stand and fight "Don't fire unless fired on. But if they mean to have war, let it begin here."
And there and then it did begin. No one knows for certain which side fired the first "shot heard 'round the world," but it began eight years of Revolutionary War and ended with hard-won independence for our new nation.
Accounts vary, but some place the casualties at the end of April 19, 1775, at 90 Americans dead and wounded and 250 British victims.
The Americans feared the inability to defend themselves, their families, and their beliefs far more than they feared death with excellent reason.
It was the Old World way before a power enslaved or committed genocide on a people that the power first disarmed those people. That Eurasian tradition continued into the last century when the Nazis of the 1930s and '40s systematically disarmed the Jews, confiscated their property, confiscated their possessions, then enslaved them and attempted to wipe them out.
In the same period of time before Imperial Japan executed Korean and Chinese men and enslaved Korean and Chinese women for sexual and other recreational purposes, the villagers firearms were collected and destroyed.
Our own American governments had short memories when first American Indians then African Americans were denied ownership of firearms as precursors to subjugation and sometimes extermination.
In Zaire and the Balkans at this moment disarmed people die daily by the thousands at the hands of the people who disarmed them.
Not to wax too ironically, it's simple English: "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."
We allow argument about the phrase referring to the national guard when none existed at the time. We debate meanings of "militia" when then and now it means non-standing, unofficial forces.
But the main point is the first clause is subordinate and introductory in nature. It's no pun intended that the framers of our Bill of Rights knew their English and its grammar. The main clause and meaning of the sentence is simply, " the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
What part of "people" is so difficult to understand?
Where's the mystery in "keep" and "bear arms"?
Who can debate "shall not be infringed"?
It's time we stopped and reflect on the lessons history teaches.