As I’m watching the debates develop over the horrific shooting in Orlando, I’m also seeing some other, older arguments begin to resurface–but this time with more vehemence than before. Worse, more people seem to be taking them seriously. What I intend to talk about aren’t harmless, warm and fuzzy ideas, though they like to present themselves that way at first. If allowed to take hold, they will someday have real, maybe even deadly, consequences for you, your children, and your grandchildren. Rather than ignore history, I’d like to take a hard look at these points in my next few posts.
So who needs an AR-15, anyway?
Increasingly, the mainstream answer is becoming, “no one but a soldier.” Let’s consider that for a moment, and do so frankly. No one likes a strawman except the person who puts it up. One common denominator between several of these mass shootings is the choice of weapon. The argument goes that the AR-15 is an inherently militarized weapon, made to do nothing more or less than kill as many people as possible. It can be loaded with dozens of rounds of “high-powered” ammunition and modded with scopes, lights, and lasers to make it even more deadly. Therefore, they say, it belongs locked away in government armories and should only be given to trained soldiers in wartime. The average civilian, even an avid hunter, has no need for that kind of hardware. “Oh, you need it just in case you’re attacked by eighteen bears at once?” Or so a usual variation of the sarcastic saying goes. If all of this is true, gun rights activists are just selfish pigs, demanding the right to keep an unnecessarily deadly toy that, even if they use responsibly, is too dangerous to leave floating out in the general population. The answer is to ban these firearms from public purchase, even if more traditional, single-fire hunting weapons are still allowed.
Unfortunately, this position is built on several major misunderstandings about both human nature and history.
You may be thinking that I’m about to say, “They don’t know the Second Amendment!” If so, you’d be partially right. They do indeed have a very wrong idea of what it is. The Second Amendment isn’t about making sure I can go hunting or even to allow me to protect myself from random crazy people. It is intended to allow me to protect myself against something much bigger and more sinister: The government itself. The Second Amendment isn’t about shooting deer or bears. It’s about giving the average person in the United States the ability to wage war, if necessary. Sound radical? The Founding Fathers had just done it themselves in the late 1770s and they expected the time would come when their descendants would need to do it again.*
But there is a deeper problem here and it explains why people willfully misunderstand the Second Amendment. When someone vehemently insists an AR-15 “belongs in the hands of no one but a soldier” he/she has a profound misconception of human nature and how it shows up in governments. They are blindly assuming that soldiers (and the government in general) will always do the right thing. This leads to the related assumption, “if the government sanctions it, it must be okay.” History demonstrates the exact opposite. One of the first moves any tyrannical society will make is to ban weapons that could be used to oppose it. We see this again and again: it happened to the Hebrews in the Bible; it happened to the Chinese in dynasty after dynasty; it happened to the Scots and Irish during British occupations; it happened to slaves in the American South and to Native Americans after their defeats. The list goes on an on. History shows that human nature isn’t inherently good. It isn’t even a blank slate. We have an bent toward evil, and the question isn’t if a government or culture will become tyrannical, but rather when. The Founding Fathers knew this, and that is why they gave us the Second Amendment.
So, understood properly, the hands of average people is exactly where guns like an AR-15 belong. It is the check and balance of last resort. Any peoples who have given it up are helpless to stop any atrocity. I’ll frankly admit that this is a terrifying prospect, on a personal level, for anyone with who really thinks about it for long. The thought that I may need to own something like an AR-15 and, worse, that there is the possibility that I may be forced to use it, is something which will never rest easily in my mind this side of heaven. (Perhaps this is why so many people are so desperate to pretend that it isn’t true.)
All this is only made worse by an assumption the Founders could reasonably enjoy but we can no longer take for granted: that the average person can be trusted with the power contained in something like an AR. At the time of the founding, moral culture as a whole discouraged shootings like these, and the technology available at the time didn’t make them easy. The stark reality is that as western culture continues to degenerate morally and improve technologically, fewer and fewer people will have the self-control necessary to use new weapons responsibly. Shootings–specifically mass shootings–will continue to become more common as the moral fabric of the West continues to unravel. Expect it. Look for it. Don’t be surprised by it.
Alright, then. Are we right back to banning AR’s? I only wish it were that easy, and finding the balance may well be impossible. First, as incidents like this become more common, average people will actually need something with which to defend themselves from heavily armed attackers, and they can’t rely on the police to do it. The Orlando shooter actually called 911 before the attack began, and it still resulted in over 100 casualties. Second, if there is one institution history proves beyond all shadow of all doubt cannot be safely trusted with a monopoly on guns, it’s with a weakened, nervous central government. Even if this generation of bureaucrats has nothing but the best in mind (they don’t), given what we know about human nature, it is inevitable that another will step in and fill the vacuum it leaves behind. Their intentions will not be so kind.**
By that point, the need for an AR-15 will be clear. It may also be too late.
Up Next: Later in the week I hope to look into this idea that those who think “gun control = gun ban” are morons with blood on their hands, blowing things out of proportion, opposing common sense legislation that could have prevented these massacres.
*It is common to hear that the amendment only applies to the militias–the modern day equivalent would be the National Guard. But that doesn’t change the equation at all. As colonies and then as states each household was required to maintain a working firearm and bring it to militia musters. So, the militia depended on the people for its weapons. Hence, the Second Amendment protected the right of people as individuals to own military grade hardware.
**Personally, I would rather take my chances with crazy, armed people than with a crazy, armed government that has a monopoly on firearms. The Twentieth Century has shown governments are just too good at exterminating people, when given the chance.