In an article entitled President Obama Isn’t Taking People’s Guns—But Maybe He Should, Daily Beast writer Barrett Holmes Pitner makes a variety of anti-gun arguments that lack a basis in law or fact. My response is shown below.
The president zoomed in on exactly the right point Tuesday: What about the rights of those killed by gun violence to live free from terror?
For the reasons set forth in the 1,500+ articles on this website, gun ownership by law abiding citizens is precisely what is needed to allow people to defend themselves and put a stop to violent criminals. Law abiding citizens do not prevent their fellow citizens from living “free from terror,” but rather put a stop to terror. But, we will leave that aside for a moment and address the concept of a “right.”
A “right” is properly thought of as something that an individual has, which protects the individual against governmental action. For example, the First Amendment protects an individual from having the government violate his or her ability to speak freely and exercise religion. The Third Amendment prevents the government from quartering troops in a person’s home. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from unreasonably searching and seizing a person’s property. The Fifth Amendment prevents the government from forcing a person to testify against themselves in a criminal case. I could go on, but the point should be clear – rights are something that stop the government from taking an improper action against an individual.
As such, the idea that there is a “right” of people who have been killed by criminals to live free of “terror” is an absurd concept. Our rights are there to protect us from the government using its massive coercive power to trample us. When a criminal harms a person, it is not a violation of a “right.” Instead, it is a crime. A terrible one to be sure, but there is a dramatic difference between a government depriving a citizen of their freedom through the use of governmental power and the kind of person-on-person crime that has been happening since before recorded history. The fact is that humans will harm each other as they have done since before our species learned to make fire, and there is no way that any government can prevent all crime. To be sure, part of the role of a government is to have criminal laws and to enforce them, but it is a well settled legal principle that the government owes no duty of protection to any individual citizen.
Numerous Americans care more about their individual freedoms than our collective freedoms, and they are unable to see how these individualistic desires undermine the essential fabric of a democracy.
As the Second Amendment makes clear, the value in gun ownership by individuals is to ensure our collective security. Individuals keeping and bearing arms is precisely what prevents a dictator from using force to put an end to democracy. It is what prevents fascists from coming to power and committing genocide. One need only look to one of the darkest chapters of American history – slavery – to see what happens when a portion of the population is made the property of another portion of the population. That system of slavery required that the slaves not be armed, and relied upon one portion of the populace having a monopoly on arms. Indeed, the first gun control laws in the country date to shortly after slavery, and had the express purpose of ensuring the newly-freed slaves were still not able to possess firearms. That trend continues today, with many anti-gun laws being targeted against minorities.
Some people will argue that all of that is ancient history, and that individuals today need not worry about tyranny. Such an argument is short-sighted and incorrectly supposes that human nature has changed (which it hasn’t). Our country is the best the world in my opinion, and there is nowhere else that I would rather live. However it would be foolish to assume that the same political strife that has existed here in years past, or that goes on in dozens of countries today, cannot occur here. One need only look at the genocides that have happened in the last couple of decades to see that humans mistreating humans on a large scale, often with the backing of political leaders, is commonplace. Indeed, even in the USA there are plenty of riots and natural disasters that bring out the worst in people.
The “essential fabric” of our democracy is protected by having a well-armed populace. It is that armed populace, which is resistant to coercion due to the fact that it is armed, which ensures democracy. In a country where the population has no weapons, a strongman dictator can seize power and will have little trouble maintaining that control. In the USA, such a dictator would have significant trouble, as the hundreds of millions of guns in the country, in the hands of over one hundred million citizens, would pose an essentially insurmountable obstacle. To be sure, my pistol doesn’t compare with a nuclear bomb. But, pistol and rifles in the hands of citizen make it impracticable for a government to act in such a fashion, as the cost and attrition to its forces (plus the destruction of its tax base) would be unmanageable.
This democratic fabric includes the Second Amendment that has been contorted, misinterpreted, and applied in a way that destroys its intended meaning and threatens the safety and stability of our nation.
The Supreme Court ruled quite correctly in D.C. v. Heller and the subsequent cases. Indeed, I do not know how Mr. Barrett Holmes Pitner – who is not a judge or an attorney – believes he is qualified to tell the nation’s highest court that it is wrong. If one wants to talk about what threatens a democracy, I can think of little that is more dangerous than disrespect for the highest court in the land whose duty it is to interpret the Constitution and serve as a check on governmental powers. My pistol doesn’t endanger our democracy, but a situation where the Supreme Court is disregarded and the Government tramples citizens rights surely does.
It is well documented that gun sales and gun-related deaths have increased since Obama came into office, but the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller
That is blatantly untrue. The FBI’s own statistics show that gun-related crime has been steadily declining. Even the (generally anti-gun) people at NPR concede this fact. Indeed, this drop in gun-related crime has occurred as there has been a massive increase in concealed carry in the USA.
Obama is not going to take away America’s guns. I would argue that he should, as countless Americans have displayed a gross misuse of the social responsibility that comes with gun ownership, except that using force to attempt to disarm people of their firearms might inevitably lead to more violence and bloodshed.
President Obama’s anti-gun goals are longstanding and well-documented. It is the Supreme Court, Congress, and the American voters that prevent President Obama from realizing his gun control objectives.
The second sentence, in which Mr. Pitner suggests that President Obama take away American’s guns, is perhaps the most troubling in the article. A country where a president can disregard the Constitution, ignore the Supreme Court, usurp the authority of Congress, and take away the basic human right to self defense is not a democracy. Instead, it is a totalitarian dictatorship. I cannot fathom how Mr. Pitner can advocate for such unconstitutional action after having spent so many words (trying to) argue that gun ownership by citizens is a threat to our democracy.
Moving past Mr. Pitner’s article, it is important to note that history shows gun bans don’t work (either in the USA or other countries). On the other hand, armed self defense does work. Since I have already made that argument countless times and provided the supporting facts, I will provide a couple of links to such articles rather than reproduce that same text here:
My Thoughts on the Sandy Hook School Shootings in Newtown, CT and Subsequent Calls for Gun Control Laws
The Charleston Church Mass Shooting
British Gun Control has Failed: Gun-Related Crime Doubled in the Decade After the Gun Ban
Excellent article, Mr. Puryear. I’ll be forwarding it to many. Thanks.
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