Personally, (unlike my coauthor, it would seem) I’m appreciative of the current gun-control debate that has been sparked by the recent horrific shooting in Connecticut. But I do think that we should take my coauthor’s advice and have a real policy debate on gun-control, and not simply restrict a bunch of freedoms in a misguided, reactionary effort to make us safer.
So with that in mind, I’d like to address one of the most pervasive and fundamental pro-Second Amendment arguments out there: the idea that guns are necessary as the ultimate protection of our freedoms against tyranny. I’ve heard this argument put forward to mean one of three things, all of which have very different connotations for the right to bear arms.
1) That individuals should have guns in order to protect themselves from the tyranny of our current government.
This is perhaps the most common phrasing, but also the one that makes the least amount of sense. In particular, this is the excuse of innumerable criminals and criminal organizations. Timothy McVeigh believed that the US government was tyrannical, and used that as justification to blow up a federal building in Oklahoma City. The Crips and Bloods believe that the US government is tyrannical, and use that as justification to kill, steal, and sell drugs (among many other things). Rush Limbaugh has been preaching that the Obama Administration is tyrannical for four years now–does that give his listeners the right to go out and use their guns to resist the police? To not pay their taxes? To attack court buildings? To commit murder? To ignore the law?
Look, the law is the law. We live in a Democratic society. We hold elections. The winners of those elections make laws. We hold new elections. The winners of those elections change the laws. And we keep doing it over and over and over again. No one gets to start shooting up the place because they don’t like who won or what laws were passed.
2) That individuals should have guns in order to protect themselves from the tyranny of whatever may come should our current government fall.
This is at least logical, if more than a little paranoid and arguably self-fulfilling. The idea here is that individuals need to have guns to protect their liberty in case of a government collapse, in much the same way that we need to stock-pile canned goods to protect our lives in case of a natural disaster. Of course, our government is coming up on 250 years old, and I don’t think that this is what most people have in mind, but I actually can’t really argue with the logic behind this one.
3) That groups should have guns to protect society from the tyranny of whatever may come to try to overthrow the government of the people.
This is the most patriotic of the sentiments, and in my opinion the one that matches up most closely with what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment in the first place. This acknowledges that we live in a democracy, that we have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, and then places the burden for protecting that government–in a real, physical sense–on the people.
But this sentiment makes most sense in the context not of individuals, but of groups, of societies. After all, it is premised around the very notion that we live in a free society currently, and one that is worth protecting. And if we are protecting our society, that makes most sense to do as a society–not as a hodgepodge collection of individuals. In other words, that’s something that we should do as an army, a militia, a guard, or whatever you want to call it. And the right to carry weapons in the context of an army that exists to protect the integrity of our national government is a much different thing (for better or for worse) than the right to carry a concealed weapon to the grocery store.
Personally, I think the third argument is the only one that is worthy of enshrinement in law–but again, the implications of that argument look nothing like the current Right to Bear Arms as we currently understand it. What’s sad is that the first argument is both the most common one, and the one that is most clearly false.