I’ve asked retired Colonel Ken Hamburger, a college classmate, for his thoughts on the current gun debate. He’s the recipient of many awards, including the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. His bio follows his comments. Thanks, Ken.
Ken Hamburger …
I’m going to look at the (gun control) issues from a perspective of how I feel and think about them as opposed to trying to think of practical steps to change things. Two reasons: Nothing any of us say is going to make any difference at all with the powers that be that might be able to change any of the policies; and thinking about things in terms of their practicality closes off a lot of things that might still be insights into the problems.
- On guns, the Second Amendment mentions the reason that ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state’ [which is the only amendment to state a purpose; thanks, Wikipedia] even though courts have said the stated purpose is irrelevant to whether a person [not just a citizen] can bear an arm [not just a gun]. Court opinions can change [see Dred Scott among many others] so I think we should talk about the issue without reference to court decisions.
- The Amendment doesn’t define an ‘arm.’ Court decisions have allowed Congress to limit the definition, so I think defining an ‘arm’ is relevant.
- It seems to me that defining an ‘arm’ and interpreting a purpose for the Amendment are both key to what should be done with the issue today.
- If the purpose of the Amendment is to allow the people [not just the citizens] to defend themselves against their own despotic government, then there should be no limits to what an ‘arm’ is beyond [maybe] what the government owns. This
would open the definition to e.g. tanks, artillery, airplanes including drones, machine guns, poison gas, nuclear weapons, and anything else the armed services, CIA, FBI, in short, any ‘arm’ legally authorized to any armed unit of the government should be available to any citizen [or at least any citizens’ militia unit] or ‘the security of a free state’ could not be guaranteed. A couple of the most effective and cheapest ‘arms’ would be poison gas and radioactive materials [either of which could be useful in guarding areas against entry by government forces, and have aggressive uses as well]. High school chemistry students can extract good poison gases and every hospital in the US today generates nuclear waste, so both would be easily available and very effective against even well regulated government forces.
These arguments lead down the rabbit hole of practicality [‘We can’t have anybody that’s hacked off at the government start gassing the local National Guard Armory or making their parking lot into a radioactive zone’] so I think that although they have relevance to the argument, we should probably limit our discussion to those ‘arms’ that a citizen might have a need for in other situations than defense against a despotic government. Nonetheless, we have to recognize that there are lots of folks around today who still think that the Second Amendment is only to oppose what they see as an Obama-type dictatorship – I can direct you to a lot of web sites that espouse this if you doubt.
- The practical uses for owning an ‘arm’ [i.e. other than warring against the government] are recreation, hunting, and self-defense. For recreation [mostly target shooting and collection], there are really no practical limits. I’ve got a friend who has a .50 caliber that he fires at meets; it’s not a weapon one could hunt with or use for self-defense and I’ve got no problem with him owning and enjoying it. There’s no real reason there should be a limit on any other weapon for purposes of recreation; re-enactors should be able to have machine guns and rocket launchers [probably ‘de-militarized’] and I don’t see why they couldn’t have artillery pieces or tanks or any airplanes, submarines, etc. that they can afford.
- For hunting, any long gun or pistol other than automatic or semi-automatic weapon should be available, although I don’t think there’s any need for high muzzle velocity weapons like the AR-15, which was specifically designed for military uses and which causes severe wounds that often require amputation. No one should be hunting who requires a semi-automatic weapon; you can effectively hunt any game animal including the Cape Buffalo [often cited as the most dangerous sport game] with a bolt action weapon. With practice, a bolt action long gun can be shot accurately at high rates of fire that can kill any charging animal. Similarly, there should be no need for high-capacity magazines for hunting weapons.
- For self-defense, the requirements are similar.Weapons designed to cause amputation [high muzzle velocity] are not required and should be prohibited. The best weapon for self-defense is probably a shotgun, requiring little training and has a good first-round effectiveness [I recognize that it also causes amputations, so I’m not consistent. Sue me.]. Next best is a big round with a moderate muzzle velocity, say a .45 cal. that has better stopping power [knockdown] than a high muzzle velocity weapon. Semi-automatic weapons are not required; high-capacity magazines are not needed; both could probably be allowed anyway.
Kenneth Hamburger attended Oklahoma State University where he earned the Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1964. Commissioned into the Regular Army, he completed field artillery training and airborne school.
He joined the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1967. He saw action as an Assault Helicopter Platoon Leader on the Bong Son Plain, the An Lao and Song Re Valleys, Dak To, and in Northern I Corps at Hué and Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Returning to Vietnam in 1971, he participated in the invasion of Laos as an Aviation Battalion Operations Officer and commanded a Recon Airplane Company at Chu Lai.
Transferred to Germany in 1973, he served as a Field Artillery Battalion Operations Officer and Executive Officer in the 8th Mechanized Infantry Division and commanded the Attack Helicopter Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fulda. He later attended Duke University where he studied history, receiving masters and doctoral degrees. During 1980 and 1981, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery of the 2d Infantry Division in Korea.
Arriving at West Point in 1981, he became Professor of History in 1993. He served as Head of the Military History and International History Divisions and as Deputy Head of the Department of History. He has written and spoken to international audiences on strategy, leadership in combat, the American Revolution, the Vietnam War, and Fine Arts.
Colonel Hamburger retired from the U.S. Army in 1994. Among his awards are the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and thirty Air Medals. He taught on the staff of the American Military University and has served as Visiting Professor of Strategy at the National War College of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.
Texas A&M University Press published his book, Leadership in the Crucible: The Korean War Battles of Twin Tunnels and Chipyong-ni in April 2003. He is married to Jane Brammer and they have two grown children.