A fundamentally flawed piece of gun legislation just died. Here's why the rest should too.
"Tyranny is always better organized than freedom." — Charles Péguy
It took three shootings over the course of ten years to spur Diane Feinstein, the Grand Dame of California politics, into spearheading the 1994 Assault Weapons Act.
"It was the ultimate shock," Feinstein said of the final spree that claimed six lives in a San Francisco law office. "Someone comes in, aggrieved, and goes right through the place."
And you know what? Such a response makes sense. After all, when 34 people are killed in three totally unrelated situations years apart, what other alternative is there than stripping away the rights of law-abiding citizens?
Gun control is the ultimate extension of the "government-as-parent" scenario which posits that Americans are either too stupid or too ignorant to take care of themselves. While I won't argue that our nation is plagued with an overabundance of idiocy, it is not the responsibility of the government to baby-sit everyone and make sure they don't stick a fork in a light socket.
Such a mentality towards gun regulation only punishes the average citizen by depriving themselves of the right to defend their person and their property. Criminals aren't likely to care about where they find their firearms because, hey, they're criminals. When they rob a store the last thing they're worried about is whether or not their handgun is licensed.
Yet that reaction is what we've come to expect from our society. When one lone nutjob storms into a school and kills five people, public outcry doesn't lay blame on the criminal who committed the crime, it lands on the society that gave him free access to a semi-automatic weapon and the legislators who, despite campaign promises to the contrary, cannot see the future and foretell every human tragedy that will ever occur in his or her jurisdiction.
Hey, there's a chance an airliner could be hijacked — should we be allowed to fly with that kind of danger hanging over us? Drink too much water and you'll die — why not regulate its consumption?
Because doing so would be as vain a pursuit as trying to make sure that every person who is ever wounded or killed by a firearm deserved it. Wise up — you can't standardize life.
However, it appears common sense is kicking in on Capitol Hill, as Feinstein's bill shuffled off into the political sunset last Monday afternoon. Having passed its ten-year anniversary, the bill required renewal or expiration. It was quietly ignored.
And with good cause. Opponents of the bill will correctly highlight its overall impotence at keeping weapons out of people's hands. Numerous loopholes allowed the guns to stay on the market with small cosmetic changes or minor alterations in accessories. Many that weren't modifiable were often protected by grandfather clauses that exempted pre-ban guns. Feinstein herself has admitted that "we could have written a better bill."
But while I herald the death of a law that, by the Department of Justice's admission, had no impact on crime reduction, there are bigger issues at play. How can firearms be regulated in the first place? Who benefits from such regulation?
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution plainly states that "a well-regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." There's no wiggle room on this. The Founders of our nation wanted to make sure that, if we wanted to, we could arm and defend ourselves. Strangely, the past fifty years have only amplified the need for such protection.
Why? Some would argue that the notion of gun rights in this day and age are antiquated, a relic of our rural past. Few Americans need to hunt to survive, critics say. And it's not like we're expecting the British or French to invade any time soon.
While these things are true, the Founding Fathers didn't draft the Bill of Rights to better prepare us from the hordes of berets and fish n' chips from rampaging unchecked throughout the land. The personal freedoms guaranteed to every American by that living document are there to protect you from the tyranny of our own government.
Think about it for a moment. The First Amendment protects you from being persecuted by the government for what you say and believe. The Fourth Amendment defends your right to privacy, the Fifth guards you from incriminating yourself in court and the Sixth guarantees you won't be subjected to a show trial if you're ever prosecuted. These ideas are so simple and obvious it seems silly to write them down, but they are all rights that a crooked government would love to abuse or discard if they weren't.
In the past four years we've seen numerous attacks on many of the liberties we find sacred. Censorship, the PATRIOT Act and secret "Star Chamber" trials have eroded the fundamental freedoms I noted above. Police forces and National Guard units are militarizing against their own citizens. And lest you think this is a recent phenomenon, federal Civil Disturbance plans like Operation Garden Plot and Department of State Publication 7277 have been around for decades, ready and waiting to strip you of your rights to defend yourself before killing you for disagreeing with the government.
History has shown that gun control invariably ends in total gun restriction and genocide. Don't believe me? Ask German Jews or Armenian Turks - two ethnic groups unable to save themselves from violence. It's estimated that 56 million unarmed victims fell in the 20th century alone. Crimes like these are precisely why the Second Amendment was written. In the end, you may need to make sure you have the same firepower the military has.
So I wholeheartedly support the ability for any citizen of this country to purchase the exact same weaponry available to its own army. If you've got the inclination and the wherewithal to buy a tank or a rocket launcher, go for it. If our arms manufacturers can sell automatic weapons to foreign countries that have no specific allegiance to the United States, why can't they sell them to Americans who have a vested interest in securing themselves? Profit is profit.
Am I advocating another Ruby Ridge or violent insurrection? Hardly. I just think the playing field should be level and that people who want access to these weapons shouldn't be denied because some irresponsible ass might do something deadly with it. The presumption of innocence is one of the basic tenets of American society.
Does everyone need to arm up? That's a personal decision. Should they have the possibility?
You're damn right.
Canon Fodder is a weekly analysis of politics and society.
Canon Fodder is a bi-weekly analysis of politics and society.