I have been thinking about the things some people have said to me during the many debates I have participated in since the Sandy Hook murders.
There is no doubt that our country has been shaken by the killings in that school. It has caused many to question the tradition we have of private citizens possessing weapons of various sorts. Some have begun to call for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.
After such a horrible event as happened in Connecticut, it is understandable that some might begin to believe that the price we pay for widespread gun ownership is too high, and that the ideals espoused so clearly by the men who founded our country, and which stand behind the words of the Constitution are out of date, obsolete, and invalid in our modern society.
The call, which we have heard before when such tragedies have occurred, rings out once more. "Turn in the guns! We don't need these weapons! Destroy them!" We turn to our government for a solution, and our government begins to formulate ways to grant us our wish.
Never mind that there is a strident group within our population which, anachronistically, clings to the idea that the power of an individual is important. That, ownership of a weapon makes a human more than a subject, or a slave. Never mind that the Constitution itself seems to forbid this. Never mind, that since time immemorial, Man has had to fight for every scrap of freedom.
So, a portion of our elected government puts in motion legal action to grant us our wish, to be free of fear and safe from violence. There is by no means unity within the government on this action. There is by no means unity within the population for this action, either.
But after a horrible killing public opinion seems to be in favor of measures which have been tried before, but which failed because they didn't go far enough. These failed measures are again put forward, but with enhancements. The types of guns to be banned will be more inclusive; the ability of the citizen to transfer weapons already owned will be forbidden; the possibility of obtaining more guns in the future, illegal.
The motivation of the government in taking these steps seems clear. Our elected officials wish to take "reasonable" steps to protect the lives of innocents. They wish to grant us what we seem to want, security. A benevolent goal, and one which will surely save lives.
And yet.... and yet. Before rushing headlong into this undertaking it might be a good idea to stop, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves, and each other, a few questions.
We stand at a precipice. There is a change ahead of us, many of us can feel it. It's a turning point of a type this country has never faced.
In the history of this country, the progression has been trending in one direction. The progression has been the winning of rights and freedoms by more and more people. These rights and freedoms were originally only held by the rich, the white, the landholders. And before that, by royalty and despots.
In this country, a group of men called for independence. Independence from thousands of years of subjugation. After a long and bloody war, this group of men put together a philosophy of thought which was based on two important tenets.
First, human beings have rights and freedoms which they hold inherently, without having them granted by other humans who claim the right of rule. Second, a government must be formed in such a way that these rights are protected from infringement by the government itself.
Our progression has been to broaden the rights first held by our founders, so that now more of us than ever enjoy them. This work is ongoing, it isn't finished, there is more to do.
But now, many of us say we are ready to start relinquishing these rights and freedoms. The cost of the right to keep and bear arms is too high, we say. It's exercise too frightful. It scares us. We don't want it anymore, we are ready to give it up. This is something new which we Americans have never done before.
After all, why do we need a right to keep and bear arms? Our government is stable, our country is secure. Our economy is strong, our society is on the road to inevitable improvement. What need have we of weapons?
What need indeed? We see the fruits of weapon misuse every night on our television sets. Bodies, murder, blood, mayhem. Young men killed, children murdered. Robbery, assault, assassination. It must stop.
But what if we did turn in our weapons? Are we at a place in our history where this would truly be a good idea? Does anyone use their weapons for a purpose besides crime and murder?
We are a nation of more than 300 million people. There are an estimated 250-300 million guns in the hands of American citizens. That number is increasing rapidly.
With that many guns, why is it that we don't have more dead? The fact is that while the numbers of guns in private hands is increasing, the death toll associated with misuse of firearms is decreasing. DEcreasing.
Why do we have so many guns? So often I hear people bemoaning how many there are, but I never hear anyone ask WHY we have so many.
The number one reason, and the reason which covers every conceivable use is this; because we CAN own them. Americans from the inception of this country have believed that we have a RIGHT to keep and bear arms. Americans still believe that we have this right, even though many wish to deny it. Even though some of us now want this right to go away.
Can one person misusing a firearm cause the downfall of this country? Let's think of the worst mass killings in recent times; have any of those incidents come anywhere close to destroying this country?
What if five people went on similar rampages in one day; would the deaths of 150 in one day through the criminal use of firearms bring down this country, change it from what it is today into a place where there was no rule of law, no safety, no protection from violence?
No. No, even if such a horrible thing happened, it would not cause the downfall of this country. Why? Because even with such happenings, we would still have our representative system of government. We would still be able to enjoy our lives as we have now for many years. We would still live in great safety. We would still have our individual freedoms. This would still be the United States of America.
But let's say we all turn in our arms. Let's say we give them all to our government for disposal. By committing this act, we are telling our government that we are abdicating any responsibility for our own safety. We are ceding personal sovereignty. We are giving up any meaningful ability to defend ourselves, and we now expect our government to fulfill these duties for us.
For a long time we have enjoyed the benefits of our representative system of government. We still, for the most part, believe that our government functions with our interests foremost. Generally we believe that our government is trustworthy.
Could one man within our government destroy our country? Probably not. We have a system of checks and balances after all, designed to prevent such things from happening. So far they have worked well. What if five men connived to warp our governance into something we could not accept? Could five men do it? Could ten? How about 100? How many people would it take within our government to short circuit the system and hijack it? 200? 500?
There is a tipping point there, somewhere. I don't know where it is, but it exists, and that number of people is a tiny, tiny number compared to the rest of the people in this country. If that tipping point were reached, how could it be stopped?
Forget the Supreme Court. It has no power. Forget the Legislature; it has no power. But the Executive, that is the branch which must always be looked upon with suspicion. The Executive holds the true power in our country. It controls the various agencies. It controls law enforcement. It controls the military. The Courts and the Legislature only pose a check on Executive extremes so long as things are stable. In times of instability, all power flows to the Executive.
What exists to oppose the Executive, should that be necessary? The military? Perhaps. I would like to think the military would refuse to follow. But if the military, or a large part of the military moved with the Executive to seize power, as has happened in so many countries through history, what then? Who could oppose them?
My point here is that individual freedom can be misused in such a way as to cause harm, there is no doubt of that. It happens every day. People are killed through the misuse of our freedom by the thousands every year. And yet at no time can this misuse of freedom destroy our country as we know it.
By ceding our individual power and sovereignty to the government however, we gift any future despot a clear road to seize control of this country. If we lose our confidence in ourselves, and give away our freedom to a government which we can never believe will always be a benevolent one, then we open the door to losing our country. The misuse of power by a small number of men in key positions in our government can cause all of us to lose our freedom, when the random violence of any number of citizens cannot.
If we give up our right to arms, we may decrease the amount of mayhem in our country, but we may also be handing our freedom to a small group of men who would never give it back. Arms held legally by large numbers of citizens can present significant opposition to a government out of control.
We have murder and mayhem, albeit in decreasing amounts, in our society. This is a horrible thing, and we should work to make it as rare as possible. But we must beware the fallacy of giving up individual rights in exchange for some fleeting measure of security. We can truly give up what it is that keeps us free. Should we give up the vote? The right to pray? The right to an attorney? The ability to travel, to marry, to work towards success? Anything which allows us the ability to be free will bring with it risk, and failure, and even death. We must think very, very hard before we give up any of the rights and freedoms which we as Americans fought so hard to obtain.