My friend Jerry, who is one of the four or five people who actually read my semi-literate ravings and who seems to think I need "grist" for my "mill" when in fact I think he means I need more fiber in my diet, poses this provocative question:
Why not a constitutional amendment to ban the manufacture, sale, distribution or ownership of handguns? That way, we could have a genuine national debate with people able to vote directly on the issue. Of course, I would prefer to simply repeal the Second Amendment.
Most interesting. And I have to admit...I can't think why not.
But then, being the sort of bloke he is, Jerry appends a long piece from The Patriot Post ("The Internet's Leading Journal of Federalism and the Founders," if they do say so themselves), Are gun-free nations or “zones” safer?, which, expectedly, purports to prove that they are not. (Sorry for the spoiler there.) Well, actually, to be fair, the piece starts off by saying that gun-free nations are safer—"at least for folks like Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, , Castro, and Saddam, all of whom disarmed their detractors before slaughtering them by the tens of millions."
So you see what we have to deal with here.
Believe me, I understand, I really do, the sentiment at work here, the rather outre idea that someday Joe Sixgun will have to rise up and defend his family and property against an Evil and Tyrannical Government. But, Joe, buddy, do you truly believe that any number of semi-automatic weapons in your home arsenal will really help you that much if the E. and T. G. sends the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Highway Patrol, Sheriff, and Safety Patrol to your block? Even if all of your neighbors have Uzis too? I mean, I can sympathize, and the government certainly does bear watching-- especially these days--but come on.
The Internet's Leading Journal of Eighteenth-Century Thought continues:
History records the consequences of disarming people, both in terms of protection, in their person and property, from tyrannical governments and from criminals. Regarding the latter, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”
Okay. It seems safe to assume that I am unlikely to successfully defend myself against an Evil and Tyrannical Government, no matter how many bullets I have in the basement. So now I'm defending myself against "criminals." But if the "criminal" has a gun (see above re outlaws), and since, as the Bible has it, I do not know when the thief in the night will arrive, it seems to me that the "criminal" who drops in on my abode pretty much already has the drop on me, and so my efforts to extricate my firearm from its locked case and load it (the NRA and other Second Amendment enthusiasts like to stress their gun-safety efforts, so I assume that my firearm will be unloaded and properly stored, and the ammo tucked safely away someplace else, to avoid accidents) and bring it into play will pretty much result in my getting my head blown off. I think I'm better off letting the "criminal" take my TV set.
The "patriots"--you know: the ones who expect to be taking up arms against their government one of these first days--continue:
understood that maxim. In his Commonplace Book, Jefferson quotes Cesare Beccaria from his seminal work, On Crimes and Punishment: “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
Curious to find Jefferson quoted, since he is more typically lambasted by right-wingnuts for not being "Christian"...but I guess he suits their purposes here. Or does he? Actually, it's not Jefferson being quoted at all but rather Beccaria (with whom, I must admit, I am not acquainted)...and I find it interesting that The Internet's Leading Journal of Look-How-the-Founders-All-Agree-With-Us fails to quote Jefferson verbatim, while certainly implying that he agrees with their point of view. Short of digging out the Commonplace Book for ourselves, we don't actually know where Jefferson stood in re Beccaria's claim. For all I know, he quoted Beccaria so as to debunk him. After all, I am quoting from The Patriot Post, but it should be apparent by now that I think they're all wet.
There is also no small danger in relying too heavily on bygone times for guidance in current events. Naturally we learn from what has gone before, but that learning process teaches (to those who will learn) that sometimes what-has-gone-before need be amended, adapted, or jettisoned outright. For instance: Many if not most biblical prohibitions--dietary, to name the most obvious category, but others fit as well--although presumably apropos two-, four-, six-thousand years ago, are clearly (again, to those who will learn) inapplicable today. The Bible is an important and useful collection, but to mindlessly parrot the words of the Bible--or of Jefferson, or Hamilton, Franklin, Adams (Sam or John), or anyone else--without weighing them against the context of modern times is sheer foolishness.
In other words, that which applied in the past--distant or near--does not necessarily apply today. Beccaria may well have been right in his time and place; it does not automatically follow that he is right today, in our time and place.
There is another angle at play here which interests me. I haven't developed it yet--it remains a notion rather than an idea--but let's see what I can do with it.
In our post-9/11 world, we are often told, by right-wingnuts, that the curtailment of rights and liberties once enjoyed by Americans is "necessary" in order for us to be "safe." In other words, an American citizen could once go where he would go without having to show "papers"; he could board an airplane without first undergoing a body-cavity search; he could even borrow a book from his public library without wondering if the FBI would be scrutinizing his reading habits. But no more, we are told. That was then, this is now. The world has changed.
Indeed. If the world has changed that much in six years, has it not changed all the more in the 200-odd years since the Second Amendment was enacted? Why are other rights and liberties up for grabs, but somehow the right to tote a gun is sacred--indeed, the only sacred right, from the way some in our society speak.
And what does it say about that so-called society that we are more concerned about our "right" to carry killing machines on our person than we are about freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and the right to privacy? (I know that one isn't in the Constitution. I say we should put it in there. That's another essay.)
If the so-called, self-nominated patriots are really and truly concerned about an Evil and Tyrannical Government rising up against us, then they should be at least as vocal in their defense of the First Amendment as they are toward the Second.
The pen, after all, is mightier.
Could Jefferson have put it any better? Could Beccaria?