Aug. 1, 2012
Between the Lines / By Peter McDermott
The preamble of the constitution of the United States says that “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” should, among other things, “promote the general Welfare…”
Maybe we should ask whether laws that allow a deranged 24-year-old man acquire the means to murder a 6-year-old girl and 11 fellow movie fans, and wound scores of others in a matter of seconds, are promoting the general welfare?
Clearly Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, whose husband was killed in the Long Island Rail Road massacre in 1993, doesn’t think so. She believes that the National Rifle Association has intimidated politicians and said so in a WNYC interview with the inestimable Brian Lehrer on his morning show last week.
Then a follow-up caller, “Scott from Soho,” explained the real reason for the Second Amendment: “It’s like the last line of defense from an oppressive government. And if the people aren’t armed you can have one person do whatever they want to, if they have a gun. It’s happened all over the world — in Russia, how many people were killed during the Bolshevik Revolution? In Germany, when they rounded up all the Jews to exterminate them, they didn’t have any way to defend themselves.”
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And the problem with this argument is? It’s complete nonsense.
All states – whether democratic, authoritarian or outright totalitarian — are all built on the principle of a monopoly of violence. That’s how the system works. It’s called the rule of law. You or I can’t go out firing when we feel like it. The state is stronger than the combined might of anybody that might challenge it internally.
Jews constituted just 1 percent of the population of Germany itself. At which point were they supposed to have started firing? During Kristallnacht in November 1938? Or before it or after it? Further east, Jews were more numerous – but a minority nonetheless, greatly outnumbered by an often hostile populace. After the Nazis invaded the Baltic states, for example, they gave the green light to Lithuanian nationalists to kill their Jewish neighbors, which they did with shovels and clubs and whatever else came to hand. Higher levels of gun ownership in such a society wouldn’t have been much use to the victims.
Kalashnikovs, had they been around then, wouldn’t have saved Native Americans and AK 47s wouldn’t have helped African Americans during slavery or the Jim Crow period after that, because you can rely on the government to have something bigger and better. And what type of weapon would the NRA have recommended Japanese-American citizens equip themselves with to prevent their being rounded up by the Roosevelt Administration in 1942?
The far left used the NRA argument in Chile before the coup overthrew democracy. “Arm the workers!” was the cry. But Pinochet and the right would have won a civil war with more ease than Franco had done in Spain in the 1930s.
Perhaps going down all guns blazing is more esthetically pleasing to the NRA mindset. But “Thelma & Louise” was a Hollywood fantasy. Anne Frank lived and died in the real world.
It’s not guns that are the last line of defense in a free nation, but the idea of liberty itself. Essential, too, are deep-rooted traditions of democracy, cooperation and trust.
Tyranny is as likely to thrive when there are lots of guns about the place. You think that a “well-regulated Militia” or militias didn’t exist in pre-Nazi Germany? Think again. They were called the Free Corps, were well armed and helped the Nazis to power.
You believe gun advocates are in the vanguard of liberty in America? The evidence would suggest otherwise. Quite a few commentators reveal the disturbing authoritarian streak in the conservative movement. Take Ann Coulter, who in 2011 suggested that the London police fire directly on young rioters; or Fox News commentator Mike Gallagher, who in 2006 advocated the “rounding up” of prominent critics of the Iraq war, including film actor Matt Damon, TV host Joy Behar and commentator Keith Olbermann. They should be placed in a detention camp, he said, “because they’re a bunch of traitors.”
These same people want the military to have bigger and better weapons. Where, in the past, do they think government tyranny has come from exactly? Other than where the Red Army was already the occupying power, communism has never overthrown the government in a country with a history of western democracy and hasn’t even come close; but fascism and right-wing authoritarianism have — several times.
Military coups have often been framed as an intervention to “save the Constitution” and the nation from “Marxists.” One media commentator connected to NewsMax recommended this in 2009 as a fallback option for freedom-loving Americans.
Most of us hope and pray that this nation doesn’t ever take such an authoritarian turn for the worse. Generally, we must regard it as unlikely for some years to come. However, anybody plotting to take over in future decades would certainly seek to have the NRA’s leaders on board.