Reply to -- Letters to the Spectacle
By Bruce A.
When the founders
wrote the Second Amendment into the Bill of Rights,
they had very specific experiences which made them do it, and a long
tradition of the right of individuals to bear arms to look back on when
they did it. Having had to make a revolution against a colonial
government, and having seen autocratic governments in the world, they
thought it was a good idea. How many times since then have people had to
use arms to overthrow tyrannical governments? How many revolutions have
there been? Lots. And in how many other cases might some dictatorship
been avoided had there been an armed citizenry, willing to use its arms?
Nazi Germany comes to mind.
Dear Mr. Wallace:
But people who want to own guns sometimes cite another reason -
protection from the government.
I don't understand this at all. I mean, I understand the underlying
desire to be free from government interference. But I don't
understand how owning a gun will advance that end.
This is not a rhetorical question. I'm not trying to set up a straw
man, or be disingenuous. The idea of owning a gun in order to
protect yourself from the government seems utterly senseless to me.
But it could even happen here, and, indeed, it has, although not on a
large, national, revolutionary scale. From the late 1930s into the middle
of the 1940s, the residents of McMinn County, Tennessee, had been in the
grip of a corrupt government, and ruled by an authoritarian sheriff. When
the county's 3000 GIs returned from WWII and saw the situation, they
weren't inclined to lie back and continue to take it, so they ran an
all-GI, non-partisan slate to unseat the local government.
At the end of July, 1946, they petitioned the FBI to send election
monitors. Their request was ignored, just as had been complaints of election
fraud in 1940, '42 and '44. On election day, August 1, Sheriff Mansfield
brought in 200 armed deputies, to intimidate the voters, and GI poll
watchers were beaten. Tom Gillespie, a Black man was told that afternoon
by a deputy that he could not vote, but he persisted, even after being
beaten. Finally, he was shot (not fatally). Other deputies detained
GI-ticket poll watchers, and a crowd gathered, after hearing about the
shooting. The Sheriff took the ballot box to the jail in Athens for
counting, while the deputies held back the crowd with threats that they
would shoot people.
The GIs wanted to arm themselves to defend their election, but there was
a shortage of guns in the county, so some of them "borrowed" the keys to
the National Guard armory and got out about 27 rifles and 3 pistols. (At
the end of the War, the armories were nearly empty.) They took up a
commanding position overlooking the jail, because they wanted to get back
the ballot boxes. Some GIs who were warning bystanders were fired upon
by the deputies, two of them being wounded. Fire was returned by the GIs
for about one half hour. A few people were injured in front of the jail,
and one person inside was seriously injured, but not fatally.
The deputies waited inside the jail to be rescued. The Governor called up
the State Guard, but troops were never sent to Athens, perhaps because the
Governor felt that the troops would not fire on the GIs.
At about 2 a.m., the GIs escalated the situation by throwing dynamite near
the jail, damaging the porch. After that, the deputies surrendered, and
the GIs secured the jail. The guns were cleaned and returned to the
armory before sunup, and the deputies were released after calm returned,
and it was safe for them to leave.
After a fraud-free election, the GI candidates won by a substantial
margin. The government process was changed and a new police force was
established, the previous one having fled, and the aftermath, in the
longer term, was quite good. Lawful government was restored.
You can read more about this in:
How many more times have things like this happened that we do not know
about? Is this inconsequential, because it wasn't a full-blown
revolution? Not to the people of McMinn County.
- "The Battle of Athens", by C. Stephen Byrum, Paidia Productions,
Chattanooga, TN, 1987.
- The New York Times, August 9, 1946, p. 8.
- Guns & Ammo Magazine, October, 1995.
- Firearms Sentinal, January, 1995. Order from Jews for the Preservation
of Firearms Ownership, 2872 South Wentworth Ave., Milwaukee, WI, 53207.
There are also kinds of self defense that are not just individuals
protecting themselves from criminals and people defending themselves from
government, and these other kinds of things need to be considered, too.
Illustrative of this is the way Afro-Americans in Monroe, North Carolina,
in 1957, defended themselves with
arms from the night-time attacks of the KKK. The local chapter of the
NAACP affiliated itself with the NRA and
received firearms training from the NRA. Then they proceeded to stop these
attacks from occurring. And Monroe is not the only place where such things took place.
These examples show, on a small scale, exactly why the Second Amendment was
written, so that people can protect themselves, both from criminals and other
predators, as well as from their own government. Should these people
not have the right to take such actions against their governments, after
repeated attempts to solve the problem through normal channels have
failed? Should people be sentenced to live under corrupt, undemocratic
regimes forever, the way people are effectively barred from protecting
themselves from criminals in many areas of this country? And if they have
this right, mustn't they also have the means to act on this right, to have
the arms required?
Those who doubt the tradition of these fundamental rights would do well to
read Joyce Lee Malcolm's book "To Keep and Bear Arms, The Origins of An
Anglo-American Right", Harvard University Press, 1994.
If government is like this, it sounds like plenty reason enough for people
to want to be well-armed to protect themselves from it. We've all seen
the way various government agencies have treated people so monstrously,
and in my response to Mr. Wallace's article
"Defending NRA Rhetoric", I indicated other abuses of the
BATF that show, in my opinion, anyway, that the murderous
Branch Davidian affairs were more the rule than the exception. All
of those incidents indicate even more strongly that the Second Amendment
truly belongs in the Bill of Rights.
Such a dark view!! Someone should take this person target shooting to
get his mind off things.
Owning a gun isn't a sign of freedom, or a defense against tyranny.
It just means that the government doesn't think that you constitute
a threat. If they did, they'd take your gun away. Sometimes they do.
Tell me, please, what did the Oklahoma City bombing have to do with gun
control? Many, especially in the media, have tried to make connections
with the purpose of dragging down the NRA, but, in fact, there is no
connection whatever. Some even carried it to the extent of accusing the
NRA of insensitivity for holding its convention around the time of the
bombing, paying no mind to the obvious fact that such large gatherings
must be planned years in advance.
Steven W McDougall email@example.com
Mike [Heinz] wrote a second letter this month, responding to a letter
in the last issue:
Dear Mr. McDougall:
Mike Heinz firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Wallace responds:
Your reference to BATF, which was written before the Oklahoma
bombing, is very poignant in light of it.
Please allow me to refresh your memory with these words from the
Declaration of Independence:
I think that the right to defend oneself against one's own
government had little to do with the Second Amendment, and is a
pretty useless right anyway. It's like speaking of a "right of
revolution". A revolution is something that happens when people are
ready and strong enough for it. If they had a right to do it, it
wouldn't be a revolution, by definition, but an election. By taking
arms against their government, they become, temporarily, criminals,
until they establish a new legality.
- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends,
it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to
institute new Government,
Your "fact" about the typical victim is quite ridiculous. It is not the
typical case at all, although it might be the typical case that gets big
headlines in the press, because of its political agenda. Amid all of the
crimes of violence in NYC, and elsewhere, such incidents, as terrible as
they are, make up only a tiny part of reported crimes. Further, the
Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics writes, in the summary
of the National Crime Victimization Survey, "Criminal Victimization 1994",
that "Overall, 42% of the violent crimes committed in 1994 were reported
to police". In other words, 58% of violent crimes aren't reported to
the police, but you can bet all of the ones like you mentioned are
reported. Americans age 12 and over experienced some 10.9 million violent
crimes during 1994. If the "typical" victim is "a child shot in the back
by young men firing wildly at each other half a block away in a public
housing project," I think we would have noticed a much more substantial
decline in the population of children than we have heard about, don't you
The self-defense point is interesting. The NRA paradigm is the sole
attacker you find in your house, who you back off with a gun. Fair
enough; I would consider keeping a gun for that purpose. But the
typical victim in my city is a child shot in the back by young men
firing wildly at each other half a block away in a public housing
Have you ever heard the expression "closing the barn door after the horse
has gone?" Thinking of arming the population to address just such an
incident is missing the point. The fact that such incidents are taking
place is a sign that people should have taken some action for their
protection much earlier. Consider the Boy Scout motto "Be Prepared";
consider the expression "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
If the community were taking action in its own defense (not just getting
guns, but the whole gamut of community organization and other crime
control procedures) instead of cowering in their apartments, the situation
would not likely have gotten to its present state. Unfortunately, too
many governments have done their best to make it impossible for tenants in
public housing projects, those most vulnerable people, to defend
themselves. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled last year that such a
law (in Maine) was unconstitutional. Although I can't prove with any
authority that there is a direct connection, it is a fact that the states
that permit people to carry concealed weapons have lower violent crime
rates than the states that do not.
One couldn't ask for a better representation of what is wrong with the
public debate over gun control: no facts, trying to link the NRA to the
terrorists who bombed the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, calling the
organization 'treasonous', accusing it of supporting 'guns for tots', and
taking pleasure in saying all of this. It shows that, for many, it has
gone way beyond mere opinion
Who could you arm to decrease or prevent the violence in
that situation? The child? Maybe the people cowering in their
apartments could set up enfilading fire and kill the warring
and has become something else
- Webster -- opinion: a view, judgement, or appraisal formed in the mind
about a particular matter
While tempers have flared from time to time on both sides, the use of
speech like the above, the misuse of political office to propagandize, and
the abandonment of any sense of objectivity by most of the mainstream
media on the issue has been the overriding characteristic of those
favoring gun control. By association, it taints those honest folk who
just have a point of view and don't want to participate in all of the
dishonesty. Would that they would speak out for an open, honest, factual
I will begin my answer with a question, or rather, several. Is there no
compromise between the desire of some to have full freedom of speech and
those who want it limited to what they do not find offensive? Is there no
compromise between those who want every woman to have the ability to
decide whether or not to have an abortion and those who find abortion
offensive at all times and places and want it banned? Is there no
compromise between those who want to protect the rights of the innocent
against illegal search and seizure and those who want to expedite the
tasks of the police to find and convict criminals?
- Webster --
bigotry: the state of mind of one obstinately or
intolerantly devoted to his own opinions and prejudices
No!! There is no compromise on such matters. One does not fight for
compromise. One fights for what one believes in, especially when it
involves fundamental liberties that can be lost forever if neglected.
Sometimes one must suffer compromise, and accept, for the time being,
less than is desirable, but compromise on such matters is never the goal.
- If I am adamant on such things, I am in good company: "Important
principles may and must be inflexible." -- Abraham Lincoln.
- If I am uncompromising on such questions, I am also in good company:
"Moderation in temper is always a virtue; but moderation in principle is
always a vice." -- Thomas Paine
- If I place a greater emphasis on fundamental liberty than on what some
people call safety, I am still in good company: "They that can give up
essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither
liberty nor safety. " -- Benjamin Franklin
Oh, you favor the death penalty. I don't. We should talk about this
Dear Mr. Wallace:
If I blamed these serious crimes on a pair
of scissors or on a knife no one would take me seriously. Blame a
gun and all of a sudden I have some credibility. Why is that?
Criminals and gangs must be held accountable for their own actions.
Their actions should not be blamed on the availability of weapons.
Stephen La Breck email@example.com
Mr. Wallace responds:
This was a response to my reply to his wife Geri's letter, published
in the December letters column.
I wrote back:
I believe in holding the shooter responsible. Lock 'em up. Give 'em
the death penalty when appropriate.
But this is already against the law. Calling for more laws, when the ones
we have that are appropriate are not being enforced, is pointless, and
avoids the question of responsibility. If the person is responsible for
the crime, and possession of guns by criminals or for criminal purposes is
illegal, then calling for gun control laws is implicitly placing the
responsibility on the weapon, not on the person.
And keep the guns out of their hands at the same time.
Your statements on the issue of blaming the weapon are highly mixed. In
"The Voices of Semiautomatics"
you say "the Constitution clearly allows us to draw the line, somewhere between
a handgun and a SAM, and there is no other use for a semiautomatic weapon
than mass murder." In
"A letter to Mr. Gingrich" you say "Assault weapons are semiautomatic
weapons which can fire a lot of bullets in a short period of time through
repetitive squeezing of the trigger. They are not accurate weapons for
hunting or target shooting. They have one reason for existence: to take down
as many people as possible in a short period of time." In "You Know Nothing About
Guns" you say "So some guns are more dangerous than others." And the
theme continues elsewhere: The guns are what are dangerous and cause
injury and death, and that is what justifies more laws to control them.
But in "A Poor Workman Blames
His Tools" you say "Technological
determinism is the reification of technology. Because we love our tools,
we assign them magical properties, which simultaneously let us off the
hook for our own actions. The tool has been well analyzed as an extension
of the human mind or body, but poorly analyzed as an excuse. Blaming our
technology for what we are is the moral equivalent of the Twinkie defense.
... The fact that technology permits us to kill people at a distance,
however, makes no moral difference; it does not detract one jot from the
fact that it is we who have killed. ... What is inadmissible is the
spectacle of hackers lying in the wreckage of a software project, moaning
amidst the shards, 'Our powerful tools did this to us.' ... People who
take this way out deserve to be slapped. Each of us conducts a dialog
with a tool before picking it up: Am I ready for you? When we get into
trouble, it is not usually because we did not ask, but because we lied to
Those were wise words, words that call for responsibility in using tools,
not blaming the tools when things turn out badly. Why is it that you do
not apply this wisdom when the tools are called guns? You do not call for
'saw control' or 'drill control' or 'nail control' when carpenters build a
structure that collapses and injures or kills someone. Why do you call
for 'gun control' when some criminal or lunatic injures or kills
someone? What's the matter with 'criminal control?'
It is statistically not true that "
the people at most risk are the friends and family of gun owners".
As for the danger of being murdered by friends and relatives, although
this might once have been true, it is no longer. As recently as 1965,
about one third of murders were family-related. Now, according to
National Center for Health Statistics data, slightly more than 1 in 10
murders are family-related. Eric H. Holder, U.S. attorney for the
District of Columbia, said "You have people committing crimes here now who
are fundamentally different than criminals, say, 10 years ago,".
Dear Mr. Wallace:
Surely the most important single fact about the need to control guns
is that it simply is not true that guns are dangerous only in the
hands of criminals. The people at most risk are the friends and family
of gun owners. As I understand the data, more than half the people
who are murdered in this country are murdered by their friends and relatives.
Mike Anker firstname.lastname@example.org