former spokesperson and NRA president Charlton Heston in his famous “from my cold, dead hand…” pose
Supporters of the 2nd amendment vary in degree from the progressive view that we need an armed militia to protect us against outside threats to the other extreme that wants to arm every individual man, woman and child to serve as a deterrent to perceived tyrannical forces within our borders. It is this latter notion that I find hard to defend and has resulted, I believe, in a condition that arms too many incapable people with weapons that only a military commander would drool over, ultimately leading to the needless deaths of innocent people.
Handling guns doesn’t intimidate me. I dove hunted as a youth with friends in central Texas and qualified with the M-14 rifle as a former Marine. And though I have never owned a firearm of any kind and feel no compulsion to do as some to “feel secure in their homes”, I have no problem with the limited ownership of those who want a semi-automatic handgun or a rifle/shotgun for this purpose. Anything beyond this is absurd and belies the real reason that the NRA opposes any and all restrictions on private ownership of deadly assault weapons; weapons that would never be used to hunt wild game or are necessary to fend off an intruder in one’s home.
What I would like to see us as a nation address is the prevailing thought among supporters, including the NRA, that condones the sale of automatic weapons to private individuals for personal protection. Such support lacks merit as a means to defend ones self against intruders in their homes. Nor is there any logical need for such weapons owned by private citizens that allows for the defense of one’s homeland. Such posturing by the NRA leadership is merely a tactic to sell more guns by free market advocates. What once served as a means to improve the marksmanship of troops in 19th century has become an organization that now acts in the interests of the gun manufacturers as much if not more than it does the right’s of citizens to educate themselves on safe gun practices
Based on information from their website the NRA was formed originally in 1871 by Union veterans Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate to improve the shooting skills of their troops while later developing programs to educate and promote the safe use of firearms for all citizens. In 1934 the NRA formed an information source for gun owners called the Legislative Affairs Division to combat what they perceived as threats against their view of 2nd amendment rights. This effort evolved into the Institute for Legislative Action, or ILA in 1975 to place NRA lobbyists at the doors of the nation’s Capital. In 1990 the NRA “Established the NRA Foundation, a 501 (c) (3) tax-exempt organization, with the intention of serving as “a means to raise millions of dollars to fund gun safety and educational projects of benefit to the general public.”
It has in fact gone beyond this innocent premise and works to foster the excessive purchase of firearms at a deadly rate. Though not a public policy of the NRA, many members defend the position that ownership of assault weapons are necessary to defend against tyranny from our government leaders. This fear is apparently a hold over from early pre and post-Revolutionary days where many who advocated “an armed nation” did so for fear that their new won freedom from the British monarchy was not yet secure.
They also did so at a time when automatic weapons were a distant reality. Not faced with the deadly capabilities of such weapons in the hands of criminals and the mentally unstable, no defender today of private ownership of assault weapons can assure that the founding fathers would be of a like mind. The framers of the Constitution were intelligent and rational people who would be capable of seeing the difference between a fledgling nation of farmers being an essential part of a local militia to protect against a more powerful European threat, and one where immature and mentally unstable people today need assault weapons to defend them from anything.
Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho
To believe as some of them do that the comments of a post Revolutionary mindset reflects the reality of today disregards the fact that we have gone beyond an ability to provide a citizen defense in the form of local militias and replaced it with a military capability like no other in the world to safely oppose any foreign threats. To believe equally that we need to be on guard about internal threats to our liberty is also a weak premise when one looks at what conditions have prevailed in those countries which gun advocates site as examples of tyranny taking over.
After centuries of monarchial rule, Germany was formed after the fall of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, nearly three decades after the first Constitutional Convention (1787) in America. Up until Hitler’s Nazi Party took control of the government and imposed his tyranny on them, Germany was never a stable Republic. It was a confederation of states always vying for control amongst each other and with an outdated monarchy, much like our often disorganized pre-Constitutional Confederation of States. There was never any long-term cohesion as a stable nation. This and Germany’s military character made it susceptible to being overtaken by a single power broker like Hitler. Then there is Russia that, up until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 which eventually ushered in the tyranny of Joseph Stalin, was ruled by a domineering monarchy.
The point to be made here is that both of these countries represent the worst scene scenario for a country to become subject to a dictator taking control. Unlike the U.S. that has had a stable democracy for over 200 years, with only the 4 year period of the Civil war breaking from this pattern, the German and Russian people were never fully cognizant of or had any real experience of personal freedom as we have had for over two centuries. We are grounded in this virtue along with having real-life experiences, making us much less susceptible to interlopers who would take it away.
Because of this we have managed to sustain a balance between our freedoms and the need for a government to set rules and standards that not only protects us within acceptable norms but advances us as a nation.
We have a system in place that allows us to amend the rules, not willy-nilly or by a coup of angry mobs, but by a process that represents each community and each state. In similar fashion we have a well placed institution that allows for the peaceful transference of power that follows routine elections.
It should also be noted too that the myth of gun ownership protecting us against internal tyranny threats doesn’t hold up in light of the evidence where both Iraq and pre-Nazi Germany allowed individuals to own guns, yet both still fell to the power moves of Saddam Hussein and Adolph Hitler.
Though becoming lax can result in allowing some usurpation of liberty, we have not faltered bad enough in our lengthy history to allow it to reach a point where totalitarianism can gain an easy foothold. The prospects for this to happen are not likely to occur either, despite what all the fear-mongering warns us about.
And as if this argument was insufficient to convince people who look too closely at its assertions, there is the distortion of facts used by the NRA to make assault weapons appear as harmless as those semi-automatic handguns most people use for the defense of their homes. Last year the NRA issued a statement here claiming that “Semi-automatics, including “assault weapons,” aren’t “high-powered.”Power is determined by the ammunition a gun uses, and semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and rimfire handguns use the same ammunition as other guns”.
This is terribly misleading as it tries to create the perception that both styles are the same. Assault weapons, though not FULLY-automatic (continuous firing without releasing your finger on the trigger), they are designed to be more deadly and thus more powerful. Their design makes it easier to fire consecutive rounds with hair triggers and special grips. They also can accommodate extended magazines that prevent frequent reloading. Assault weapons are great for those in our police forces and the military but in the wrong hands of a criminal or a mentally imbalanced person, they can kill more innocent people quicker than a semi-automatic weapon.
This should be clear following the actions of Jerald Loughner in a shopping center in Tucson in January, 2011 and the increased violence along our southern borders where the easy access drug lords have to American-made assault weapons have terrorized the towns in these areas, nullifying local police forces to provide basic security for the citizens there.
Raising the fearful specter that “our freedoms are being taken from us” to promote free market values is dishonest and puts personal wealth over human life. Keeping assault weapons out of the general public’s access will in no way diminish a citizens right to arm themselves for the purpose of feeling secure in their homes. But it will increase the likelihood of further human carnage as we saw in Tucson while conveniently increasing the profits for an amoral gun industry.