Apparently doing his best to piss off the people who work for him, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta went in front of crowd of overtly Second Amendment-supporting U.S. troops at a military base in Italy to ask why anybody "needs" assault weapons or (oddly) armor-piercing bullets. It's a question that's become a bit of a mantra for would-be restricters of personal armaments who insist on knowing what possible justification gun owners could have for possessing semi-automatic rifles that have pistol grips, or for purchasing magazines that hold more than ten seven rounds. It's also a question that seems deliberately dismissive toward the underlying principles of a free society.
As the Washington Post reported, "Defense Secretary Leon Panetta fired off a strong defense of gun control legislation Thursday, in front of a decidedly skeptical audience." Panetta's comments came after he was asked what proposals the Obama administration had in mind that "don't have to do with tearing apart our Second Amendment." Showing the tact for which he has become famous, Panetta answered:
"Who the hell needs armor-piercing bullets except you guys in battle?" Panetta told the soldiers at the U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in northern Italy. "For the life of me, I don't know why the hell people have to have assault weapons."
At this point, many self-defense activists respond that the need for guns has to do with the ability to defend against tyrannical government. Then gun controllers chirp, "but you can't defeat tanks and nuclear weapons with rifles!" thereby demonstrating that they don't keep up with the war in Afghanistan and skipped their history lessons about some difficulties the U.S. military ran into in a place called Vietnam.
But really, that's all irrelevant. Because in free societies, you don't have to justify owning things. You get to own them because you want them and have the means to acquire them. And you get to acquire more than just the basic necessities, if you so choose.
As I look around my office, I see a lot of stuff I don't need. There are two dogs aggressively shedding on the upholstery, a hat collection (panamas and vintage fedoras), CDs and DVDs, a shit-load of books …If I owned only what I need, I'd be living in a spartan efficiency apartment, wearing a Mao suit and eating gruel. I have no interest in living that way.
My ability to acquire pets and stuff that I want without having to justify the acquisitions is an expression of my personal freedom. If I had to go, Stetson Stratoliner in hand, to some puffed-up bureaucrat to beg permission to purchase the boxed set of Firefly DVDs or a mutt rescue dog, I would very obviously be living in a state of severely constrained liberty. I would be unfree, even if that hard-working civil servant ultimately signed off on my acquisitions without extracting too hefty a bribe.
The appropriate answer to "Who the hell needs … ?" is "hey, if you don't want one, don't buy it." The right to own stuff without an explanation is the right to be free.
Oh … And Leon, all bullets are armor-piercing, depending on the armor. You might want to bone up on that, given that you're the Secretary of Defense.