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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

“Could It Happen Here?” It Did.

Private gun ownership is an indispensable right

Charles C.W. Cooke has an op-ed at the Washington Post about gun rights and gun control that is so good it should practically be mandatory reading.

He begins by dismissing the usual “data journalism” approach, which supposes that torturing the numbers will eventually yield up a normative answer about whether an individual should be allowed to own guns.

Instead, he focuses on the rights of “life” and “liberty” that led the Founders to enshrine a right to own firearms in the Bill of Rights: the means of defense against both private violence and public tyranny. Cooke writes,

Reacting to this argument, we often hear advocates of gun control propose that the Founders’ observations are irrelevant because they could “not have imagined the modern world.”

I agree with the latter assertion: They couldn’t have. As well-read in world history as they were, there is no way that they could have foreseen just how prescient they were in insisting on harsh limitations of government power. … 

In the past century … tyranny involved the systematic execution of entire groups and the enslavement of whole countries. The notion that if James Madison had foreseen the 20th century he would have concluded that the Bill of Rights was too generous is laughable.

Nor could the Founders have imagined the entrenched tyranny that would arise in their own country. Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Company were hypocrites, certainly — like so many at the time they spoke of equality and liberty while indulging slavery — but the generation that met at Philadelphia did at least consider that the institution would die out peacefully. Instead, it was abolished only by bloody force, and then transmuted into something almost as abhorrent.

Conservatives who are scared of tyrants often ask, “Could it happen here?”  Well, it did. Jim Crow, the KKK, lynching, legal segregation — for a period, the South was everything a free man should fear.

When Ida B. Wells noted that “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give,” she was confirming an age-old truth: The gun is a great equalizer, and the state a capricious beast.

Jim Crow is just one case where the government was both oppressive and neglectful — a threat in itself and also an idle bystander while citizens were attacked, robbed, and killed. There are places to this day where, albeit for different reasons, police are considered more threat than protection.

To the 20th century’s record of racial violence, compulsory segregation, and wartime concentration camps, we might also add the 19th’s Indian removals, land confiscation, wars, and death marches.

It happened here. And not just once. It’s foolish to think that nothing like it could ever happen again.

Cooke concludes,

Does everyone who uses a firearm to protect himself survive? Of course not. But as a free man, I do not consider my inalienable rights to be contingent upon my ability to exercise them successfully. I may debate freely, even if I am destined to lose the argument. I may enjoy a jury trial even if I am guilty. And I may defend my life and my liberty even if I eventually succumb.

It is from this understanding that all conversations must proceed. The Second Amendment is not “old”; it is timeless. It is not “unclear”; it is obvious. It is not “embarrassing”; it is fundamental. And, as much as anything else, it is a vital indicator of the correct relationship between the citizen and the state and a reminder of the unbreakable sovereignty of the individual.

Read the whole thing here.

  • Daniel Bier is the executive editor of The Skeptical Libertarian.