While reading Dr. R. Scott Clark’s excellent posts on the proper reading of the Bill of Rights and its 2nd Amendment, I came across a Reformed brother in or from Scotland who apparently doesn’t understand the United States or the concept of individual liberty. In my world travels, I’ve found that’s not uncommon on a variety of fronts.
As an opener, I must observe that the United States is (or at least was) radically different from other countries. People came here voluntarily, even eagerly, to get away from various forms of persecution and tyranny. My grandparents were amongst the more recent of them. Tens of thousands of men craving liberty spilt their blood to break free from the world’s greatest super power in the 18th century and form a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people”. That concept was radical then and remains so today.
Faith provided key motivations. A great many in America were Reformed Christians who fled the persecution under the state Anglican Church in England. I read years ago that something like 70% of the colonels in the American army in the Revolution were Presbyterian elders. The British treated their uppity colonists brutally, and the fatality rate amongst their prisoners of war was appalling. The Brits buried many under what is now Washington Square in Philadelphia. The heartbeat of the American Revolution is inscribed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution: Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.
Those who fought for liberty in the American Revolution paid a huge personal price for that liberty. They would have no king, no elite ruling class. One of the catch phrases of the Revolution was “No King but Jesus!” No divine right of kings, no royalty, only free men and women under God.
So, our Founding Fathers provided us a Constitutional Republic – a government under rule of law, not people. The Constitution is supreme, not any man or woman, or mob thereof.
Most of the rest of the world has been or is ruled by monarchs or other dictators for centuries. The sense of dependence on a ruling class is bred into those folks, even long after that ruling class has become a mere figurehead. That makes a huge difference in the way people think about themselves and their nation.
So with that background, I’ll attempt to briefly address my Reformed brother Jedi Rev (doesn’t provide his real name as best I can tell) in Scotland and his post Some questions for the Christian gun-owning lobby. I’ll go point by point.
Where do you draw a line in arming a civilian population against their government?
This question in and of itself misunderstands the very core of the 2nd Amendment. No one “arms a civilian population against their government”. Quite the opposite. A free people arm themselves for a variety of reasons like self-defense, but including the preservation of liberty. A free people isn’t armed against their government, they ARE the government. Remember the “of the people, by the people, and for the people” from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address?
Now, if someone were to violate the Constitution and become tyrannical, thinking that they are the government, then the armed citizens are ready to resist. No one wants that to happen, as it would be disastrous for the nation and all involved. But to real Americans, that’s preferable to living on our knees under a tyrant.
So, the 2nd Amendment doesn’t pit the people against the government, but rather empowers a free people to liberty, recognizing their God-given right to self-defense against whomever – predatory psychopath or tyrant.
As to weapon types needed to preserve liberty, that’s a much longer discussion. I’ll offer this in brief. You make a lot of underlying assumptions, like that the entirety or even a majority of our military and police will join a tyrant. However, we have a citizen military whose brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and neighbors may likely be on the side of liberty with bloodshed assured if military members or police support a tyrant. Ponder the implications of that for a while.
How do you stop escalation to indiscriminate killing?
I wholeheartedly disagree again with your assertion about insurgency. With 30 years of military experience, I feel like I have a better handle on what insurgency is and how it works than a minister in the Free Church of Scotland. Insurgency is a concept of conflict, and each actual occurrence is different. An insurgency carried out to preserve liberty differs dramatically from that engaged in by radical Islamist barbarians who burn women and behead their prisoners.
The American Revolution was an insurgency in some of its aspects – the more successful aspects I might add. We did no indiscriminate killing. Therefore, there was no indiscriminate killing by Americans to stop. No so the British, especially Tarleton, who executed civilians, including medical personnel and women, as well as hundreds of prisoners.
As for indiscriminate use of weapons, Americans have been armed for over 220 years without such an occurrence. Indeed, FBI crime statistics, Dr. John Lott and others have well documented that as more Americans have obtained concealed carry licenses and bought larger numbers of firearms, violence has decreased in those areas. There has been no blood baths amongst free, law-abiding, armed Americans in our entire history, nor will there be.
I think it fair to point out that the U.K. leads Europe, the U.S., and even South Africa in violent crime. An almost total gun ban in the U.K. and Australia has led to an explosion in violent crime.
Is the “check” you envisage in the 2nd Amendment complicit with Just War Theory?
Yes, because it involves self-defense against criminals and tyrants. Self-defense is a key criteria in Just War Theory. As for chances of success, it worked pretty well in 1776 against the world’s leading superpower at the time. Afghanistan held out against one of the two great superpowers for a decade in the 1980’s, mostly with old bolt-action rifles and homemade mines. Never underestimate a determined populace. The United States is a very large and geographically diverse country, complicating any would-be tyrant’s plans for domination. Americans prefer to enter conflicts believing that we will win (history is on our side on that point) rather than worrying that we won’t. We find that approach very helpful.
Is the cost of maintaining, but never using, this supposed “check” a just price to pay?
Again, a false premise. See my comments on violent crime above. You center on crimes involving guns rather than ALL violent crime. Gun crime increased in the UK and Australia after their bans, while overall violent crime skyrocketed. A society without arms becomes one of two things, either a police state or rule by thugs and mobs. I offer the riots in Paris and London as just two examples. Oh, and rape in India. We’d prefer not to go that route.
The victims of disarmament are always the weakest and most vulnerable in society. Are you really willing to sacrifice them to your ideology? Should we return to the medieval days when might made right? Remember that America was built by immigrants, many who escaped oppressive tyrants. We know why we need to stand armed and firm.
Does violent force really trump democracy, and underpin liberty?
I must respectfully disagree with what you proclaim as facts in this section, and then the conclusions that you draw from those errors. First of all, the United States is not a democracy, which is basically mob rule. The United States is a Constitutional Republic. Huge difference.
Second, our history shows exactly the opposite of what you assert. We won our liberty through force of arms. What you called a professional army in our Revolution started as local militias of ordinary armed citizens. We have maintained that liberty for over 220 years by threat or force of arms. The threat of force of arms by the free world, specifically the Reagan defense buildup in the 1980’s, brought the Soviet Union down. I sat on the front lines in the Cold War and know a bit about it. Yeltsin and his followers came late to the party and certainly did their part once they showed up, but their success was only made possible by decades of dedicated, armed, free men and women in the West.
Similarly, our liberty in every generation rests upon the grace of God and the arms of free men and women in our constitutional republic. Are there many other examples of such a success? Perhaps not, but there is the United States by God’s grace. That’s enough.
Honestly, I was greatly offended by your conclusion, but I also understand that you come from a tradition that exults the state and monarchy over personal liberty. Not so here. Perhaps you were projecting your own limitations into your conclusions. I served 30 years with, and continue to materially support, our courageous citizen-warfighters. They are many of the same “young, civilian, Christian men displaying their lovely military grade rifles” whom you mock.
I assure you, sir, that America is not the U.K. We love liberty and are fully prepared to shed our blood to preserve our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. By God’s grace, we built this country from nothing to the greatest superpower in the world. We didn’t do it at the behest of a king or dictator, but precisely because we will not tolerate one. America has spread and defended freedom around the world, including pulling the U.K. and Europe out of the fire more than once. No bad for a bunch of “young, civilian, Christian men displaying their lovely military grade rifles”.
To real Americans, liberty is a gift of God to be cherished and preserved with good stewardship. To thumb our noses at that gift would be a sin. Yes, hearts are deceitful, but clear statistics on violent crime decreasing with increasing firearm ownership, along with over 220 years of liberty, reinforce the wisdom of our Founding Fathers. Possessing the means to protect our loved ones from violent predators, psychopaths, and tyrants is not sin that I can find anywhere in Scripture.
All the while, our law-abiding citizens have not turned their firearms on each other, or the government (yet). Predatory criminals exist in every society, but in ours, they have a significant probability of being shot by their intended victims. Firearms are used about 2 million times a year in self-defense here. Their benefit goes well beyond their deterrent value against tyranny. Our firearms ensure a less violent society than we see in Europe, South Africa, and Australia. We didn’t even make the top 10 in that list. As their violent crime rates continue to increase, ours is decreasing, making the most vulnerable in our society safer.
So the real question for me is, how can a Reformed officer not want the most vulnerable of his flock to be able to protect themselves against young, strong, and/or psychopathic predators or mobs? I cannot so condemn the weaker members of my flock to be helpless victims. I believe that would be sin. I find it hard to understand how you and your fellow commonwealth members can do so while believing that you have the morally superior position.