Twenty-five years ago, a little after sunrise on a Monday morning, the front door of my house was kicked in by a man who had blown his mind with crack cocaine. He marched my family upstairs at gunpoint. When I reached the top of the stairs and turned around, he put the gun in my forehead and pulled the trigger.
I’ve always heard it was good to begin a composition with an arresting opening paragraph. That’s the catchiest one I can offer from an otherwise modest biography. I hope the rest of this essay lives up to the opening. I’ll do my best.
I don’t mind admitting this incident gave me a lifelong aversion to guns. I don’t have any objection to other law-abiding citizens bearing arms – in fact, I’m strongly in favor of it. It’s just not a right I have chosen to exercise, although I’m working on getting over it. I’m fascinated by the beauty and science of firearms. I rarely pass a gun magazine on the stands without flipping it open, and I love attending gun shows. My first close encounter with a gun was rather… intense, so I’m understandably nervous around them. I recently discovered I’m a remarkably good shot with a target rifle, after some friends invited me to shoot with them. I’ve decided twenty-five years is long enough to be uncomfortable around the reality of something I’ve always supported in theory.
The Second Amendment is once again in the news, as the Supreme Court considers a case that would invoke the Fourteenth Amendment to apply it to the states, striking down restrictive state and local gun-control laws… oh, wait. You’re probably wondering why I’m still here, having been shot in the head and all. Well, I got lucky. I was able to knock the gun out of the way just in time, and the bullet wound up in the wall, instead of my brain. I had managed to make a hasty call to the police as the door was being kicked in, and they arrived to find the perp and I wrestling for control of the weapon at the bottom of the stairs. No one died in my house that day.
I wish the Supreme Court would do more than rule the Second Amendment applies to the states. It’s long past time the last, ridiculous cobwebs of ambiguity were cleared away from the right to keep and bear arms. Gun control has been simmering on low heat for a while, after boiling over in the Nineties. We should clear it off the Constitutional stove altogether. We have better things to do than slip into another bitter, tedious argument about whether the government can interfere with our right, and duty, to defend ourselves.
The notion that citizens have no good reason to be armed, because the State can protect them from violent crime, is one of the most dangerous lies Big Government has fed its subjects. The government reduces crime through the police and court systems, but no matter how tirelessly the police work, there is very little chance they can actively defend you from assault. There aren’t enough of them, and there never could be. The very areas of privacy that allow us to relax with our friends and families will always be soft targets for criminals… unless we fortify them ourselves. The police arrived at my house several minutes too late to play a role in my attempted execution. They made excellent time – there happened to be a unit in the area. If things had gone a little different, they might have arrived just in time to avenge me.
Citizen access to firearms has reduced crime rates time and again, but this is more than a matter of practicality. It’s a question of principle. The people of an orderly nation surrender the business of vengeance to the government, replacing it with the rule of law. They cannot be expected to surrender the right of defense. The right to protect yourself, and your family, from injury and death is an essential part of your dignity as a free man or woman. Without the First Amendment, you are a slave. Without the Second, you are a child.
The Western nations which have abandoned this essential understanding of an individual’s right to self-defense have become rotting orphanages filled with dependent children. They’re not dealing very well with the invasion of a determined ideology that has complete confidence in its own righteousness, and few reservations about using violence to assert itself. Losing the dignity of self-defense is part of the degeneration from master of the State to its client. As this dignity fades, the people and their government speak less of responsibilities, and more of entitlements.
The Second Amendment is a concrete expression of the American birthright of independence. With the right of self-defense bargained away, our rights to speak and vote give us modest influence in a collective. The Founders wanted more, and better, for us.
Sometimes liberals sneer at the idea we might keep arms against government tyranny, because a bunch of pistol-packing Tea Party types have no chance of repeating the success of the Revolution against a modern military force. This completely misses the point. A disarmed populace has little choice but to obey orders. If the population is armed, a tyrant’s forces have to do more than just brandish their weapons… they’d have to start pulling triggers. Victory for a righteous populace would come in the military’s refusal to pull those triggers. Tyranny should never be easy. Of course, it should never come to that again, in the United States. As long as the population is armed, this is an understanding, and a duty… not an assumption.
The right to keep and bear arms is a crucial intersection of liberty and obligation. A gun owner is entrusted with the solemn duty to tend his weapons carefully and securely. In accepting this duty, we remove the destiny of our loved ones from the hands of madmen, and it is no longer measured by the distance of a friendly police car from our homes. It would be a mark of our maturity as a nation if we stopped telling ourselves that freedom can exist in the absence of responsibility… or danger. The shards of those illusions carry sharp edges, when they shatter.
The New York Times article about the case before the Supreme Court ends this way:
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority has made clear that it is very concerned about the right to bear arms. There is another right, however, that should not get lost: the right of people, through their elected representatives, to adopt carefully drawn laws that protect them against other people’s guns.
Carefully drawn laws will not protect you from other people’s guns. Believe me. None of the people carefully drawing those laws will rely upon them for their protection.
Cross-posted at www.doczero.org.
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