There has been much discussion over the past year about the place of guns in American society, and rightly so. The ongoing situation in Oregon is helping keep alive that discussion in 2016. But one question I rarely hear (except from reason.com) is “Why are guns constitionally protected?” and “Is that protection justified?”
The usual invocation of the need for a constitutional protection for guns is that firearms are the last line of defense against tryanny. But are they? Should they be? I believe that the answer to both questions is “No.” And the rise of “Vanilla ISIS” is just the latest indication.
Proponents of gun rights state that guns are the final defense against unjust government actions, that if government literally points a gun at your head, you should be able to point one back. Ben Carson was one of the latest to make this argument, saying that if Jews had been armed they could have prevented the Holocaust.
His statement was rightly ridiculed, and shown to be historically inaccurate. And it doesn’t take much thought to realize that if the French and Russian armies could not keep the Nazis from their objectives, would some rifles in the ghettoes made any difference? Probably not.
If that does not convince you, how about some other examples. Iraq apparently has a gun culture at least in the league of the US. Did this prevent them from being invaded by the US? Did all those guns prevent terrorists from pretty much running rampant for 10 years? No, in both cases.
If you are still not convinced, let’s do a thought experiment with YallQueda in Oregon. If we lived in a military dictatorship, how do you think their AR-15s would fare against the drone strike that could easily be ordered? What would YallQueda do against Korea’s H-Bomb?
Guns may have had some benefit against tyrannical government when all that government had was muskets. AR-15s are simply no match to F-15s. So, firearms are no longer the last line of defense against tryanny, foreign or domestic.
The even larger question is do we even want to enshrine this as a right? I say that enshrining gun rights in a modern democracy is counter-productive. Once again YallQueda proves the point.
The people in these “militias” feel that an injustice has been done, and perhaps they are right. But they also feel that the way to redress those grievances is to point a gun at someone. Is that what we want as a society? Is not the ability to elect people with similar points of view, the right to freely talk about their grievances and the right to petition the government enough?
Before you answer, keep in mind that others feel they are under tyranny from governmental forces, that is to say, broadly speaking, the Black Lives Matter movement. Should their constiutional rights allow armed occupations of police stations?
When political power was ensconced in a person (a king) and government was tyrannical, it could be argued that the removal (killing) of the king could be justified. But if a democracy should become “tyrannical” whom shall we kill? Everyone? Those who disagree?
Again, YallQueda provides a bit of an object lesson. They seem to feel that lands were tyranically taken from private citizens and should be given back to them. Maybe. But the question for the Second Amendment is “Should they be able to redress their grievance at gun point?” Or is the First Amendment enough?
I say the First Amendment is enough. Let them make their case. If they convince enough people that the best use of land is ranching and mining, then it will eventually be so. If they don’t convince many people of that proposition, some time may have been wasted, but ultimately no harm has been done. If they start shooting people to make their point…well, you can see where that goes.
Unfortunately, we cannot rid the world of all “tryanny,” at least in part because one man’s “effective government” is another’s “tyranny.”
Rand Paul and Ted Cruz both came out with similar statements about the Oregon situation, here is what Paul had to say:
“I’m sympathetic to the idea that the large collection of federal lands ought to be turned back to the states and the people, but I think the best way to bring about change is through politics,” Paul told the Washington Post in an interview. “That’s why I entered the electoral arena. I don’t support any violence or suggestion of violence toward changing policy.”
I don’t agree with the first part of his statement, but am in full agreement with his second. In the modern world the best way to effect change is politics, that is to say, discussion, First Amendment rights, not Second.
That being said, I am not in favor of removing all private ownership of guns. I just don’t believe they deserve special constitutional protection. The protections offered for other forms of property ownership (cars, houses, computers) are sufficient for guns as well.
Guns are not the final protection against tyranny in the modern world. Free association, free speech, freedom of assembly are the tools of democracy, not violence or the threat of violence, as Senator Paul said.
Some folks will say that we still need gun ownership to prevent the removal of democratic protections. Again, this argument doesn’t seem to hold in practice. Hitler was able to move Germany away from its democratic reforms because the people there approved of his ideas. Killing a few storm troopers and maybe even Hitler himself probably would not have changed the sweep of history that much. On the other hand, the strength of democracy in modern Germany is very strong and cannot easily be taken away, because the people there are convinced of its benefits, not because they have been coerced into this position by some military force.
Enforcing change at the point of a gun is the policy of ISIS — it is a barbarism of the past. Gun ownership should no longer be in the constitution as a fundamental right.