If Democrats Ever Get Our Guns, They'll Get Our Freedom, Too
To celebrate their origins, the Republican Party holds Lincoln Day dinners, and the Democrats until recently held Jefferson-Jackson dinners. Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and the third U.S. president, has fallen out of favor because he owned slaves. In 1779, he wrote "A Bill Concerning Slaves" for Virginia, which, though it opened the door a crack toward eventual emancipation, still perpetuated slavery with harsh penalties for any infractions.
But for those who would denounce Jefferson as a racist, the bill does contain a provision on gun control that modern liberals want to expand upon. Section IX declares, "No slaves shall keep any arms whatever, nor pass, unless with written orders from his master or employer, or in his company, with arms from one place to another. Arms in possession of a slave contrary to this prohibition shall be forfeited to him who will seize them."
Gun control, or who would control guns, was for the Founders a question of who was free and who was not. The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights applied only to free people with the aim of keeping them free. The amendment mentions the "militia," and this has thrown some people off regarding the private ownership of guns. But the Founders established what the militia was in bills passed by Congress in 1792 and 1795. The 1795 Militia Act declared "[t]hat each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia." The militiamen were to provide their own guns and an initial amount of ammunition so as to be ready for action. This reflected experience during the Revolution, when the Minutemen were the first to take on the British Army.
The charge today against "assault rifles" (semi-automatic rifles) because they are "weapons of war" and thus illegitimate for private ownership falls flat in the face of the Founders' intent in the Second Amendment and subsequent laws. Every free able-bodied white male citizen was supposed to have a gun with which he could fight a war. Many of the Minutemen had rifles that were superior in range and accuracy to the muskets used by the British regular soldiers.
The purpose of gun ownership is not just hunting and sport (which the misnamed "assault rifles" are used for), but defense of both home and country. The right to self-defense is from natural law. As John Locke put it in his Second Treatise on Government, "I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction: for, by the fundamental law of nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible ... one may destroy a man who makes war upon him, or has discovered an enmity to his being, for the same reason that he may kill a wolf or a lion." It is illegitimate for government to deny to citizens the means for exercising their rights, particularly such a fundamental right as self-defense, self-preservation.
To the larger role of national defense, the 1792 Militia Act authorizes the militia to be called out to meet the threat of a foreign invasion or "an insurrection in any state." Though libertarians often concentrate on the "romance" of revolution against a despotic government as in 1776, citizens also have a duty to defend legitimate government from those would-be tyrants who would overthrow it or seize power by unlawful means.
The questions of self-defense and national security are still connected directly to the Second Amendment right of gun ownership built on natural law and historical experience. The argument has long been made by gun control advocates that the idea of a militia or personal defense is obsolete; government security forces can do the job better. Yet every day, people do have to defend themselves from criminals because, as the saying goes, "When seconds count, the police can be there in minutes." And that was before the left's campaign to "defund the police" to leave people more vulnerable than ever. Reducing the police and disarming the citizenry is an open invitation to crime, but what else can one expect from a party whose 2021 bill H.R. 1, a bill every Democratic member of the U.S. House was directed to formally co-sponsor, restores voting rights to convicted felons?
At the national security level, we do have an all-volunteer professional military. But we also have stand-by procedures for reinstating conscription during a major war, as has been the practice repeatedly in our history. In both cases, it is useful that those either volunteering or being drafted come into military service with a knowledge of firearms. Not just in America, but overseas, there have often been efforts to school the general public on guns just for this reason.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of the legendary Sherlock Holmes, was an advocate of "citizen soldiers" and supported the establishment of shooting clubs in Great Britain. Sherlock Holmes was a private citizen who engaged in crime-fighting and was a crack shot with a handgun. Conan Doyle himself tried to enlist during the Second Boer War but was turned down due to age (he was 40 in 1899). He went to war anyway, resuming his career as a doctor in a field hospital. While at sea on his way to the war zone, he was treated to a chorus of soldiers singing his poem "The Ballad of the Ranks." In it, Conan Doyle tours the British Isles asking the question "Who carries the gun?" The answer was everyone, everywhere. "It's you, and you, and you. So let us go, and we won't say no if they give us a job to do."
There is more than law and practicality involved in the gun issue; there is an entire spirit that is generated by an active and free people. It is this attitude that those on the left are determined to crush as they seek to create a meek and disarmed citizenry that no longer cares about the fate of the country.
The Founders had faith in the American people, a faith that the occasional mass shooting or even the weekly gun violence in many urban centers should not lead one to discard. The two mass shootings this month in Atlanta and Boulder were not committed by normal Americans, but by individuals living on the fringe of society. Broad gun control measures that would impact mainly everyday, law-abiding people are way off target. They would not reduce violence by criminals or madmen; they would only reduce freedom and the ability of common citizens to defend themselves against criminals and madmen. Consider: in 2019, three blue states with low gun ownership (less than 20%) and tough gun control laws (New York, Illinois, and California) had a combined total of over 3,000 murders, concentrated in their largest gang- and drug-infected cities.
Over 100 million Americans own guns. If guns were the problem, the number of shootings would be orders of magnitude higher. In fact, there have been only 85 mass shootings this century. That is fewer than five per year on average, and, again, these killers were not normal individuals by any means. To reduce this threat, the target should be the type of abnormal individual who can be identified as dangerous.
It is the person who pulls the trigger who is to blame. The vast, vast majority of gun owners are assets to society, not threats. In a democracy, isn't the common citizen to be trusted in the exercise of his rights?
William R. Hawkins is an economist and widely published author in the field of national security with a long career in academe, at think-tanks, and on Capitol Hill.
Image via Pxhere.