7/08 Why Do We Keep And Bear Arms
Why Do We Keep And Bear Arms
As published in townhall.com
A prominent 20th-century Democrat made the following statement about the purpose of the Second Amendment:
Certainly one of the chief guarantees of freedom under any government, no matter how popular and respected, is the right of citizens to keep and bear arms…. The right of citizens to bear arms is just one guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safeguard, against the tyranny which now appears remote in America but which historically has proven to be always possible.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the 1976 Washington, DC, ban on handguns. The court ruled that the Founding Fathers wanted the Second Amendment to allow individuals the right to keep and bear arms. The minority disagreed, arguing that the right only extends to those belonging to a state “militia,” such as the National Guard.
The Second Amendment reads as follows: “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” What did the Framers mean?
Is “Militia” — as the Framers intended — an arm of government? Or did the Framers define militia as something completely different — a group of armed citizens with a right to “keep and bear Arms” to guard against unjust or tyrannical government power?
The Founding Fathers assumed that any government, including the one they established, could grow into a monster. They argued that only “the people” with a right “to keep and bear arms” could prevent such a tyranny.
James Madison, the “father of the Constitution,” stated that tyrants were “afraid to trust the people with arms,” and lauded “the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”
Thomas Jefferson wrote: “What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
George Mason said, “To disarm the people — that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts said: “What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty…. Whenever governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”
Noah Webster, the prominent political essayist who fought in the Revolutionary War, wrote:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.
Samuel Adams likened the Second Amendment to the First: “That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
Dictators throughout history sought to disarm their citizenries in order to impose power:
Vladimir Lenin said, “One man with a gun can control 100 without one.”
Mao Zedong said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Josef Stalin said: “We don’t let them have ideas. Why would we let them have guns?”
Adolf Hitler said: “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.”
Thomas Paine, in 1775, spoke about another kind of “tyranny.” Bans and restrictions on firearms affect the law-abiding citizenry, shifting power to the non-law-abiding. Criminals ignore laws. That’s why we call them criminals. Paine said:
The peaceable part of mankind will be continually overrun by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self-defense…. [Weakness] allures the ruffian [but] arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe and preserve order in the world…. Horrid mischief would ensue were [the good] deprived of the use of them…. The weak will become a prey to the strong.
Oh, the prominent Democrat quoted in the first paragraph? It was said Oct. 22, 1959, by future senator and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey. How times — and much of the Democratic Party — have changed.
Did it work — the Washington, DC, gun ban, that is?
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down the ban, holding that a) the Second Amendment gives individuals the right to keep and bear arms, and b) while the government may regulate the boundaries of the Second Amendment, the DC ban goes too far.
The New York Times, in an editorial condemning the Supreme Court case, says: “Thirty-thousand Americans are killed by guns every year — on the job, walking to school, at the shopping mall. The Supreme Court on Thursday all but ensured that even more Americans will die senselessly.”
The 30,000 number includes 17,000 suicides. But a person intent on suicide finds a way — gun or no gun. In Japan, for example, more than twice as many people, per capita, kill themselves, yet that country bans handguns.
The hand-wringing New York Times editorial fails to ask the following questions: How many Americans use guns to defend themselves? Of that number, how many believe that but for their ability to use their guns in self-defense, they would be dead?
“When a robbery victim does not defend himself,” former assistant district attorney and firearms expert David Kopel writes, “the robber succeeds 88 percent of the time, and the victim is injured 25 percent of the time. When a victim resists with a gun, the robbery success rate falls to 30 percent, and the victim injury rate falls to 17 percent. No other response to a robbery — from drawing a knife to shouting for help to fleeing — produces such low rates of victim injury and robbery success.”
Criminologist and researcher Gary Kleck, using his own commissioned phone surveys and number extrapolation, estimates that 2.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes each year. One in six of that number, or 400,000, believe someone would have been dead but for their ability to resort to their defensive use of firearms. Kleck points out that if only one-tenth of the people are right about saving a life, the number of people saved annually by guns would still be 40,000.
The Department of Justice’s own National Institute of Justice study entitled “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms” estimates that 1.5 million Americans use guns for defensive purposes every year. Although the government’s figure estimates a million fewer people defensively using guns, the NIJ calls their figure “directly comparable” to Kleck’s, noting, “It is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error.” Furthermore, the NIJ reports that half of their respondents who said they used guns defensively also admitted having done so multiple times a year — making the number of estimated uses of self-defense with a gun 4.7 million times annually.
UCLA Professor Emeritus James Q. Wilson, a respected expert on crime, police practices and guns, says: “We know from Census Bureau surveys that something beyond 100,000 uses of guns for self-defense occur every year. We know from smaller surveys of a commercial nature that the number may be as high as 2 1/2 or 3 million. We don’t know what the right number is, but whatever the right number is, it’s not a trivial number.”
But what of the Washington, DC, gun ban?
In the five years preceding the 1976 ban, the per capita murder rate in Washington, DC, fell. At the time the law passed, the murder and non-negligent manslaughter rate was 26.8 per 100,000 people. By 1991, the rate rose to 80.6. In 2006, the number stood at 29.1, almost 9 percent higher than the 1976 rate. DC’s per capita murder rate remains higher than surrounding states.
A “hot burglary” occurs when the bad guy enters a home knowing it is occupied. The hot burglary rate in the United States is about 10 percent, while the hot burglary rate in the U.K. — which banned handguns in 1997 — is around 50 percent.
Why not ask the real experts — criminals?
The U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice surveyed 2,000 felons in state prisons. It asked whether “one reason burglars avoid houses when people are at home is that they fear being shot during the crime.” Seventy-four percent of the felons said yes. The survey also asked these felons whether they had abandoned at least one crime because they feared the intended suspect might be armed. Thirty-nine percent said they abandoned at least one crime; 8 percent had abandoned such a crime “many” times; 34 percent admitted being “scared off, shot at, wounded, or captured by an armed victim”; and nearly 70 percent knew a “colleague” who had abandoned a crime, been scared off, been shot at, wounded or captured by a victim packing heat.
So, did the Washington, DC, gun ban “work”?
As the city’s former Mayor Marion Barry once put it, “Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country.”