There is only one reason to be a defender of the Second Amendment, the same reason the Framers had when they wrote it: fear of an overbearing government. As Thomas Jefferson said, “The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
Of course, those opposed to gun ownership will respond that there is no tyranny in government. The answer to that is governments all over the world within the last 100 years have killed more than 262 million of their own citizens. See R.J. Rummel, Death By Government (Transaction, 1997).
Most Americans are unaware of this sinister aspect of modern history, which Rummel calls “Democide,” and when they find out, a common response is denial, then after ten minutes on the internet, amazement. Many such innocents then insist that it can’t happen here. The simple answer to the can’t-happen-here idea is that anything can happen anywhere, and it’s not as if this slaughter was centuries removed from us or limited to a single country.
Many on the left will dismiss the need to protect against overreaching government merely because they believe the more power the government has, the better, for it has been their experience that only big government is likely to deliver what they cannot get otherwise. They do not believe big government capable of oppression. Such people will never recognize the validity of gun-rights arguments.
But others on the left, considering the blatant lethality of many modern governments, may be less sanguine about the nature of government, and it is these people, who when they are told of the reason for concern about gun rights, may for the first time appreciate the possible validity of the argument.
Many Second Amendment defenders are aware of the real danger of government overreaching, but fail to defend on that basis. For example, one of the most effective Second Amendment organizations I know of is a Pennsylvania group called Firearms Owners Against Crime (FOAC). This group has been instrumental in passing gun-rights legislation in Pennsylvania and its members are dedicated Constitutionalists. I believe, however, that FOAC’s very name, Firearms Owners Against Crime, sets up a confusion not only in the public mind but also in FOAC itself about what its concerns are. FOAC’s name suggests its concern is crime, not the possibility of government tyranny.
Once the debate over guns reverts to crime, recreational shooting, or hunting or any other red herring, Second Amendment defenders will have lost, for in the minds of many rational people, having guns to fight crime or to engage in one’s hobby is a matter of questionable importance. The police control crime and no one should get upset about a hobby.
Failure to engage on the level of guarding against government oppression has been a failing of the Second Amendment movement from the outset. Why did this occur? Probably because all of us have been indoctrinated from kindergarten on to believe that the only way to be a patriot is to support the existing government. We are reluctant to talk about resisting a tyrannical government and so we talk around it. Oddly, the Framers didn’t share our reluctance.
Had the modern understanding in this country been that ownership of guns under the Second Amendment is what makes us a free people who need not depend on the good will of elected officials or the generosity of oligarchs, society would be quite different. But instead, the common understanding at this point in time is that those who believe government may become oppressive are delusional and what is needed is a disarming of the public.
Children are expelled from school for bringing a toy gun in their backpack or forming a gun shape with their fingers, or in one case, squeezing a breakfast roll into what the teacher thought was a gun. Teachers openly spread hatred for guns and any student with enough temerity to write something that favors guns will be given a poor grade or possibly sent out for mental examination. That is how far gun phobia has gone in this society.
If gun ownership had been cast in its appropriate context of a guarantor against the possibility of an oppressive government, if the discussion were held in the context of the 262 million slaughtered by their own governments, many of them in our own lifetimes, and the many steps our own government has taken to eliminate gun ownership*, it would be apparent that those who oppose gun ownership are the delusional ones.**
But if Second Amendment supporters continue to shy away from the reality that the Second Amendment exists at all only because of the possibility of the emergence of an oppressive government, their defense of the Second Amendment will fail. And such a failure will be well-deserved.
* The president and the attorney general have made repeated but failed attempts to get anti-gun legislation passed. The president has, however, directed John Kerry to sign the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty, even though the Senate will not approve it. The new Surgeon General has taken the position that gun ownership is a threat to national health and advocates the questioning of patients about their guns, a process that is already being carried out in federal facilities such as the VA. Various Senators such as Feinstein and Schumer have conducted outright campaigns against gun ownership, and national organizations like Cease Fire (George Soros), the Brady Campaign, and the Bloomberg groups (funded by $50 million of Bloomberg’s money) have adamantly opposed gun ownership and work for its end.
** The observation that gun owners cannot compete against the military is less compelling than may appear at first blush. An armed populace presents the possibility of armed resistance to oppression. No government wants civil war, and with 200 – 400 million guns in circulation and the likelihood of 2 – 4 million combatants, government is likely to be dissuaded from abusing its fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the people.