Poem shows folly of ignoring common sense gun legislation

“A Fence or an Ambulance” is a poem by Joseph Malins (1895) emphasizing the common sense value of prevention, as opposed to dealing with tragic consequences later.

About three pages long, it can be summarized: A community was situated near a high and dangerous cliff with a beautiful view. Passers-by traveling through, however, were experiencing a high rate of casualties by accidentally falling over the edge of the cliff. An ambulance in the valley below was kept busy retrieving the victims. The body of the poem centers around the local citizens debating a solution to this deadly problem. Some said, “Put a fence about the edge of the cliff,” others said, “Keep the fine ambulance service down in the valley.”

The solution comes when a wise old sage in the town reasoned; “It’s a marvel to me that people give far more attention to repairing results than to stopping the cause, when they’d much better aim at prevention. Let us stop at its source all this mischief, cried he, come, neighbors and friends, let us rally; if the cliff we will fence, we might dispense with the ambulance down in the valley.”

Relating this to the need for “common sense gun legislation,” it should be noted that the beauty of our constitutional interpretation lies in its flexibility to meet changed conditions. When our newly formed democracy was started, our population was about 3 million people, and the “arms” they were to keep and bear was single-shot muskets or rifles. The very purpose of the Second Amendment was clearly stated: “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.”

Our population is now about 300 million, and the “arms” now coveted seem to be high-tech military weapons, designed to kill more people faster. We now have that “well regulated militia” in our Army, Navy, National Guard, etc., for national security. We no longer muster in the town square with those simpler weapons to meet imminent threats.

The stated purpose of the Second Amendment has been met. “Common-sense weapons legislation” can easily allow our individual “arms” for home security, hunting and practicing for proper usage ... but not for collecting, shooting (playing with) high-powered assault weapons for our personal pleasure. The purpose of our Second Amendment simply does not justify that.

Our current policy of easy access to assault weapons for almost everybody is simply wrong – and unnecessary. Maybe, now that even our children are pleading desperately with our lawmakers for their safety – even for their lives – a moral backbone will evolve and we can stand up to the powerful gun industry.

There are numerous version of that poem by Malins. By one account, a medical professional and his pharmacist friend wanted to keep up the current status; they were doing well with the ambulance deliveries. This version ends with the doctor and the pharmacist pushing the wise old sage over the edge of the cliff – the wrong way to solve our problem of continuing deaths by gun violence.

Ernest L Henning, retired attorney, Kansas City