I was raised to be against guns. My parents hated guns, and believed that they only lead to crime and to accidental shootings.
Sure, I knew that the Constitution includes a right to bear arms, but I believed that it was no longer relevant and only applied to a previous era when there were “well-regulated militias”. I was also taught that the government would protect us, and that private gun ownership was the danger. guns,
And I have long been deeply influenced by leading voices for non-violence, such as Gandhi and King. And I still hope that their non-violent methods prevail.
What the Founding Fathers Said About Guns
A little research showed me that the Second Amendment had more to do with freedom than historical militias. Here’s what the Founding Fathers actually said about arms:
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms, disarm only those who are neither inclined, nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants. They serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.
— Thomas Jefferson, 1764
What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.
— Thomas Jefferson
Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who didn’t.
— Ben Franklin
Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property… Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.
A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.
— George Washington
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined…The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.
Are we at last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms under our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
— Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot, Debates at 386.
The Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.
–Samuel Adams, debates & Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87.
The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…
–James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).
(The Constitution preserves) the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government…
— Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist (#28) .
The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.
–Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-B.
To disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them.
— George Mason
The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
–Noah Webster, “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (1787) in Pamplets on the Constitution of the United States (P.Ford, 1888)
[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or the state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the People.
— Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
What Gandhi and the Dalai Lama Say
Digging a little deeper, I was suprised to learn that two of the best-known promoters of nonviolence in history were not opposed to guns. Specifically, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in his book, An Autobiography (page 446):
Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest … if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity.
And as quoted in the Seattle Times, May 15, 2001, the Dalai Lama said:
If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg.
How Useful is a Gun Against Tyranny When the Government Has Bigger Weapons?
Of course, the usefulness of a gun as a defense against tyranny depends partly on the types of arms possessed by the government. Indeed, as I think though it, I now realize that this is why the statements of the Founding Fathers about guns did not resonate with me when I was younger.
As George Orwell – author of 1984 – pointed out in the Tribune (October 19, 1945), the effectiveness of arms in preventing tyranny partly depends on whether the average citizen can afford the current weapon of choice possessed by the government:
The connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon–so long as there is no answer to it–gives claws to the weak.
The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans–even Tibetans–could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised country as against the backward one …The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon–or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting–not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.
Some argue that violence simply won’t work in this era:
Violence will achieve nothing, but will provide them with an excuse to crack down. The violent overthrow of government by the masses simply isn’t possible in this day and age, nor is it desirable. Our strength lies in our solidarity and our ability to bring the machine to a screeching halt. When we resort to violence, we have compromised our strength and made ourselves weak.
On the other hand, one anonymous writer argues:
[Violence is not required. But] if armed revolution were required, I have no doubts that it would be succesful. The reason: everyone knows the primary targets of the corrupt class. No amount of sophisticated weaponry will defend them.
Still others argue that resistance cannot work unless and until someone (1) invents a powerful weapon which people can buy cheaply or build themselves or (2) organizes millions of people to act at the same time.
Will It Turn Into A Revolution?
President John F. Kennedy said:
Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
I am convinced that it is morally wrong to offensively use violence so long as there are any means whatsoever of preventing fascism through nonviolent means.
Many experts say that the economic meltdown could create unrest. But are there currently peaceful means available to prevent tyranny and lawlessness?
Some – including an essay in the progressive/liberal magazine Utne Reader – argue that non-violence by itself and without the threat of violence has never worked, and claimed that those who think that the non-violent resistance of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr. or Nelson Mandela was the decisive factor in their victories are ignorant. Others argue that this is a complete misreading of history.
Some argue that violence is wholly unnecessary because fascists in a technological society are highly vulnerable to non-violent acts.
Some people – including me – believe that the only way to get the government to start serving the needs of the people is massive protests, strikes and boycotts. But others believe that it is impossible to organize large protests, strikes or boycotts because the American people are in some combination of apathy, fear, laziness, greed or ignorance.
I hope and pray that we can have change – with government serving the people instead of just the giant banks, insurance companies and defense contractors – by nonviolent means.
I hope and pray that those in government do not act in a lawless manner, but instead follow the Constitution and the rule of law, and start honoring the social contract with the American people.
Note 1: I strongly believe that safety training is essential. Keep weapons away from kids, and lock up the bullets SEPARATELY so children can’t find them. It is also easy to hang weapons above arm-reach of youngsters. Please be safe.
Note 2: Before assuming that I am a right-wing racist, please note that I voted for Obama and was very happy that an African-American was elected president. See this.