“That rifle on the wall of the labourer's cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”
This quote, by the English writer George Orwell, author of 1984 and Animal Farm, has become well-known among gun rights advocates. Orwell was no right-winger, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he was a committed socialist. But apparently he had not been infected by the anti-gun virus that spread throughout the liberal community in the last four decades of the 20th Century.
Founding Father & liberty addict Thomas Jefferson addressed the same idea in an even more straightforward manner: "When the people fear their government there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." He's also the guy who said: “The tree of liberty must occasionally be watered with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Quotes like these from key Founding Fathers make it crystal clear that the Second Amendment was not about hunting -- and it wasn’t about keeping the military armed, either; it was about keeping the people armed, so that they can defend their democracy and their basic liberties against over-reaching tyrants, when all else fails. Can you imagine this sort of sentiment being expressed in the liberal community today? Neither can I. (Except for right here, that is!) We’ve somehow lost touch with an important & timeless principle that will not be ignored, except to our peril. "T.J.", as we fondly called him at the University of Virginia (the world's first secular university, which he designed & founded), also gave us the pithy & powerful quote: “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” That seems pretty straightforward! Any questions?
The beloved "Father of Our Nation", George Washington, a man of few words, broke his dignified silence long enough to say: “Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.” Firearms are liberty’s teeth. That’s it, in a nutshell.
Thomas Paine, the rabble-rousing author of Common Sense, the pamphlet that played a key role in generating popular support for the American Revolution, was of the same mind, saying, "It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government." Tom Paine later became persona non grata to millions of devout Americans because of his later work, The Age of Reason -- a deist manifesto that gleefully poked holes in the Christian fantasy….er, doctrine. But the “filthy little atheist”, as Teddy Roosevelt termed him, was also a fervent little liberty junkie, and he knew a thing or two (from firsthand experience) about what it takes to obtain and safeguard essential freedoms.
The waggish Ben Franklin, who made a career of dispensing homespun wisdom, is the guy who said: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” Just when your eyes are starting to glaze over, upon being treated once again to Ben’s standard themes of “industry and frugality”, he offers up this little gem! And this is from a guy who was more of a ladies’ man than a gun enthusiast or hawkish war monger -- a lover, not a fighter -- until it became clear that fighting was the only option. Franklin also advised, "Never trust a government that doesn’t trust its own citizens with guns."
The diminutive-but-brainy James Madison, known as the “Father of the Constitution” and the author of the Bill of Rights, had lots of smart things to say. Here’s one of them: “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” That’s a key point. On one level, it really does come down to trust. Does the government trust its own people with weapons, or not? And, if not, why the hell not? What are they worried about? What are they up to?!
Some leaders who did NOT trust the general populace with guns include fascist madman Adolf Hitler; fascist bantam rooster, Benito Mussolini; and the paranoid & murderous commie, Joseph Stalin, who killed vast numbers of his own people in order to maintain his grip on power. Throughout history, tyrants of various political persuasions have had a powerful urge to disarm their people.
Commie tyrant Mao Tze Tung gave us the famous quote: “All political power comes from the barrel of a gun. The communist party must command all the guns, that way, no guns can ever be used to command the party.” In Cambodia, the communist leader Pol Pot kept his population disarmed, which allowed his Khmer Rouge thugs to murder over two million of the nation’s most educated people. Apparently, those unlucky Cambodians were smart…but not smart enough to hold onto their guns when the government told them it was time to hand them over. When Ferdinand Marcos seized control of the Philippines, one of the first items on his To Do list was to disarm his people, confiscating the weapons they had previously been required to register with the government.
Surely ignoring this much history cannot be wise! Granted, the above-mentioned men were pretty extreme examples of political douchebaggery; but human nature is what it is. And this sort of pattern has been repeated over and over again, throughout history. Do we really believe that we’ve reached “the end of history”, as some have put it -- and that the basic rules that have always applied in human affairs are now somehow obsolete? I think it’s more sensible & more savvy to assume that what we’ve created in the Western world, over the last few decades (or centuries, in some countries), is a cozy little bubble of relative enlightenment, freedom & security, that must be carefully guarded against the forces of tyranny. Because if that bubble is ever burst, things are going to get really ugly, all over again.
As Edward R. Murrow put it: “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves." That seems to be the deal. Sooner or later, if we’re all a bunch of unarmed pussies, someone’s going to take advantage of the situation, with disastrous consequences for democracy, personal liberties, and our general health & well-being.
Voting booths are tools of democracy. The news media is (in theory, at least) a powerful tool of democracy. The Internet is an awesome new tool of democracy, allowing Joe Average Citizen to promote important truths that the mainstream media has no interest in sharing -- putting the power of information in the hands of the people. And guns are another vital tool of freedom-loving citizens of democratic societies, though this is an idea that many of my fellow liberals have trouble getting their heads around.
Let me assure you that I am not an alarmist or an extremist of any kind. I don't spend my days planning for the collapse of civilization. And, unlike some of my more gung-ho brothers in the gun culture, perhaps, I honestly don't want to see our society devolve into chaos. I'm a progressive! I want to see society progress -- steadily becoming smarter, safer, happier and more enlightened, without any unpleasant slippages back into the Dark Ages. Also, seeing how I voted for the guy, twice, I don't think that Obama's calls for a national healthcare program or whatever is cause for succession, civil war, or the "Second American Revolution", as some dewy-eyed YouTubers are calling it. At this point, I think a civil war would go very badly for the gun-fearing Political Left; so I certainly don't want to go there. I'm not a right-wing militia member or a Tea Party member, all jacked up on Fox News and Glen Beck, and, frankly, I've got better things to do than fantasize about rewriting the nation's future in blood.
But what I am is a student of history. I know that a hundred and forty-odd years of relative stability does not mean that our democracy is some sort of Gibraltar-like edifice, permanently safeguarded from the forces of tyranny and political extremism. I'm also a guy who considers it prudent to be at least somewhat prepared for the unexpected and the unlooked-for. And the prospect of “government gone amok” is NOT limited to the specter of a left-wing, Obama-led “socialist” regime that keeps so many fearful conservatives lying awake at night. It could easily be a right-wing coup that puts an effective end to what’s left of American democracy.
When George W. Bush and his cronies blatantly stole the 2000 presidential election, right there in front of us, for a moment there, I half-expected to see shooting break out in the streets. An armed insurgence. It seemed that the natural response to this sort of crude, in-your-face coup, carried out by unscrupulous bullies with no regard for democracy or decency, would be for we, the people, to show the usurpers that we would not stand for it -- to take back our government by force, just as patriots such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin certainly would have done, back in the day when progressive-minded people had a little more grit. But there was no shooting, or even the threat of shooting; just a lot of bitching and whining. Then I remembered that modern-day Democrats tend to be gun-fearing pussies, entirely lacking in the warrior spirit -- people without the capability, or the heart, to back up their convictions with anything more than angry words or wasted votes. So the Republicans got away with their little ballot-box coup, and a very bad precedent was set. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to envision this sort of thing (or worse) being perpetrated by right-wingers in the not-so-distant future, especially considering the level of anti-liberal hysteria currently being whipped up by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and countless right-wing radio talk shows, Internet journals, bloggers and YouTubers.
I'm not saying that I wish the theft of the 2000 presidential election had resulted in bloodshed (necessarily). I don't take that sort of prospect lightly. But I don't take the total breakdown of the democratic process lightly either. And it would have made me proud if Democrats had at least suggested that there might be dire consequences if the Republicans didn't back down and allow ALL of the votes to be counted. Instead, our spineless "leaders" backed down, and (I'll say it again) set a very bad precedent. Now any aspiring right-wing tyrant can assume that he can get away with pretty much anything, if he has the balls and the "fuck you!" attitude shown by the neo-cons in 2000. What are we gonna do -- a bunch of unarmed pacifist liberals? Just bitch and whine, and that's where it ends. Our Founding Fathers, true progressives, embodying the ideals of the 18th Century Enlightenment, would be ashamed of us!
The basic principles that were in play at the time of the founding of our nation are still in effect now. Contrary to the beliefs of many of my fellow Lefties, advanced technology and large standing armies have done nothing to reduce the importance of an armed citizenry for keeping governments in check. Many liberals think it absurd to believe that people armed with rifles, pistols, and shotguns could have any effect on modern armies equipped with warplanes, attack helicopters, tanks, etc. Those people have failed to learn important lessons from the war in Vietnam, the Soviet misadventure in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and our own continuing debacle in that god-forsaken country. You don't hear military officers or soldiers who've served in those theaters saying that small arms in the hands of motivated insurgents are useless against a modern army. And why not? Because those people actually know what the fuck they're talking about!!!
Sorry if I seem a little worked up here. It’s just that years of listening to uninformed liberals talk straight out of their asses (and with great conviction) when it comes to guns & gun rights has caused a considerable amount of frustration to build up, and some of that is spilling out onto the page now, in the form of four-letter words & overwrought italics.
But my goal is to engage my fellow progressives in a reasonable conversation -- one guided by evidence & logic, rather than passion & hysteria. A conversation conducted from a position of knowledge & strength, rather than one of fear & weakness.
Just as religious faith without evidence is not a virtue, as the clergy has long had us believe, being unarmed & helpless is not a virtue either, although many liberals clearly think it is. This bit of philosophical whimsy has beguiled the Political Left for decades now. It’s time to let it go. Time to be prepared -- standing ready to defend ourselves, our loved ones, and our democracy.
Future generations will be forever in our debt.