Nicholas Kristoff is very excited about the opportunity the Newtown shootings present to advance a gun control agenda. (By the way, have you noticed that the media narrative is that the Progressives are not politicizing a tragedy when they use it to advocate everything from gun control to higher taxes, but that the Republicans are disgustingly politicizing a tragedy when they argue it should not be used as an excuse to take mad public policy leaps. Just sayin’….)
In his latest column, Kristoff sets up a few straw men and, with child-like glee, shoots them down. The straw man response that interested me was his cavalier dismissal of the Second Amendment:
We have the Second Amendment, which protects our right to bear arms. So don’t talk about gun control!
There’s a reasonable argument that the Second Amendment confers an individual right — to bear a musket. Beyond that, it’s more complicated. Everybody agrees on a ban on fully automatic machine guns. The question isn’t whether to limit the right to bear arms, but where to draw the line.
Mr. Kristoff, how dumb do you think your readers are? Well, never mind that question. To the extent you preach to the New York Times crowd, most of them are probably every bit as ill-informed, credulous, and illogical as you think they are.
Let me ask a different, more pertinent, question: How dumb do you think the Founding Fathers were?
First of all, just as a little bit of historical information, muskets weren’t the only arms available during and after the American Revolution. Those who wanted to own arms had a broad array of weapons from which to choose. Thus, in addition to those muskets, they also had rifles (the Tennessee mountain men were famed for their abilities with that weapon), pistols, and blunderbusses. Yes, they were slow-loading, but what was important was that they were equal in force to the weapons the British Army used.
Putting aside Kristoff’s obvious factual error, he also does the Founders a profound disservice by saying that they were using the word “arms” as a synonym for “musket.” In fact, “arms” referred to all weapons, swords and cannons included. By using such a broad term, the Founders were also leaving open the possibility of new weapons. Otherwise, they would have said, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear muskets manufactured on or before 1791, shall not be infringed.” Tellingly, these men, who used language with a facility and brilliance unknown today, chose not to speak with such specificity.
What Kristoff is really missing, though, isn’t the bit about the type of “arms” involved, but the reason for those arms: “being necessary to the security of a free State.” What the Founders were saying is that the people should always have the ability to defend themselves against aggression from their own government. With that principle in mind, you can see where the Founders would have been happy to see citizens armed with the most sophisticated weapons available in any era — provided that those weapons match the fire-power of government weapons in the same era.
The Founders weren’t the only ones who had figured out the importance of an armed population as a bulwark against totalitarianism. As Paul Harvey wrote back in 2000, dictators of all stripes have realized that the single greatest defense against their tyrannical goals is an armed population:
- In 1929 the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, approximately 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915-1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, 13 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and others, who were unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
- Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million “educated” people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.
That weapons in the people’s hands may be used for other purposes (e.g., hunting, recreation, home-defense) or misused entirely (e.g., Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Fort Hood), is irrelevant to the primary purposes behind our constitutional right to bear arms. Individual murders have happened at all times, in all places, with all types of weapons. The Founders weren’t naive nor were they stupid. They fully understood that “arms” could be misused. Nevertheless, they made a moral calculation and determined that the risk of a thousand lives lost (or even ten thousand lives lost) was much less than the risk of millions of lives lost, with many millions more reduced to slaves of the state.
Maybe Kristoff is as woefully misinformed and as intellectually un-curious as he appears. My suspicion, though, is that he’s a man on the Left with an agenda, one that sees the unwashed masses rendered helpless so that their Ivy League educated, elite betters can impose the loving tyranny that would make this land a new Utopia.
(As an aside, I’ll add here that a career military man I know says that, whether they were in Africa or the Middle East, many of their efforts were to arm beleaguered citizens who were being turned into mincemeat by forces belonging to their own government. The people there have seldom died because individuals had arms. Instead, the various massacres and ethnic cleansing across Africa might never have happened had ordinary people been able to defend themselves against the government hordes.)