The right to bear arms is the only true bulwark against government tyranny and mass murder

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’….)

Second Amendment

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?

Revolutionary war rifle

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:

Nazi Death Camp

CONSIDER:

- 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.

The littlest bodies in the Rwanda genocide

(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.)

The West’s perpetual adolescence — affluence and socialism create a nation of Peter Pans who refuse to grow up

One of the things I find most distasteful about ObamaCare is its requirement that employers must provide insurance coverage for their employees’ children through their 26th year.  I don’t find this just economically wrong, I find it cosmically, morally wrong that our federal government has officially extended childhood until citizens are 26.  I cannot think of a single reason why our national policy should be to delay normal human mental and emotional maturation.  Progressives seem to have added to the Constitution, right after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a coda saying that being Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, is a legitimate career goal.

I mentioned yesterday that, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I listened (and am listening to) both Joseph Ellis’s American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic and David McCulloch’s 1776. One of the things that comes through so clearly in these books is that the Founding Fathers were adults, not children, and they were adults because, from a very young age, all of them had taken on adult responsibilities, whether as soldiers, surveyors, blacksmiths, booksellers, lawyers, farmers, printers, or whatever other careers the Founders pursued.  Even gentlemen farmers such as Jefferson still had myriad responsibilities for their estates and the people dependent on those estates.

That all of them took on responsibility so early was not unusual; it was the norm.  What would have struck all of them as peculiar was a world view holding that, during your peak years of childbearing, physical strength, and mental adaptability, you should lounge around the house pursuing your bliss and living off of your parents.  Necessity required the Founders to work and grow.  A combination of affluence and socialism ensures that our children can remain adolescent well into their late 20s.

Nowadays, the majority of American children stay in school until age 18.  In Colonial times, but for a few college-bound gentlemen, by 18 most would have been employed for years.  The women would already have had children and that would have been true whether they were ladies of leisure, or working women responsible for a family farm, a washing business, housework, etc.

For too many Americans, though, adulthood doesn’t even begin at 18.  The middle and upper classes send their children to college.  For $20,000 to $50,000 per year (payable by their parents or the government, either through direct grants or guaranteed loans), they attend a few classes, take some tests, meet new people, party a lot, travel (always at someone else’s expense) and generally delay taking on any real responsibility.  Many of them study subjects that will have no measurable benefit on their lives, either in terms of future income or acquired knowledge.  Only once these youngsters graduate, at 21 or 22, do some of them finally start working for real.  Some of them get married and have children.  Too many, however, continue to be adolescents:  they get low-level jobs (although it’s not always their fault in the Obama economy) and they still look to Mom and Dad for financial support and insurance.  Partying remains important.

The degree jockeys further extend their adolescence with further education.  Some actually study things that will prove remunerative (law, medicine, architecture, business, etc.), but many opt for purely academic disciplines, getting advanced degrees in History, Medieval French, Puppetry, Womyn’s Studies, etc.  They do so despite knowing that there is almost no chance that they’ll get a job in their field.  I would never make such a foolish decision with my time and money.  When I finished my undergraduate education, despite my abiding love for history, I knew I would never get a job in my field.  The grad students in the history department told me that, in my graduation year, there were only four PhD level job openings for history majors in the entire United States.  I went to law school instead.

People need to grow up.  They are just as stunted without mental maturation as they would be if a disease or dietary deficiency kept their bodies from growing properly.  I realized the truth of this when I had children.  Although I’d worked as a lawyer for many years, and had my own business, until I had children and truly had others entirely dependent upon me, I was still a kid.  Nothing I did really mattered.  When you have children, everything matters.  Your choices are suddenly monumental, since they affect not only you but a helpless human being, who needs you desperately and looks up to you with love and respect.  I definitely miss the irresponsibility of my youth, but I wouldn’t go back.  I was biologically destined to mature, and it feels right.

What triggered this post about the terrible effect of ObamaCare’s perpetual adolescence factor is an email that has been making the rounds in Britain.  Nick Crews, a British Navy retiree, apparently had a bad Christmas with his three adult children last year.  By February of this year, he couldn’t keep it bottled up any more, so he sent them an email saying that they needed to stop whining and flailing about, and needed to begin taking responsibility for their lives.  Crews is absolutely right, although I believe that, because his children were raised in a socialist nation that turns the state into a perpetual parent who feeds, clothes, and otherwise provides for the citizen-children, he’s fighting a rearguard action:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.

Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.

So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

Dad

Despite the letter’s harsh tone, at least one of his children said it was something she needed to hear.

In Obama’s America, a lot of parents will soon feel like writing to their children the same letter Crews wrote to his.

Public libraries are wonderful things

For our Thanksgiving drive to L.A., I went to our local library and got several books on CD.  Since our small family manages not to have any overlapping areas of interest, this is always a challenge.  One wants teenage hero spy books, another wants high school romantic dramadies (half drama, half comedy), another wants books on computer technology, and I like history books.  Fate favored me because , on the day I went to the library, the only available books on CD that would meet any of those parameters were the history books.

The kids were not amused.  In a compromise, we ended up spending half of each drive listening to the videos they got to watch from the back seat (fyi, The Simpsons is fun to listen to), and half the drive listening to David McCulloch’s 1776.  My husband was so delighted with this book that, upon our return, he put it in his own car so that he could listen to the rest of it while driving to work.

I, meanwhile, put Joseph Ellis’ American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic in the CD player in my car. Since I drove about 100 miles yesterday to go to my pistol class, I was able to listen to the first disk.  It’s a delightful book, because Ellis shares my approach to American history:  it’s not about plaster saints or blinkered, evil white guys.  It’s about real people, in real time, dealing with real issues.  And yes, the Founding Fathers were special.

The Founders’ unique abilities came about by virtue of the particular historic time they occupied (what one might call the culmination of the Enlightenment), the incredible bounty of the American continent, their one hundred plus years of freedom as the British government ignored them (right up until the French-Indian War), and the education and class freedom that distinguished them from their European peers and from modern man. Despite these benefits and virtues, they still made mistakes, their personalities interfered with their decision-making, and they punted on the hard decisions because they wanted their own nation more than they wanted to free the slaves.  Those nuances are what make history interesting.

Ellis has a nice turn of phrase and a good eye for historic details, so the book is an effortless listen (or read).  I also detect in his tone a decided disdain for the Howard Zinn school of history, one that throws away the baby with the bath water.  Characterizing the Founders as racist, sexist hypocrites not only obscures their great accomplishments, it also diminishes Americans’ ability to understand their past, to control their present, and, in some small measure, to affect their future.

Listening to the book reminded me that one of the things that makes the Founders so fascinating is that they were men of truly catholic tastes.  Everything interested them.  No man from the Colonial era better exemplifies this quality than Benjamin Franklin.  (Thomas Jefferson loses first place because he was a bit too Southern elitist.)  Franklin was feted the world over for inventing the lightening rod, a device that drastically reduced a terrible scourge.  He also invented the Franklin Stove, bifocals (bless his heart), and the public library.

Before Franklin came along, libraries were reserved for rich people.  Even with the advent of the printing press, books were still expensive, and it was the fortunate man indeed who was both literate and capable of putting together a library of his own.  Now of course, we take libraries completely for granted.  In my community, we have ten public libraries, all of which are clean, well-stocked, well-maintained, and have wonderful on-line resources.

In a historical irony that Ben Franklin would fully have appreciated, modern Britain also has a splendid public library, one that includes a suburb on-line system.  The aristocrats of old might be rolling in their graves, but Ben Franklin, who was also an entrepreneur extraordinaire would especially appreciate the fact that the British library has a department devoted to business planning.  Yup.  That former bastion of intellectual and class exclusivity now has a great resource for British residents who want to see if they can make it on their own.

As a confirmed bookworm, I feel blessed to live in era that not only has public libraries, but that also puts so many resources on-line, so that one doesn’t even have to go to the library to experience the library’s benefit.  Is this the best of all possible worlds or what?

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about Benjamin Franklin, I highly recommend Benjamin Franklin’s own quite delightful autobiography, and Walter Isaacson’s slightly more honest look at Franklin’s life as a whole.)

Nattering nabobs of complete ignorance

During one of my endless circular drives transporting children today, I caught a minute of a phone call from one of Sean Hannity’s fans, who is nevertheless voting for Obama.  She has concluded that the Founding Fathers were entirely in favor of wealth redistribution, because they opposed the concentration of wealth in a small number of families.  Sean came back with a lot of good quotations from the Founders warning against concentrating too much power in government, but I think he failed to understand his caller’s fundamental historical ignorance.

In Old England, the concentration of wealth in a small number of families was the concentration of power in government.  Despite the fact that England was slowly moving towards a semi-republican form of government, and the fact that Glorious Revolution in 1688 had clipped the monarch’s wings, England was still ruled entirely by the hereditary aristocracy.

Almost all the power in England, and almost all the money, resided with a fairly small number of families who held that money and power by virtue of birth and heredity.  They didn’t earn it, and they didn’t achieve much benefit from investing it.  To the extent they plowed it back into society, they did so only because a sense of decency made some of them realize that it was unconscionable, in a static rural society, for the poor to be so abysmally poor.  It was only the unleashing of the economy to the twin engines of the Industrial Revolution and the massive expansion of the British Empire that saw people from non-aristocratic backgrounds begin to break into those monied and powered ranks.

What all of these nitpicky little historical facts mean is that, when the Founders warned against concentrating wealth and power in a small number of people, they were also warning against locking power in the government — and vice versa, because the two were one and the same in that era.

The beauty of America is that the potential for power and wealth is vested in each individual citizen.  All other systems, whether socialist, or aristocratic, or oligarchical or theocratic concentrate power in a small ruling class, and then keep it there.  That’s what Obama wants to do to America.  Even as he sprinkles a little economic largesse amongst the people, he intends to ensure that power flows solely to the government — and anything more un-American than that is impossible to imagine.  The Founders are rolling in their graves at the thought.

This sounds like a very good book

Over at National Review, Kathryn Lopez interviews Steven Waldman, who is an editor at BeliefNet.com, and who just wrote a new book: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America. In it, he carefully examines the way in which the Founders envisioned faith playing out in America, and the way in which people on both sides of the political divide have perverted their views. Waldman, in the interview, sounds like a cheerful, knowledgeable pragmatist, so I can imagine that the book is interesting to read. I especially like his “choose your battles” philosophy, which sounds like an attitude the Founders would espouse:

Lopez: You write, “a Christian who is not allowed to run a Bible study group on public school property is still allowed to worship in church, at home, in the car, on the street, at a rock concert, plugged into an iPod, or surfing on the Internet.” So should we tell the kid with the Bible study group to suck it up?

Waldman: I tend to think holding a Bible Study in a school is Constitutional but I’m not sure it’s an important battle for religious people to fight. The key is that the Bible study group actually happens. So if having it on school property is really the only way it’s going to occur, then they should fight it. If it’s easy enough to hold it somewhere else, they should do that. My concern is that we focus so much on getting religion into the public square that we start to think that the public square is essential to our spiritual lives. It’s not.

Where I tend to come down on the gray area cases is that some of them are Constitutionally permissible — but unwise. Just because something is allowed doesn’t make it a good idea. If religion can happen without government’s involvement, that’s preferable.

To be honest, some of my point here is simply that we should have a sense of perspective. If the Founders were here and heard about someone not being allowed to have a Bible study on public school property, I think some would side with ACLU (I’m guessing Madison and Jefferson) and some would side with the kid (probably Washington and Adams). But mostly they’d say: wow, you folks have way more religious freedom than we did, and way more than we thought you would. Congratulations! Perhaps we should just have a once-a-year holiday where we put our lawsuits aside and celebrate the great success of religious freedom. We can go back to suing each other the next day.