Editor’s note: Dale Kilburg of Maquoketa is a devotee to the humor and sarcasm of American author Mark Twain. Bear that in mind as you read his guest column.
I feel the time is ripe for the Supreme Court to expand Second Amendment gun rights to include legalized dueling. The public has been so bombarded of late with a daily barrage of public insult, especially in the political arena, that it has sunk into a grim hopeless weariness with no prospect of any resolution to the situation in sight. Legalized dueling, buttressed with a carefully constructed legal framework, could once again restore to a proud people a renewed confidence in “truth, justice and the American way.”
Consider, for example: For some days that besieged, disheartened public has endured volley after volley of exchanged insults, initiated by President Trump, between himself and Rep. Elijah Cummings of Delaware. Had legalized dueling been in place, on the very first day, Rep. Cummings could have instantly responded to the President’s tirade against him with a challenge to an early morning shoot-out in one of the rat-infested back alleys of Baltimore. That city is not so far removed from the ebb and flow of the draining swamp of Washington D. C. that the President could not have foregone his early morning tweeted prints of wails to enthusiastically participate in such an exchange. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate pro tem could have served as witnesses with the secretaries of the Democratic and Republican National Committees as seconds and the Surgeon General as attending physician. The high drama of such a joust, with its quick resolution of matters of honor played out upon that cobbled field of courtly justice, could inspire us all to become a nation once again of doers of right rather than mere “simple dudleys” of hopeful observers of it only. After all, whose heart cockles are not warmed by Jean Shepherd’s tender reminiscence, “A Christmas Story,” in which the long-suffering, but hopeful Red Ryder aspirant, Ralphie, springs to action and beats the marauding yellow-eyed bully into a bloodied blubbering jelly?
One could argue that the President’s bulk places him somewhat at a disadvantage in an exchange of pistol-shots but recall that the challenged party has the choice of weapons. We could have a mud-slinging contest with real mud as ammunition instead of the shabby, horse- and bull-dropped variety we have so resigned ourselves to of late. Or perhaps a mud-wrestling contest would serve, with both combatants ultimately melding into a mutual black-faced unanimity.
Many say that the exalted nature of public office should not permit our elected officials to besmirch their conduct with such commonplace vulgarities as the observance of common courtesy or the rules of fair play, but I say that they are the very ones who should lead the rest of us by example. Consider, for instance, the sorry state of presidential debate. In one outtake from the movie “Tombstone,” during a high stakes poker game, Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday responds to the accusatory sneer of Ike Clanton with a challenge to a “nice game of spelling.” Translate that scene to the 2016 debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton when Trump approached the latter in a threatening manner. Had Clinton responded with a formal challenge to Trump to a nice game of spelling, and such a duel ensued, as a lawyer skilled in the art of language, she may have garnered additional votes in the subsequent election, and the readability of the present president’s early morning tweets may have been greatly enhanced. In the recent Democratic debates a beleaguered Joe Biden could have responded to Kamala Harris’s attack with a formal challenge to name various amendments to the U. S. Constitution. Such formal duels could be officiated by, say, juvenile National Spelling Bee winners or smart fifth-graders, their sense of fair play not yet sullied by the vagaries of life.
The legalization of dueling may well serve to decrease gun violence in this country. The NRA might be easily persuaded to abandon promotion of assault weapons in favor of espousing the proliferation of single-shot dueling pistols, heirloom pieces that one could pass on with teary-eyed pride to generations of descendants. Dueling legislation could even allow the confiscation of a loser’s pistols by the winner so that in time a successful duelist could build up a valuable collection of priceless pieces, with testamentary codicils directing the heirs against the dispersal, or melting down, of the collection in the event of severe economic recession. Individual items of
singular merit perhaps associated with mythic-level contests could be provided with letters of authenticity for future descendants, as was the slingshot of the shepherd boy David, passed down with reverent affection to Solomon and Rehoboam and their heirs, as attested in I Samuel and I Chronicles.
Common wisdom has it that the lack of face-to-face interaction on the internet has doomed personal communication to sink to the level of the meanest form of verbal bushwhackery. Some of the blame we could lay at the feet of our public school history teachers. Far too long have we allowed them to regale our children with stories commending to them by example the actions of wily Minutemen, hidden Indian-fashion behind rocks and trees, unmanly firing their muskets at the diminishing ranks of disciplined retreating British soldiers, their scarlet coats ablaze in the bright spring sunlight, maintaining an ill-fated esprit de corps with pluck and courage against an unseen enemy.
We must not forget those embattled farmers who stood their ground at the rude bridge that arched the flood, their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, courageously facing off to the British command to “disperse, you rebels, disperse.”
We must not forget that small band of “Texians” standing back to back with Kentucky and Tennessee squirrel rifles, against the overwhelming superior force of Santa Anna’s Mexicans, brave Americans ready to struggle and consecrate the ground of the former mission church, the Alamo, in the name of liberty, justice and the extension of Southern slavery.
We must not forget that other small, desperate band of cavalry troopers, at the Little Bighorn — Greasy Grass — firing round after round, their single-shot trapdoor carbines pitted against the bows and the Henry and Winchester repeating rifles of encircling Sioux and Cheyenne warriors, all the while benumbed and wondering what the hell happened to Major Reno and Captain Benteen.
We must not forget Randolph Scott, riding the trail alone, to the smell of gunsmoke, riding as another worthy Paladin, “a knight without armor in a savage land”, ready to succor and assist an outraged Justice beset with rampant moral depravity.
The history of our early Republic affords us many fine examples honoring the code of the duel, of which perhaps the exchange between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr is the best known. Even Andrew Jackson, the predecessor Mr. Trump would most like to emulate, practiced the “art of the duel”, most famously in his quarrel with Charles Dickinson. Indeed, what is our national pastime of baseball but a duel between a pitcher and a batter, with the teammates of the pitcher acting as seconds to counter the overly aggressive stance of the batter? Or who does not follow the thrust-and-parry of action on the basketball floor without a heartfelt heaven-directed thank you for the opportunity of a fouled player to shoot free throws to address the grievance?
Since no one of us, despite the best of intentions, is ever totally immune from being delivered of the occasional untoward remark disparaging the poverty of another’s political opinion, and, by extension, of his or her personal appearance, in order to provide a level playing field for all our citizens, all of our youth should learn the rudiments of the sport of dueling as a requirement in all our public schools, and strongly encouraged as an elective in our private ones.
Since many countries have a tradition of dueling bulwarked upon a national code of honor, the United Nations could earnestly encourage our President to chivalrously enter the lists in the international arena to provide satisfaction as a palliative to the wounded honor of the leaders of Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, China, Japan, Germany, Australia, various “African s---hole nations,” Afghanistan, Iran and the mayor of London, although to date he has spared the ducal and royal houses of Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Monaco, and the chieftainship of the Pacific island of Pogo.
Since the rules of fair play would require a brief respite between contests to afford our President ample opportunity to perform at his best, Mr. Trump’s reelection committee could easily argue the necessity of a second term so that he could at last retire the United States from the field with honor, having provided satisfaction to all comers. Our country could once again become a leader on the world stage, replacing the mass slaughter of war with a humane, quickly decided contest between national champions to settle international differences, thus ushering in at last that golden age of peace which our axial-age religious traditions have so longed for.
In conclusion, we must remember that, in spite of the doom and gloom of our daily news, somewhere in our favored land the sun is shining bright, somewhere children are laughing, and somewhere hearts are light. And yes, there must still be losers as well as winners. And yes, even mighty Casey can strike out, but if we as a nation commit ourselves to the program I have outlined above, at the end of the game, I don’t care what the scoreboard says, in my book, all of us together as a nation, despite race, creed — No! Because of race, creed, country of origin — all of us together will be winners!