When I first moved to Maine in 1965, part of the reason was because I loved the Pine Tree State's woods, trails, and mountains.
So I did a lot of walking in those woods.
Until autumn arrived. Then I made the disconcerting discovery that in Maine, if you walked in the woods in the fall, you needed to carry a gun. Everybody I knew in the Bethel area, who walked in the woods in the fall carried a gun -- shotgun or rifle.
Word was around, well, not literally, but I felt it, that one who walked in the woods in autumn took a chance on being locked up in what it was then okay to call the looney bin....state hospital....place for the insane. Today's terminology may be a facility for the mentally challenged.
At any rate, I certainly didn't want to be taken out of the woods in the fall and locked up someplace.
So I bought my first -- and only -- gun.
Clarence, my first friend in Maine, and I went down to Bob Billing's store. Probably realizing I was fresh from the suburbs and needed lots of guidance in buying my first gun, Clarence took on that role.
I walked out with a 16-gauge shotgun. I carried it in the woods, telling those who knew me that I was hunting.
After all, I had a right to bear arms. Of course, I didn't realize in those long-ago innocent and youthful days that I had a right to bear arms. I thought I was carrying the shotgun to be allowed to walk in the woods in the fall without being suspect of having fallen out of one of the trees found in yonder forest.
I even hunted a little. Once shot a partridge. Poor, little thing. It had done nothing to me except show up one day in front of me while I was walking in the woods with the shotgun under my arm. It tasted okay, but I always felt sorry for it.
But I did have a right to bear arms, even if I wasn't aware of that's being the reason for my having a 16-gauge.
I also went deer hunting a couple of times. On one occasion, I went with Clarence and Jim along a woods road in West Bethel. It was hard to actually hunt, because Jim raced along in front of us, setting a pace that would likely outpace any poor deer we met which only had four legs on which to flee.
I puffed along, trying to keep up, while carrying that shotgun. Without that shotgun, I perhaps could have kept up easier. But I had the shotgun, so I raced along behind Clarence and Jim. Had I had a chance to aim at a deer, it would have been hard, aiming while gasping for breath which would no doubt have made the shotgun raise up and down, up and down until I caught my breath. That would have taken enough time that the deer would probably have passed on all by himself, of old age.
Another time I was by myself and so walking slow enough to be able to carry the shotgun uphill through the woods. I was moving slow enough that I began to hear twigs snapping up the hill a piece. I tiptoed up the hill, snapping a few twigs myself. The uphill twigs snapped louder and closer.
Until I saw the other hunter, tiptoeing down the hill toward the sound of snapping twigs. The ones I was snapping.
I didn't shoot a deer that day. I also didn't get shot. Neither did the other hunter. Both of us had the right to bear arms.
My most memorable deer hunt was when I took an elderly acquaintance, Lewis, out for what I figured might be his last deer hunt due to his elderliness. I had him wait at the bottom of a hill near a woods road. I tiptoed up the hill, and at the very top there was my big buck.
He looked at me from beneath his antlers. He didn't laugh at my staring at him in the unbelieving manner with which I must have stared at him. That great deer hunter with the shotgun. There he is. What should Mr. Buck do?
I tried to encourage him. "Run down that woods road," I suggested. "Lewis is down there waiting for you."
He must not have liked the suggestion. He ran but not down the woods road. I didn't see him again. Neither did Lewis.
But Lewis and I had fun that day walking in the woods with our arms and our right to bear them.
Which brings us to the Second Amendment, that "right."
Which brings us to my most-important right, the right to drive. The state, all states, I believe, tell us that to drive is a privilege.
Merriam Webster tells me a privilege is, "a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor." That word "right" is right in there to add a bit of confusion, but "peculiar...favor (skipping a couple of words)" tells me that it is given specially to me. Example: If you shovel my porch, I'll do you a favor. What favor would you like for me to do? Oh, shovel your porch? No, don't feel like it." That's a favor. It's given to me, not to everybody. Everybody does not have a right to my favor. Everybody is not privileged to shovel your porch.
Now, one of the definitions of "right" is, "something to which one has a just claim."
Okay, I pass an eye exam, I pass a driver's exam, I pay for a license. Do I get a license? You bet. No one can stop me, once I qualify. It's my right. The examiner doesn't say, "Hey, you're a nice guy, I'm going to do you a favor. I'm granting you a driver's license."
So now I've proved to me that I have a right to have a driver's license.
Now, the gun deal. According to Wikipedia, as Congress passed the Second Amendment, it 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."
But Thomas Jefferson, the then Secretary of State authenticated the Second Amendment as, "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."
Okay, it's the same type of "right" as mine to drive. It shall not be "infringed."
There, that settles it. I have the "right" to bear arms. Fine. But I wonder what "arms" our forefathers had in mind. They knew about swords. Maybe it was the right to bear a sword. They knew about muskets. Maybe it was the right to bear a musket."
Maybe that's what they meant. Do we have a right to bear a deer rifle? Based on what our forefathers knew, I'm not sure they intended us to be able to bear a deer rifle. I suppose if they had known about a deer rifle, they might have granted that as a "right to bear" in the Second Amendment.
Would they have granted us the "right" to carry an assault weapon, if they had an inkling what an assault weapon might be? They didn't know what one was, and we don't know what they would have decided about our bearing an assault weapon.
And what about that obvious connection -- or reason for bearing arms -- the necessary militia? Was that the reason for the right to bear arms? No? Then why was that wording used? Because our forefathers felt like including meaningless wording in the Second Amendment?
What I'm getting around to is, those days in the woods outside of Bethel, I knew I had the right to carry that shotgun. Did -- and do -- I have the right to possess a cannon from a ship, you know, in case a burglar tried to steal my shotgun from my house? What about a nuclear weapon, that could destroy not only the burglar but my house and the whole town and the whole county? Wonder what those forefathers would have thought about that.
They didn't have all the answers. I'm not sure that we do either. I'm not sure if we know more about what they knew than what they knew.
Even if we want to bear that weapon. Or don't.
Maybe looking at it backwards might help....I do some things backwards, since I'm left-handed.
Was there then...or is there now any law that would have then or now forbids my carrying that shotgun?
That deer on the hilltop might have been running that possibility through his antlered mind.
He didn't tell me what he thought about it.
He just ran down the hill so I wouldn't shoot him with the arm I was bearing.
Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at email@example.com.
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