When I was a little kid, I asked my dad about an image I had seen of really huge numbers of prisoners being marched to their execution in a forest clearing, guarded by perhaps five or ten men with rifles. I wanted to know why they didn't just rush the guards. I mean, it's one thing if they were heading to another miserable day at work camp, but these people were being led off to be killed, and they knew it. I mean, for God's sake, what did they have to lose?
I was six. My dad looked at me. He had served in the latter days of WW2 in Europe as a U.S. Army intelligence officer. No parachuting onto the decks of enemy U-Boats at night to steal Enigma machines -- just unexceptional, unheroic, 2nd Lieutenant grunt work. He'd been to the camps though, seen some horrible things. When I asked him why they didn't fight back or run for the woods, he said, without any arrogance or contempt or jingoism, "I don't know Billy, I can't figure that one out myself." Then there was a long moment. "But I can't imagine Americans just walking off like that, either."
Now when he said he couldn't imagine Americans marching off to their deaths, he meant, obviously, Americans like the ones he knew. Kids who grew up hunting, kids who got a BB gun for their fifth birthday -- tough, adventurous, American kids whose mom's never gave a second thought to them shooting their eye out with a Red Ryder air rifle.
Now before we go any further, I want to be crystal clear about something: I don’t believe for an instant in any genetic nonsense about slave races or nations of pure-bred heroes. That’s a deadly trap, and the end result of such thinking is a place on the watchtower machine-gunning starving prisoners. But humans are the most successful species this planet has seen, not for being ferocious or fast or strong or even intelligent, but for their malleability. Humans can, and do, adapt to anything. It is their culture that determines what is in their hearts.
Consider the case of Jews in Germany, during the 1930s. Here was a people who had been so tormented and persecuted and psychologically beaten down that they had come to believe the outrageous slander that they were guests in their own country. Behind their shuttered doors at night, they created cocoons of astonishing culture and beauty, a symphony of violins and cellos and poetry and literature. They were far over-represented in occupations we rightly esteem as among the most noble of our species: surgeons, musicians, teachers and scientists.
By any measure of human decency, these were the people that should have been helping to lead a ravaged Germany back to respect and prosperity. Yet they were massacred in their millions by brutes and sadists who sent millions to their deaths while listening to symphonies.
If it is possible to write a clearer lesson on human nature, then I cannot imagine it, nor can I imagine the amount of blood it will take to convince people unwilling to look reality in the face; that reality being that compassion, culture, law and philosophy are precious, rare and acquired habits that must be defended with force against people who understand nothing but force. The great failure and staggering tragedy of European Jews is that they could not accept that some of their neighbors were not as decent, humane and educated as they were. A culture that learned to survive by turning inward simply never was willing to face the reality of what they were up against; namely, that hoping for compassion and humanity from the likes of the Nazis was akin to reading poetry to a hurricane. This denial -- and that is the only word for it -- is, in the final horrible analysis, a form of arrogance, almost: the refusal to see things for what they are. A people of astonishing internal beauty simply could not look into the face of such ugliness without turning away. And now they are dead.
And there are many intelligent, enlightened, gentle and good-hearted people today who believe exactly the same thing. If we let this moral blindness continue to gain ground, then they will get us all killed, too. And then who will put their boot on humanity’s neck for the next thousand years?
I recently visited a website that featured a picture of Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, with the caption: My hero! Someone who thinks his way out of trouble! The implication, of course, is that force and violence are universally to be rejected and despised as unworthy of thinking people (or Vulcans).
Well bucko, Spock carried a phaser as well as a tricorder, and he used it when he had to. If the Star Trek future represents a hope for our species at its most reasonable and open-minded best, it would be well to remember that the Enterprise carried a hell of a lot of photon torpedoes because the cause of human decency cannot be advanced if all the decent humans lie dead.
To the many who scorn the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution as the dangerous plaything of illiterate, mindless oafs who enjoy loud noises, let me simply refer you to that great unbiased and incorruptible teacher: History.
Ask yourselves why intellectual elites so love totalitarian states where people are unarmed and dependent sheep. Look at the examples of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Saddam, and the horrors they have inflicted at will on their own people. And when contemplating your ever-so-sophisticated foreign policy, ask yourselves what compassionate and non-violent options you are left with when facing a determined, heartless bastard like Hitler, Napoleon, Ghengis Khan or Attila.
Some say that the time for real evil like that has finally gone. I hope you are right, I really do. I don't want to go fight those bastards; I'd rather barbeque and watch the Gators. I'm sure the Jews in 1930 Germany thought such things could never happen again, not in the heart of European culture and civilization. I'm sure every bound and beaten musician, surgeon, philosopher and painter being lined up at the side of a ditch thought exactly that.
Freedom is preserved by free people. Our 40th President wrote that “no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.”
I believe gun ownership is the truest form of freedom, and here's why: It says you are your own person, responsible for your own actions. You are, in other words, expected to behave as an adult. It says, furthermore, that you should not be collectively punished for the misdeeds of others. In fact, those that abuse this freedom by committing crimes are thought of and dealt with much more harshly by gun owners, as a rule, than Hollywood celebrities, precisely because a free person understands the responsibility that comes with freedom.
This, to my mind, is the fundamental difference between the Europeans and the U.S.: We trust the people. We fought wars and lost untold husbands and brothers and sons because of this single most basic belief: Trust the people. Trust them with freedom. Trust them to spend their own money. Trust them to do the right thing. Trust them to defend themselves. To the degree that government can help, great -- but TRUST THE PEOPLE.
We as a nation suffer an appalling number of handgun-related deaths each year -- perhaps 11,000 of them. The number is not important; each is a personal tragedy and those lives can never be replaced.
If we attempt to reduce this horrible number by banning handguns, we are taking away the property of a person who has broken no laws, by a government whose legitimacy is determined by a document that specifically allows that property, namely guns.
Destroy that trust by punishing the innocent, by pulling a plank from the Bill of Rights, and the contract between the government and the people falls apart. Once the Second Amendment goes, the First will soon follow, because if some unelected elite determines that the people can't be trusted with dangerous guns, then it's just a matter of time until they decide they can't be trusted with dangerous ideas, either. Dangerous ideas have killed many millions more people than dangerous handguns -- listen to the voices from the Gulag, the death camps, and all the blood-soaked killing fields through history.
The Framers, in their wisdom, put the 2nd Amendment there to give teeth to the revolutionary, unheard-of idea that the power rests with We The People. They did not depend on good will or promises. They made sure that when push came to shove, we'd be the ones doing the pushing and shoving, not the folks in Washington. And by the way, gun rights supporters are frequently mocked when they say it deters foreign invasion -- after all, come on, grow up, be realistic: Who's nuts enough to invade America? Exactly. It's unthinkable. Good. 2nd Amendment Mission 1 accomplished.
But back to the undeniable domestic cost: when confronted with the idea of banning handguns to reduce this horrible toll, many handgun defenders are tempted to point to the numbers killed on the highways each year -- perhaps four times that number -- and ask why we don’t ban cars as well.
The logical response is that bans on travel -- cars, airplanes, etc. -- are a false analogy compared to banning guns, because cars have a clear benefit while guns don't do anything other than kill what they are aimed at.
While that is exactly true, I think it misses the point, which to me is simply this: we'd never ban automobile travel to avoid thousands of highway deaths. It's clearly not worth it in both economic and personal freedom terms. We choose, reluctantly, and with many a lost loved one in mind, to keep on driving.
Here is my dry-eyed, cold-hearted, sad conclusion: I believe that the freedom, convenience and economic viability provided by the automobile is worth the 40,000 lives we lose to automotive deaths each year -- a number made more horrible by the fact that perhaps 40% are related to drunk driving and are therefore preventable.
By the same calculation, I accept that the freedoms entrusted to the people of the United States are worth the 11,000 lives we lose to gun violence each year.
I wish I could make both those numbers go away. I will support any reasonable campaign to make them as low as possible.
But understand this: 11,000 handgun deaths a year, over four years is very roughly 50,000 killed. In Nazi Germany, an unarmed population was unable to resist the abduction and murder of 6,000,000 people in a similar period: a number 120 times higher. Throw in the midnight murders of the Soviets, the Chinese, the various and sundry African and South American genocides and purges and political assassinations and that number grows to many hundreds, if not several thousand times more killings in unarmed populations.
Visualize this to fully appreciate the point. Imagine the Superbowl. Every player on the field is a handgun victim. All the people in the stands are the victims who were unable to resist with handguns. Those are historical facts.
I, myself, am willing to pay that price as a society -– knowing full well that I or a loved one may be part of that terrible invoice. I wish it was lower. Obviously, I wish it didn’t exist at all. But any rational look into the world shows us places where the numbers of innocents murdered by their own governments in unarmed nations are far, far higher.
Of course, many societies have far lower numbers. Japan is a fine example. I'm sure if the United States had 2000 years of a culture whose prize assets were conformity and submission, then our numbers would be a lot lower. Alas, we are not that society. Thank God, we are not that society.
It is abundantly clear that the rate of handgun murders in the United States is not uniform. Very large murder rates can be observed in small, exceedingly violent populations of every race in this country, and these rates seem to be more related to issues of income, education and living conditions. Certainly guns are freely available in areas where our murder rates are appallingly high. They are also found in very large numbers in communities where handgun crime is virtually nonexistent.
Doesn’t that tell us that there is something deeper at work here? Could it be, perhaps, that the problem is not with the number of guns in this country but rather in the hearts of those who we allow to wield them, repeatedly? Could it really be as simple as apprehending, and punishing, those that would do harm to innocents and to civilization? Rather than banning guns, should we not attack the moral rot that infests these small, violent populations of every color who put such horrible numbers at our feet?
Assume for a moment you could vaporize every gun on the planet. Would crime go away? Or would ruthless, physically strong gangs of young men be essentially able to roam free and predate at will?
The history of civilization shows time and time again how decent, sophisticated city dwellers amass wealth through cooperation and the division of labor -- only to be victimized by ruthless gangs of raping, looting cutthroats who couldn't make a fruit basket, sweeping down on them, murdering them and carting away the loot, to return a few years later, forever, ad infinitum. Vikings, Mongols, desperadoes of every stripe -- they are a cancer on humanity, but there they are and there they have always been.
If civilization is worth having -- and it is -- then it has to be defended, because the restraining virtues of justice, compassion and respect for laws are products of that civilizing force and completely unknown to those who would do it harm.
Therefore, since I believe in this civilization, in its laws, science, art and medicine, I believe we must be prepared to defend it against what I feel no embarrassment for calling the Forces of Darkness. Those forces could be raiders on horseback, jackbooted Nazi murderers, ecstatic human bombs, or some kid blowing away a shopkeeper.
For the gun-ban argument to be convincing, you'd have to show me a time before shopkeepers were blown away, hacked away, pelted away or whatever the case may be. You would have to show me a time in history before the invention of the firearm, when crime and raiding and looting did not exist, when murders and rapes did not exist. We may lose 11,000 people to handguns a year. How many would we lose without any handguns, if murderers and rapists roamed free of fear, ignoring reprisal from citizens or police? I don't know. You don't know either. Maybe it's a lot fewer people, and maybe, in a world where strength and ruthlessness trump all, it would be a far higher one.
You may argue that only the police should be allowed to carry guns. Consider this carefully. Do we really want to create an unelected subculture that views itself as so elite and virtuous as to be the only ones worthy of such power, trust and authority? Have we not clearly seen the type of people drawn to such exclusive positions of authority, and the attitudes and arrogance it promotes?
Furthermore, I can't see any moral distinction between a policeman and a law-abiding citizen. Policemen are drawn from the ranks of law-abiding citizens. They are not bred in hydroponics tanks. They are expected to show restraint and use their weapon as a last resort. Millions upon millions of citizens, a crowd more vast than entire armies of police, do exactly this every day.
If all of these horrors had sprung up as a result of the invention of the handgun I'd be right there beside those calling for their destruction.
But clearly, this is not the case. In our cowboy past we used to say that "God created Man, but Sam Colt made them equal." This is simple enough to understand. It means that a villager, let's say a schoolteacher, can defeat a human predator who may have spent his entire life practicing the art of war. Firearms are what tipped the balance toward civilization by eliminating a lifetime spent studying swordplay or spear play or pointed-stick play. The bad guys have always used weapons and they always will. The simple truth about guns is that they are damn effective and even easier to operate. They level the playing field to the point where a woman has a chance against a gang of thugs or a police officer can control a brawl.
I don't see how vaporizing all the guns in the world would remove crime or violence -- history shows these have always been with us and show no signs of responding favorably to well-reasoned arguments or harsh language. I wish it were not true. I wish the IRS did not exist either, but there it is.
Criminals, and criminal regimes ranging from The Brow-Ridged Hairy People That Live Among the Distant Mountains all the way through history to the Nazis and the Soviets, have and will conspire to take by force what they cannot produce on their own. These people must be stopped. The genius of the 2nd Amendment is that it realizes that these people could be anybody -- including the U.S. Army. That is why this power, like the other powers, is vested in the people. Nowhere else in the world is this the case. You can make a solid argument that the United States is, by almost any measure, the most prosperous, successful nation in history. I'm not claiming this is because every American sleeps with a gun under the pillow -- the vast majority do not. I do claim it is the result of a document that puts faith and trust in the people -- trusts them with government, with freedom, and with the means of self-defense. You cannot remove that lynchpin of trust without collapsing the entire structure. Many observers of America never fully understand what we believe in our bones, namely, that the government doesn't tell us what we can do -- WE tell THOSE bastards just how far they can go.
Of course, all of this is completely whimsical, because, like nuclear weapons, guns are HERE and they are not going to go away. You cannot just vaporize them. Honest people might be compelled to turn in their weapons; criminals clearly will not. So what do you propose? Forget the moral high ground of gun ownership. Again a simple truth, often maligned but demonstrably dead-on accurate: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
The American Revolution surely is unique in the sense that its ringleaders -- Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, etc -- were men of property, wealth and prestige; in other words, men with something to lose. Compare this to any other revolution in history, where the ringleaders were outsiders; plotters staring in through the windows of prosperity, powerless. The Russian Revolution, French Revolution, etc -- these were joined by desperate people fighting mind-numbing poverty and severe political repression.
And yet the Founding Fathers were men who were as well-off as any men on earth at the time, and furthermore, any of them could have been (and were) political leaders under His Majesty's government. The average colonial farmer likewise led a life far more comfortable than those of his cousins in Europe, to say nothing of Asia or Africa.
For all practical intents and purposes, these people had absolutely nothing to gain, and everything in the world to lose, by taking on the greatest military force the world had ever known. Why would they do this? What possible motivation could well-off, comfortable people have? Militarily, they seemed certain to lose, and they knew before they started -- and Patrick Henry made that abundantly clear -- that they would be hanged as common criminals if they failed.
Of course, the answer is, they did it to be free. And they did it to make the rest of their nation -- the poor, the disenfranchised -- free as well. And it is clear as crystal from their collective writings that they took that risk to make Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore and the rest of us in their unseen posterity free, too. They could look down the dim, moonlit riverbanks of the future and see a society worthy of their sacrifice and determination. They knew that God, (or for me, chance perhaps) had put them together in a time and place where bold, courageous action, followed by much suffering, doubt, blood and fear could, perhaps, unleash in mankind an energy source the likes of which they could not imagine.
So for me, a child of that bet -- that guess, that commitment, that roll of the dice -- for me, I owe them the defense of that freedom, and I will do my poor mite to pass it on as best I can. These men pledged to each other their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor. They pledged that to me. I owe them. I do not have the right to take away someone else's freedom and property -- it is offensive to me to even contemplate it. Of course, if someone breaks the freedom/responsibility covenant by committing a crime, then all bets are off. To that extent, I view handgun murderers not just as criminals, but as traitors as well.
I hate seeing our kids get shot on the street, I hate it, I hate it. But that is the cost of freedom. People get horribly killed on Spring Break road trips to Florida at age 18. They're driving drunk. We could prevent them from going. We would save lives. Enron and MCI steal like the worst characters from Dickens, taking people's Christmas dinners so they can have gold plated faucets. We could regulate more, make things harder for the millions of honest businesses that build and trade honorably each day. The day may come when someone flies a Cessna into a stadium. We can ban the airplanes. Ditto for pleasure boats. We can ban and confiscate and regulate to our hearts content, and we will undoubtedly save many, many innocent lives by doing so. All for the price of a little freedom.
I believe we should punish the perpetrators. I will not agree to restrict the freedoms of the vast numbers of people who abide by the concomitant responsibility and live lives of honesty and decency.
And there is more than the physical restriction of freedoms: There is the slow erosion of self-reliance, self-confidence and self-determination among a nation. The more your government restricts your options, the more you psychologically look to government to keep you safe, fed, clothed, housed and sustained.
There is a word for people who are fed, clothed, housed and sustained fully by others, and that word is SLAVES.
If Congress were occupied by angels and Michael sat in a throne of glory in the Oval Office, I would listen to what they said for my own greater good. But I have noticed that no government is made of angels, and that many seem to be exclusively staffed by members of the opposite persuasion. So who determines how much freedom we trade for how much security? People do. People are not unknown to place their own interests above those of others. There is even a vanishing remote chance that Jean Cretien has at some point perhaps put personal interest above those of his constituents.
The real genius of the Founding Fathers was that these great and good men had the foresight and the courage to look into their own darker motives, and construct a system that prevents the accumulation of power.
The Constitution they created could only be torn up by force of arms. And that is why the Founders left that power in the hands of the people, who together can never be cowed by relatively small numbers of thugs holding the only guns.
As PJ O'Rourke points out, the U.S. Constitution is less than a quarter the length of the owner's manual for a 1998 Toyota Camry, and yet it has managed to keep 300 million of the world's most unruly, passionate and energetic people safe, prosperous and free. Smarter people than me may disagree with that document -- I'm for not touching a comma.
So as a proud son of those brave men, I'll take freedom -- all of it -- and because I accept the benefits of those freedoms, I'll solemnly take the responsibilities as well. I may someday lose a child on a trip to Spring Break, but I'll never lock them in the basement to keep them safe. And I'll accept the fact that living in Los Angeles puts me at risk for being shot to death because I feel the freedom is worth it. I breathe that freedom every day, and hey, we all gotta go sometime. I'll continue to fly experimental airplanes because I am careful, meticulous, precise and responsible, and yet the day may come when I am out of altitude, out of airspeed, and out of ideas all at the same time. Oh well. I have seen and done things up there that you cannot imagine and I cannot describe. Freedom.
Our failures and disgraces cruelly remind us that we, like every other government, are composed of fallible men and women with no divine ability to read the future or foresee all outcomes. But these failures are failures of action, action borne of confidence and a belief in our way of life, and come all the more painful for their contrast to the everyday standards to which we hold ourselves as a people and a nation. For it is an undeniable fact that no great nation in history has held a shadow of our measure of power, and yet exercised it with such restraint, nor does any time in the bloody history of warfare reflect a people so magnanimous in victory against enemies sworn to their murder and destruction. From our first hour, we have been, and remain, the beacon of hope and freedom for a world desperate and longing for such an example, and we can measure our success in building such a place by the numbers of those who are literally dying in an attempt to come and be part of it.
Our ancestors made their choice and here we are. I respect anyone’s right to choose differently. I only speak up to defend the choice we Americans made as a deeply spiritual one, borne of reflection and danger and a spectacular triumph against all odds. I cannot stand idly by to hear people denounce our freedoms as the dimwitted macho posturing of a mob of illiterate uncultured idiots who are so vulgar and uncouth as to still believe in Hollywood myths manufactured for our simple, complacent, unsophisticated nature.
From the Revolution until today, the choice for full freedom with all its accompanying excesses and failures is a profoundly well-reasoned, moral and ethical choice, and the result has been national and personal success unparalleled in the history of this world.
I am deeply proud to be a member of such a magnificent group of people. I hope to God I can give back as much as I owe.Posted by Proteus at December 22, 2002 9:47 PM