THE TRUTH IS THAT ALL MEN HAVING POWER OUGHT TO BE MISTRUSTED.
Would you rather have a gun and not need it, or—if the state has its say—be forced into a situation where a weapon is desperately needed, but you aren't allowed to have one? This choice by the individual may soon become as extinct as the dodo bird if the state continues on its merry way of grabbing up the rights and freedoms of the individual. However, your right to own a gun, or anything else, should not be argued on the basis of some sort of special pleading to the state.
For example, sportsmen argue that they have some sort of right to have a gun with which to harvest a deer, during a state licensed season and usually on state owned or overseen land. If no deer ever was shot again in the long history of this planet it is still conceivable that mankind could struggle on, survive and even be free. In short, shooting animals is a tenuous base upon which to argue against legislation that would restrict the ownership of guns.
Target shooters make the same sort of bizarre arguments, as though it is part of the Bill of Rights that the state support accurate marksmanship (perhaps by building and maintaining rifle ranges from public funds) but that it is unthinkable that the state should go the next step and insist on the right to regulate the guns used in the target shooting. Why not? Once you have accepted the right of the state to intervene in the first place, why shouldn't it intervene in the second, third, and fourth places?
The list of special pleadings in regard to guns goes on and on.
It includes, finally, those who insist that they have a right to defend their homes against them. Just who them might be varies from community to community: criminals rank fairly high. So do racial minorities and hippies.
The ever alert state, however, is ready and eager for that defense. Inasmuch as the citizens already have accepted as a form of Holy Writ the notion that the state should have a virtual monopoly on the protection business, it is not surprising that the state answers any sort of home protectionist argument in regard to firearms with the simple and logical response that you don't have to guard your home, that the police will do it for you—in fact, should do it for you.
(If you then protest that the police simply can't do the job, the state can just as reasonably respond that its armed branch, the police, certainly could do the job if you, the taxpayer, would just ante up some more tax money and/or cede a little more of your legal position to the state so that the police could do their job with greater efficiency and less interference from those pesky civil libertarians.)
There is no special pleading that does not provoke from the state a special and powerful response, and in the argument between the state and the individual, sad experience has taught us that the individual is the underdog.
And that is precisely the point.
DON'T TREAD ON ME
The reason for owning a gun is not to be found in special pleading or in generalized notions of defense. You have a right to own a gun most basically because the state has no right to take it, or anything else, away from you. (Nor do your neighbors except when you have initiated the use of force against someone—in which case action taken against you is simply self-defense by someone else.)
Of all the defensive uses of firearms, of course, the one which is least discussed, but which should be most obvious in view of the rise of state power here and around the world, is the use of a gun to defend individuals and their natural communities and homes against the violence of the state itself.
Idealists recoil from this idea. Conservatives have never understood it and liberals faint when faced with it. Hopefully, Watergate has stripped away the innocence of Americans to the idea that the state would stoop to such depths as to lie to and deprive her citizens of their rights and freedoms!!
People who think that since Nixon and his gang of thugs have been swept away, those who follow will think twice before using the state for corrupt or illegal purposes are just deluding themselves!
After all, the machinery of the state that made Watergate possible is still with us. The FBI and CIA still spy and keep secret files on U.S. citizens. The IRS still harasses citizens. Since the Bank Secrecy Act of 1973 requires your bank to microfilm all of your checks and hold these records for six years, the state can get intimate details of your life from a study of your checking account. The state has already given you an I.D. number (your Social Security Number) and—as the Watergate incident has shown—doesn't hesitate to place you under both physical and electronic surveillance. Welcome to 1984!!
Meanwhile, the state pooh-pooh's its citizens' fears that forms of gun control carried out by the state, such as licensing and registration, will lead ultimately to confiscation of these same firearms. Yet it is worth examining a recent development in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
In 1968 the D.C. City Council enacted one of the nation's most stringent gun control laws. Among other things it required District of Columbia residents to obtain a license permitting them to own firearms and also required the resident to register all firearms in the citizen's possession. Police clearance, fingerprinting and "mug" shots were required to get the license.
During hearings held prior to its enactment officials of the D.C. government gave assurance that it would not at some future point confiscate these legally registered firearms from their licensed owners.
However—in February of this year a bill was introduced which would confiscate all legally registered pistols and shotguns of the D.C. citizens. As a temporary sop to hunters it would still permit, for the time being, rifles to be owned by D.C. citizens. However, these "lucky" people who are permitted to keep their rifles disassembled must submit a report "to the Chief of Police in writing each time the weapon is fired, by or to the knowledge of, the licensee, no later than the fifth day of the month in which such rifle is fired." This is like a law legalizing pot smoking, but requiring the individual to report to the state every time he smokes a joint!
If Watergate hasn't convinced the citizens that the state's words or action are sometimes not to be trusted then perhaps the District of Columbia's recent action will.
The game is still the same, only the names of the players have changed.
POWER AND GUNS
The root power of the state as it has existed throughout history has ever rested on divine commands or respected traditions, and propaganda invariably plays a role in permitting one ruling class or another to acquire power over the other—but in the ultimate it is raw force which sustains that power.
Against the power of the state, the individual must have counter power. If the counter is merely rhetorical or legislative, it is meaningless, as experience after experience has shown. The state can either buy support (as in America) or simply demand it, as in the Soviet Union. In both cases, the individual has no rights unless those rights are also backed by some sort of power that meaningfully can confront the power of the state.
If you think that this is nonsense look at some of the proposed "gun control" legislation currently being considered by various legislative bodies, both locally and nationally. In every case of restrictive gun legislation being considered, from mere registration to outright confiscation, exception to the proposed law is granted to law enforcement officers, the military and other selected agents of the state. The state thus exludes itself from all restrictions! In short, an individual can be "drafted" or forced by the state to carry a firearm to do the state's bidding, but cannot own one to protect himself, his family or his property.
The matter of firearms, in a nation of growing state power and growing state violence, in a world of growing state repression, is not a matter of special pleading or of mere convenience or legalistic syllogisms. It is a matter of individual survival!
Individuals who have no real power in the face of the awesome police powers of the state, must inevitably face the day when they become little other than slaves of the state. That day, most likely, would be heralded by the claim that the total power is necessary to suppress revolutionaries in our midst. (The British, of course, made the same point about Samuel Adams, Tom Jefferson and their friends.) Such a day can never arrive if the people maintain, as individuals, as members of communities and families the means to deter the final, fateful development of police powers by the state.
Deterrence for the people begins with their own sense of self and of community as opposed to the artificialities and formalities of the state.
But the deterrence for the people must, finally, include the physical means for physical survival. For some, Gandhian resistance will seem enough. Perhaps it is or will be. For others, the possession of the means of escape or actual resistance may seem essential. In neither case should people today sit by idly while the state takes any action which would diminish the ability to carry resistance into effect.
The right to defend one's self is an inalienable right in common-law of the English speaking nations, and particularly in the United States. But, how can this right exist if the state takes from the individual the means to protect himself? To attempt to justify this basic individual right by looking to some form of written "constitutional" guarantee or some other written "holy" commandment from the state is to miss the very point itself. For what the state gives it can just as easily take away. The right of self-defense does not rest on any solemn words inscribed on parchment or tablets of clay. It rests on the individual's natural right to life and liberty. And, having the means to defend oneself is the individual's ultimate guarantee of preserving his or her individual freedom.
Collectivist supporters of the state and others who feather their nests from dealings with the state loathe and fear individual freedom, because they view it as a threat to their very existence and power. Thus, they seize every opportunity to suppress it, usually with the cooperation of the state.
This is no time to disarm the individual. The people are already faced with vast state repression. To disarm them now may well be to destroy them as individuals possessing liberty and self-determination.
"Order" may be the excuse; "law" may be the argument; "keeping someone else in his place" may be the emotional rationale; "supporting the police" may be the civic slogan; "ending violence" may be the dream—but the nightmare of reality is total tyranny of the state.
The issue is the fundamental liberty of the individual; not whether firearms serve some other useful purpose.
Morgan Norval is national director of the Firearms Lobby of America.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Why We Need Guns".