Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Why have an armed citizenry?

The 2nd ammendment is perhaps the clearest indication that the founders were dangerous people -- dangerous in the sense that their beliefs did not necessarily lead to safety and stability. This is not necessarily an attack, I'm not convinced that safety and stability are always the highest road. Perhaps it also shows that the founders were genuinely unselfish about holding power: what most more modern revolutionaries have tried to do as soon as achieving power is tried to make it as hard as possible for anyone else to overthrow them in the way that they were overthrown. Instead, the founders wrote into our constitution a guarantee that "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Much though one must appreciate the cheerful thoughts of those who claim this means that people's ability to own deer hunting rifles should not be regulated, and always say "I have no problem with guns that are suitable for legitimate sporting purposes" it seems to me that the founders are in fact guaranteeing no such thing. These are men who had just fought a war of independence, and who came from an English tradition in which all able bodied yoemen were considered available at call for military duty. (Bring you own long bow.) Though there were numerous volunteers and part time guerrilla fighters, the backbone of the revolutionary army consisted of local militias -- to which every able-bodied man was considered to belong, and which were generally self-armed. (Militiamen brought their own muskets and kit, the army provided supplies and larger engines of war such as cannon.)

In quelling colonial unrest, the British had tried to disarm the American militias, with limitted success. And the British armies sent over to fight the war were a mixture of professional British soldiers (usually enlisted on long contracts -- with or without their consent) and hired mercenaries (mostly of German/Austrian origin). It seems to me that one of the things the founders had very much in mind was making sure that a strong central government was not able to enforce its will by means of professional soldiers and mercenaries against the wishes of the citizenry. They assumed that keeping the regional militias as an organized, armed and local power would counter-balance that possibility.

Clearly, this fell by the wayside a long time ago. In a certain sense, that mentality was defeated along with the South in the civil war. Regardless of whether or not one sees this as a bad thing, it's certainly hard to imagine that sort of citizen-militia-as-power-balance-against-national-army idea working in the huge, industrial modern nation to which we belong.

What, then, are we to make of the 2nd Ammendment in our modern world?

While we no longer have militias including all able-bodied males, there's a legitimate argument to be made that despite the overwhelming superiority in firepower that the central government enjoys (and should) over it's citizens, that so long as the right to own firearms in protected, we will never be the helpless victims of a police state. Moreover, in certain emergency situations, armed citizens do end up functioning as an ad hoc militia, as many Korean shop owners famously did during the 1992 LA riots.

Meanwhile, those uncomfortable with the place of guns in American society point out that the US has the highest rates of gun fatality of any first world nation (though our crime violence rates are actually lower than a number of other first world nations -- it's just that when we do have violence, someone is much more likely to get shot). Does the personal enjoyment and self protection which gun owners derive from relatively restricted gun ownership outweigh the dangers which pervasive gun ownership introduces into society?

I tend to think that they do. But then, I'm comfortable with the idea that certain freedoms cost lives and limbs.


Tim said...

Here, here!

Gun ownership is the basic tenet of individual freedom in America. Or any country, for that matter.

The military leader of Japan during World War II said this: Admiral Yamamoto: "You cannot invade mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass."

It's simple logic. Guns equal power and only the foolish would leave themselves powerless in the face of an invading army or the ruling class. Guns in the hands of the individual keep the invader and the ruling class honest.

Rick Lugari said...

Good post, Darwin, one minor quibble though. I don't think that pervasive gun ownership introduces danger into society. I'd rather be in a room with a hundred St. Francises armed to the teeth than in a room with one dreg armed with a spork. One of the themes of your post and Tim's comment is that guns are the great equalizer. That doesn't just apply to citizens vs. government but to citizen vs. citizen. Without such equalizers the mighty can and will walk over the lowly.

Fidei Defensor said...

Good post Darwin.

I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that milita system did not go obsolete with the Civil War, consider the Russian defeat in Afghanistan, yes to be fair that was a "Jihad," with foreign fighters, but in essecence what it was was local boys with old rifles and knowledge of the terrian beating a big invading army.

If the United States was a nation where every man had a strong concept of civil duty and patriotism, was issued even a very old and "obsolete" rifle by the gov't like a 1903 Springfield, and drilled with the men of his town 4 times a year, you can practically bet that even with no other millitary than that the country would be impossibile to invade/conquer, though you would have no abillity to fight an offensive war.

Darwin said...


Agreed. I think in many ways we'd have a much better country if we were the sort of country you describe. Though as of this point, I can't exactly see how we could get there from here, more's the pitty.

Anonymous said...

Nice post.
I'm going to hazard a guess that the majority of the gun crimes in the States are committed with unlicensed guns or licensed guns used by folks other than the owner (e.g., a kid, relative, friend.) It leaves a blatant trail if a registered owner commits a crime with his own gun. Not that I'm an expert...

On this topic, check out this recent story...

Anonymous said...

I don't seem to have rick lugari's skills in leaving links...

bearing said...

I'm pro-gun, for the record.

Isn't the wording of the 2nd Am. strange? The two halves appear to contradict each other. If something is regulated, by necessity, rights regarding it must be infringed. or, tu put it the other way, if one's rights regarding something are entirely un-infringed, that thing is entirely unregulated.

Unless the people, by means of keeping and bearing arms, are meant to serve as the check on the militia's power? It seems unlikely, but how is it supposed to make sense?

Darwin said...

Yeah, that's what struck me as one of the most interesting things about it, actually.

My best shot is that the idea was that if the central government in no way infringed on the right to bear arms, that citizens would then organize themselves into a "well regulated" militia -- while if their they weren't allowed to arm themselves, there wouldn't be a militia (or at least not an organized one?)

It does seem like odd wording, though.

Rick Lugari said...

The word regulated hasn't always meant controlled by a government entity. The usage of the word in the second ammendment would be more akin to the words practiced, disciplined, well-maintained or even meeting a certain standard.

Rick Lugari said...

Sorry to bring this point to the discussion so late, but I forgot to mention it in my inital comment. It's important to remember this about the American war for Independence, for all the talk of taxation without representation and such (which were certainly factors leading up to and throughout the war) the war actually started when the government sent soldiers to arrest Samual Adams and John Hancock, and most importantly, to sieze the militia's weapons cache in Concord. In a nutshell the war actually started over gun control.

Anonymous said...

It's the same as if the wording of the first amendment were:

"A politically unbiased press, being necessary for a free state, the freedom of speech will not be infringed".

The first part simply gives one reason for free speech. It wouldn't be conscrued to mean that all free speech needed to be made by an unbiased press. ;)

Besides a well regulated militia, another reason for owning guns to to ventilate the random crackhead that breaks into your home.

Anonymous said...

It seems there are two ways to interpret it:

1) because we need a well disciplined militia, and this militia will be comprised of the citizens, citizens need to be able to keep weapons for this militia to be effective.

With this interpretation, I think gun control can be more pervasive - after all, if we now have our own standing army supplied by the Gubmint, citizens don't need weapons.

2) Because we need to have a standing army with weapons as a necessary evil to protect the country, citizens are allowed to arm themselves as a counter-balance or check against this army. This seems to restrict gun control more severely, and arguably, should allow citizens to arm themselves with weapons approaching the effectiveness of those supplied to the military.

Either way, the right to bear arms has nothing to do with maintaining a "sport" or recreational passtime.