The People against So and So
What enabled civil societies in general, and American frontier societies in particular, to put aside the concept of “six-gun justice” and turn over responsibility for their protection to the police and the courts? The one-word the answer is trust.
In English courts, people are arrested, tried, and punished for breaking the Queen’s law. The case is presented in court as "The Queen against So and So." Here in the U.S. it is different; cases are here presented as "The People against So and So."
Those later words represent a beautiful concept: that you and I – our families and communities – need not be concerned about the protection of our lives and property, because we as a people look out for one another. That you and I need not carry a firearm on our person, or even be trained in the use of such, because there is someone we trust to care for that for us. To protect our persons, our property, and our rights.
In frontier towns of the old west, this was a marvelous thing. It enabled the farmer, the rancher, the store keeper, the teacher, the doctor, the homemaker – everyone – to concentrate on his or her own affairs. If anyone came into town with harmful intent, the appointed Marshall was there to stop him. If there was a question of intent, or a disagreement under law, then there was a trusted judge, and a body of citizens making up a jury, to hear the facts of the case and see to it that justice was done, that the innocent were protected, that the guilty were punished. And that being the case, the "six gun" – the "great equalizer," as it was called – could be consigned to a drawer. Citizens going about their daily affairs simply would no longer feel the need to carry one. They were safe. Their interests were secured by others that they knew they could trust.
If one sees the existence of police and courts in this light – not just as something that "is," and that for some unspecified reason deserves our obedience and respect – then the reasons for the slow turning back toward “frontier justice” in America becomes understandable.
As police become increasingly seen as the "other" – as ones to be feared, as heavily armed agents for those whose interests are not necessarily our interests – we simply no longer feel safe. And if the courts, too, are seen not as being there to protect us – if the charges brought in court do not in reality reflect "The people against so an so,” – then where is the "great equalizer,” the thing that protects our rights and property? The safety of our families? Our interests? Might we not, then, see the need to reclaim that six-shooter – that "great equalizer" – from the drawer and again strap it, if not literally, then figuratively, on our hip?
That is exactly what we see happening in America today. And this root cause – the realization that in many cases, the police and courts are there not to protect us, but to protect the interests of others (indeed, often the interests of the government itself) – is leading people to again see the need to start "strapping on their six-shooters." They are doing this, individually and as groups, not for some nefarious reason, but simply to assure their own protection and the protection of all that they love.
Who is responsible for this change? Those who make the police the armed "other." Those who make the courts the tool of special interests – especially the interests of the government itself.
People like Mayor Bloomberg can pay others to create advertisements designed to make people afraid of guns. But in truth, legitimate fear is what makes people want to carry a gun in the first place.
You cannot carry a policeman, a lawyer, or a judge in your pocket, or strap him to your hip. But in effect, the government can and does. Well-funded special interests can and do. You can, though, carry a pistol.
If we again want the farmer, the rancher, the store keeper, the teacher, the doctor, the homemaker – everyone – to be able go through life concentrating solely on his or her own affairs and without concern for his or her own safety, then the police and the courts have to once again truly be able to say, on their – on our – behalf, that their case is "the people against so and so,” not so and so against the people.
Sadly, we as a nation currently seem to going in the opposite direction.
Don Sucher has enjoyed a long career as an imager and writer for a wide range of web and print publications. His personal blog can be found at http://donstnt.blogspot.com.