The Reason Why

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I received the following comment from a reader:

“I find it disgusting that some people have to voice their opinions with threats. With social media that seems to be more and more the case. Would most of these people say these things to a person’s face? I also want to say that being a Canadian I am more liberal in my views although I would never put someone down because of more conservative views. I would never, nor do I know of any other Canadian, who would vote Republican.  Republicans are far too much to the right for most Canadians. What I am wondering is why a lot of Americans feel so strongly about the right to bear arms.  I realize that it is a right in your Constitution and that we should fight not to have rights taken from us. I hear many Americans say that they need to protect themselves. From what?  As a Canadian I am not given the right to have a concealed weapon in my purse and I am 100 per cent okay with that. I feel, just as you do, that I live in a free country. I hear that it is to empower yourselves in case there is an uprising with the government. Really? I have never feared my government nor the head of state of Canada, the Queen. Whenever I am on holiday in Florida I also think in the back of my mind “many of these people could have guns on them”. This is not a reassuring feeling. I do also realize that the majority of you are carrying guns for protection and peace of mind and are not about to shoot me while I’m shopping at Target. As a Canadian I actually feel safer at home.  I guess I just want you, or your readers, to explain to me why you feel so passionately about guns and the right to carry one?”
Nancy Ontario Canada

Dear Nancy,

Thank you for asking a very reasonable question. I won’t go into the Republican versus Democrat issue, because that is a separate topic and relates to completely different views on what kind of government is best for America, views that were, once, possibly, long ago, during a brief and halcyon moment immediately after our revolution, debated with courtesy and respect for the other man’s opinion, in a gracious and honest attempt to reach what both sides knew must ultimately be a compromise. Them days is long gone.

But as to the right to bear arms, I am delighted to try and explain our uniquely American outlook on the God-given right to self-defense.

First, we must accept that self-defense is a God-given right, something no government can take away from you. Throughout all of man’s history, from the earliest known records of the Mesopotamian civilizations, men have always gone armed and usually in groups, precisely to be able to defend themselves. It was only with the rise of unprecedented wealth created by the industrial revolution that people in Western civilizations began to relax a little and stopped wearing swords or carrying guns for the first time, but during America’s colonial days, weapons were a fact of life and, in rural areas, of survival.

(An anti-gun history professor at Emory University, Michael Bellesiles, was awarded the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 2001 for his book, Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, purportedly showing that firearms were relatively scarce in colonial America, and therefore proving the historical construct for the individual right to keep and bear arms was a bogus invention of a gun industry pandering to wingnuts like me who wanted to justify their strange obsession with guns. Obviously, I am taking liberties here, because I honestly don’t know, nor does anyone else, what Mr. Bellesiles’ motivations were, but while his book was initially, gleefully, accepted by gullible and eager anti-gun types and the virulently anti-gun media, his purported “scholarship” was almost immediately called into question by legitimate historians and scholars, with the result that within a year, the prize was rescinded and he was fired from Emory. I mention this incident only to show that, unlike Michael Bellesiles, I am not making things up when I say that owning and carrying guns has been a tradition in America since before it was America.)

Understand that our founding fathers, the men who initiated and spearheaded our revolution and subsequently created as close as we are likely to get to an ideal democratic republic, were men who decided to revolt treasonously against the crown precisely because they felt they were being crushed by a monarchy that neither cared for them nor for the colonies, except as a source of revenue and geographic expediency. There is much debate about what the final straw was, but the embattled farmers who stood by the rude bridge that arched the flood and fired the shot heard round the world (Ralph Waldo Emerson is rolling in his grave for how I’ve mangled his poem) were there specifically because they had received intelligence that the British army was coming to confiscate their weapons. That’s worth remembering.

So, America had a tradition of keeping and bearing arms even before it was America, and unlike Canada, which is still technically part of the United Kingdom as a parliamentary democracy within a constitutional monarchy, America had to fight for her freedom, enduring enormous hardship and great loss of life in pursuit of a dream of equality and autonomy.

Even the western expansion of our two countries was radically different: American settlers and the American government fought battle after bloody battle against various indigenous tribes (and routinely and serenely disregarded treaty after treaty, which is why pro-Second Amendment types frequently and ironically say, “Of course you can trust the government. Just ask an Indian.”) while Canadian settlers relied upon their government (the Mounties specifically, if memory serves) to broker peace treaties instead of waging war. (Perhaps a better and more humane strategy, but all those Canadian treaties worked far better for the settlers than for the native tribes.)

I’m not trying to praise or condemn either one of our separate histories here: I’m just pointing out that there are historical differences between America and Canada and that those historical differences are reflected in our different attitudes toward self-defense today. Canadians, judging by the ones I know personally, by statements like yours, and by the accounts I read in local papers and saw on the local news during the three-plus months I worked in Edmonton, really believe in their various levels of government, and in their national government especially. Americans, at least conservative (read Republican) Americans, tend to look at their various levels of government with a much more jaundiced and distrustful eye. We also tend to be more self-reliant (for want of a better phrase) from the point of view that we do not expect the government to be there for us when we might like it to be. Anyone who has ever frantically called for the police in a life-threatening emergency knows that, with the best will in the world, law enforcement can never get there as quickly as we need them to be there. (I did it once; my ex-wife did it once. In neither case were the police able to arrive until well after the danger was past. In my ex-wife’s case, she was saved, literally, by the fortuitous and random appearance of a private security guard.) Nor is that the police’s mandate: our courts have ruled that the duty of law enforcement is to protect society in general, not the individual, a ruling that compels law enforcement to try and solve the crime and arrest the bad guys, but not to prevent the crime from happening. And, realistically, how could they?

So, while you, as an individual, have the right to defend yourself, just as every individual in the wide world has the right to defend himself, only in America is that right codified in our Bill of Rights, and spelled out to specifically mention arms. Not only is it codified, but it is given the honor of second place, preceded only by the rights of freedom of religion, expression, press, peaceable assembly, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, all lumped together under Amendment One.

Even a cursory glance at the writings of the founding fathers, their letters amongst themselves, their diaries, and specifically and most importantly what we refer to as the Federalist Papers (a series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay), shows that they considered the armed individual to be a necessary requisite to balance the power of any government. Our anti-gun politicians and the media keep spouting fatuous nonsense such as, Nobody needs a (fill in the blank) to go duck hunting. But no kind of hunting is ever mentioned anywhere in the Federalist papers or any other writings. What is mentioned, repeatedly, is the right to self-defense, and the importance of an armed populace to keep a government from becoming too enamored with itself and taking liberties with individual rights. Think it can’t happen? Read your history. I won’t bother listing the all advanced, civilized, well-educated countries that descended into murderous chaos when their governments came under the thrall of leaders with evil in their hearts. It has even happened—on a very small scale—right here in America; the reason it hasn’t happened on a larger scale is precisely because an armed populace would, and more importantly, could, rise up.

So, what do I and other Americans, feel we have to defend ourselves against? Evil and stupidity and mental illness exist everywhere, and no legislation in the world will ever stop them. Fortunately, they exist in minuscule amounts, and are greatly outnumbered by good and kindness and selflessness, but they do exist. I have used a handgun to defend my life and the life of one of my sons. I have used a rifle to defend myself and my late hunting partner from a bear. Even our Center for Disease Control (CDC), an agency which has not had a traditionally pro-gun stance (to put it mildly), stated in a report commissioned by former and virulently anti-gun president Barack Obama, that “defensive gun uses by victims” [skip] “range from 500,000 to more than 3-million per year.”

Does that mean that 500,000 to 3-million times a year law abiding Americans whip out their gats and throw slugs around? Of course not. In my case, I never even got the pistol out of its holster; just the act of reaching for it caused the two men to spin around and jump back in their van. Usually (and countless studies and statistics prove this) just the presence of a firearm resolves potentially violent criminal situations without a shot ever being fired, thank God. Nor is the average person likely to go to places where bears will regard him as the first course of this evening’s dinner, but rabid animals and aggressive and out of control dogs seriously injure thousands of people every year.

Obviously, as someone who has been around firearms practically all my life, I have a very different feeling about guns than you or anyone who is unfamiliar with them. Not long ago, driving through Arizona, where constitutional carry is the law, I stopped in a big-box store and saw two men carrying sidearms openly (in holsters outside their clothes) and identified several others who were clearly carrying concealed sidearms. My immediate reaction was one of safety, of (to paraphrase Mr. T in The A Team): “I pity the fool who starts trouble in here.” But that’s a result of my knowing that guns are inanimate objects, tools that do not cause bad behavior or discharge by themselves. I quite understand that urban people who have never been around guns, let alone seen or handled them, might respond with fear, but always remember: there is far more good in the world than evil, so if you are in a state where law abiding citizens may legally carry firearms, take comfort in knowing that if evil should raise its head and see a man with a gun on his hip, evil is likely to retract its head and leave quietly for other venues. If that doesn’t happen, at least there is someone around who has the means to take care of the situation while you wait for the police to arrive.

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