As a Free American, it is YOUR RIGHT
and DUTY to Stand Armed Guard against Government Tyranny and Oppression.
As Free Americans, your DUTY is non delegable, and your RIGHTS shall
endure with no less. (SaveOurGuns.com)
170 million people have been murdered by their own governments in
our century. ..."
L.A. Times - Sunday, November 7, 1999
The Last Line of Defense
Robert J. Cottrol
The right to bear arms is a matter of individual safety and,
ultimately, freedom. The issue goes far beyond gun nuts.
The central premise of the gun control
movement is that society becomes more civilized when the citizen
surrenders the means of self-defense, leaving the state a
monopoly of force.
That this premise goes largely
unchallenged is the most remarkable feature of our gun control
debate. We are ending a century that has repeatedly witnessed the
consequences of unchecked state monopolies of force. University
of Hawaii political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel, one of the
leading students of democide (mass murder of civilian populations
by governments), has estimated that nearly 170 million people
have been murdered by their own governments in our century. The
familiar list of mass murderers--Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol
Pot--only scratches the surface. The mass slaughter of helpless,
unarmed civilian populations continues in Sudan, Rwanda, parts of
the former Yugoslavia and East Timor.
The reluctance of outside forces to
intervene is well documented. And yet the obvious question is
strangely absent: Would arms in the hands of average citizens
have made a difference? Could the overstretched Nazi war machine
have murdered 11 million armed and resisting Europeans while also
taking on the Soviet and Anglo-American armies? Could 50,000 to
70,000 Khmer Rouge have butchered 2 million to 3 million armed
Cambodians? The answers are by no means clear, but it is
unconscionable that they are not being asked.
Need Americans have such concerns? We
have been spared rule by dictators, but state tyranny can come in
other forms. It can come when government refuses to protect
unpopular groups--people who are disfavored because of their
political or religious beliefs, their ancestry or the color of
their skin. Our past has certainly not been free of this brand of
state tyranny. In the Jim Crow South, for example, government
failed to protect blacks from extra-legal violence. Given our
history, it's stunning that we fail to question those who would
force us to rely totally on the state for defense.
Nor should our discussion be limited to
foreign or historical examples. The lives and freedoms of decent,
law-abiding citizens throughout our nation, especially in our
dangerous inner cities, are constantly threatened by criminal
predators. This has devastated minority communities. And yet the
effort to limit the right to armed self-defense has been most
intense in such communities. Bans on firearm ownership in public
housing, the constant effort to ban pistols poor people can
afford--scornfully labeled "Saturday night specials"
and "junk guns"--are denying the means of self-defense
to entire communities in a failed attempt to disarm criminal
predators. In many under-protected minority communities, citizens
have been disarmed and left to the mercy of well-armed criminals.
This has led to further curtailment of
freedom. Consider initiatives in recent years to require tenants
in public housing to allow their apartments to be searched.
First, police failed for decades to protect citizens in many of
our most dangerous public housing projects. Next, as the
situation became sufficiently desperate, tenants were prohibited
from owning firearms for their own defense. Finally the demand
came, "Surrender your right to privacy in your home."
The message could not be clearer: A people incapable of
protecting themselves will lose their rights as a free people,
becoming either servile dependents of the state or of the
criminal predators who are their de facto masters.
All of this should force us to
reconsider our debate over arms and rights. For too long, it has
been framed as a question of the rights of sportsmen. It is far
more serious: The 2nd Amendment has something critical to say
about the relationship between the citizen and the state. For
most of human history, in most of the nations in the world, the
individual has all too often been a helpless dependent of the
state, beholden to the state's benevolence and indeed competence
for his physical survival.
The notion of a right to arms bespeaks a
very different relationship. It says the individual is not simply
a helpless bystander in the difficult and dangerous task of
ensuring his or her safety. Instead, the citizen is an active
participant, an equal partner with the state in ensuring not only
his own safety but also that of his community.
This is a serious right that takes the
individual from servile dependency on the state to the status of
participating citizen, capable of making intelligent choices in
defense of life and ultimately of freedom. This conception of
citizenship recognizes that the ultimate civil right is the right
to defend one's own life, that without that right all other
rights are meaningless and that without the means, the right to
self-defense is but an empty promise.
Our serious thinkers have been absent
from this debate for too long. The 2nd Amendment is too important
to leave to the gun nuts. * * * Robert
J. Cottrol is a professor of law and history at George Washington
University. His most recent book is "From African to Yankee:
Narratives of Slavery and Freedom in Antebellum New England"
(M.E. Sharpe, 1998). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is adapted from the September-October issue of
American Enterprise magazine.
TO MAIN PAGE