In a series of votes on Wednesday April 17th, the United States Senate acted decisively and put an end to the national debate on gun regulation, at least for the time being. The measures proposed included an expansion of background checks, a ban on so-called “assault weapons”, and a ban on high capacity magazines, but none of them were able to garner the 60-vote majority necessary for passage. Predictably, this outcome generated a storm of criticism from the Obama administration and their usual throng of anti-gun activists. However, all American citizens should be thankful that the Senate acted as it did and preserved what is one of the most sacred and fundamental components of our great democracy.
The United States of America is the longest-lasting continuous democracy since the days of Athens and the Roman Republic, and is the world’s first true democracy in the sense that all citizens enjoy the right to vote regardless of race, gender, or class. The reason for the remarkably long-lived success of this unique experiment in self-government is that our Founding Fathers built an ingenious system of checks and balances into the core structure of the government they created, thereby ensuring that no individual or group could gain too much power and use it for self advantage. Most of the current gun control debate focuses on the Second Amendment and its enshrinement of the right to bear arms as an individual right, but the original purpose of the Second Amendment was much more than that. The Founding Fathers, ever mindful of their fledgling nation’s birth out of the oppression of the British monarchy, embedded the right to bear arms into the Constitution so that an armed society could act as the ultimate check to the power of the Federal government. Ultimately, the Second Amendment is every bit as important a check/balance as the Presidential veto or Congressional impeachment power, if not more so, because it alone has kept the Federal government from accruing an undue amount of power.
Unfortunately, none of the current political debate about gun legislation has focused on the Second Amendment as a check to government power, and both sides are to blame for this to some extent. For their part, conservatives are guilty of allowing themselves to be too easily painted as minions of the gun lobby. An especially irritating trend is their focus on promoting the AR-15 and similar semiautomatic long guns as “modern sporting rifles”, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. The .223 caliber bullet fired by the AR-15, also known as 5.56x45mm NATO, is a cartridge that is not particularly effective for medium or large game. However, it is very good at killing human beings, the purpose for which it was designed, due to the bullet’s tendency to yaw and tumble through human flesh, creating large wounds and imparting massive shock to the target. Similarly, the popular right-wing argument that the AR-15’s 30-round magazines are necessary for hunting and target shooting fall short; a real hunter is a marksman and kills the prey with a single shot, while the argument that it is a hindrance when target shooting to reload more frequently than once every thirty rounds seems grounded in nothing but laziness. The AR-15 is not a “modern sporting rifle”; it is an assault rifle, designed to provide an infantryman with the most efficient tool for killing in a combat environment. Rather than shying away from this fact, conservatives should be actively promoting civilian ownership of assault weapons for this very reason; they would be the most effective personal weapon for US citizens to own in a situation where an armed uprising against a tyrannical Federal government became necessary.
The typical liberal rhetoric against the argument that the Second Amendment is the ultimate check of governmental power is typically something along the lines of “lightly-armed civilians could never fight the US military; try stopping a tank with an AR-15!” While it seems somewhat sound on the surface, this argument fails to hold true in two crucial ways. Firstly, the United States military is not some conscripted extremist force controlled by a dictatorial state. It is solely comprised of citizen volunteers, men and women who represent some of the finest individuals this great nation has to offer. Therefore, the notion that the military would open fire on American citizens if ordered to is absurd to anyone who has interacted with servicemen and women. Secondly, even if the military were to somehow end up obeying the orders of an oppressive Federal government and fighting against an armed civilian rebellion, they would certainly win some engagements but would never be able to win a long-term conflict. Historically, our military has always struggled with counter-guerilla warfare. It took almost a decade of vicious fighting to begin to suppress the insurgency in Iraq, a geographically small nation with a population of only 31 million and an average of 34 privately owned firearms per 100 citizens. Thus, it stands to reason that it would be virtually impossible to attempt the same sort of warfare in America, a huge and geographically diverse country with a population ten times the size of Iraq’s and an average of 89 privately owned firearms per 100 citizens. Because of this, the Second Amendment is truly an effective counter to Federal government power.
In the wake of recent tragedies such as the Sandy Hook massacre, the Obama administration and a variety of other liberal political forces have preyed on heightened public emotions in an attempt to force through legislation that would have dramatically restricted Americans’ right to firearms ownership.
It is a callous and despicable tactic on the part of the left to exploit lamentable events like Sandy Hook to further their political aims. The truth of the matter is that tragedies happen. Human nature is imperfect, and there are always people who are driven to do horrible things to their fellow human beings. Even if firearms ownership were restricted, those wishing to harm others could obtain guns illegally. The real lesson of Sandy Hook is that this country has done an incredibly poor job of developing an awareness and understanding of mental illness. The Senate should have tackled that issue. Despite all the pressure and scare tactics applied by the left, the US Senate decided to preserve the individual right to own firearms as a counter to the power of government.
-- Paul F. Danyow