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Guns, Security, and Liberty

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The barrage of anti-gun-rights rhetoric in the aftermath of last week’s massacre at an elementary school in Connecticut was predictable. The usual suspects appeared on various network and cable news shows to politicize the tragedy by blaming private gun ownership and calling for stricter gun-control laws.

Leading the assault on the Second Amendment was New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made this statement to press:

With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it’s still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen. It has come to that. Not even kindergarteners learning their A,B,Cs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. For every day we wait, 34 more people are murdered with guns. Today, many of them were five-year olds. President Obama rightly sent his heartfelt condolences to the families in Newtown. But the country needs him to send a bill to Congress to fix this problem. Calling for “meaningful action” is not enough. We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership — not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today. This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. My deepest sympathies are with the families of all those affected, and my determination to stop this madness is stronger than ever.

Now, Mayor Bloomberg neglected to cite the constitutional provision granting the federal government the authority to provide just such a “fix.” If anything, the Constitution explicitly proscribes any such legislation. The Second Amendment reads, “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.”

“Shall not” is unambiguous language. But fidelity to the Constitution is a virtue not widely practiced by the political class. Moreover, politicians of Bloomberg’s ilk have no interest in the security of a free state. Hence their contempt for people’s right to keep and bear arms. Indeed, most of them view that right as a threat. And well they should. That is the whole point of the Second Amendment. But more about that later.

Incidentally, I would have liked to have seen a reporter ask Mayor Bloomberg if he was willing to shed his phalanx of armed bodyguards. After all, if guns are indeed the problem, wouldn’t disarming his own security detail be a step in the right direction?

It is ironic that just when so many anti-gun-rights politicians and pundits are clamoring for the disarmament of the American people, the federal government is amassing enormous firepower. The Department of Homeland Security has purchased hundreds of millions of rounds of ammunition in the past six months. Even the Social Security Administration is loading up on ammo, purchasing 174,000 rounds this year. And we learned last year that the U.S. Department of Education commands what is effectively its own SWAT team.

This latest mass shooting was certainly a horrible event, but why is it a reason to deprive people of their natural right to self-defense? Imposing restrictions on private gun ownership in response to this attack makes about as much sense as eliminating the private use of automobiles in order to reduce the number of traffic-related deaths. The lack of critical thinking in the aftermath of these events never ceases to amaze me.

The economist John Lott has argued persuasively that gun-control laws actually increase crime. In his More Guns, Less Crime, Lott concluded, after conducting extensive research, that jurisdictions with fewer restrictions on private gun ownership enjoy significantly lower crime rates than those with more stringent restrictions. The explanation is pretty obvious: an armed citizenry creates a riskier environment for criminals.

In his The Bias Against Guns, Lott makes the point that the benefits of private gun ownership are often overlooked. The media rarely covers incidents involving the defensive use of a gun, while those involving fatal shootings are frequently reported. According to Lott, this disparity is because “in many defensive cases a handgun is simply brandished, and no one is harmed, [so] many defensive uses are never even reported to the police.”

Now, advocates of gun control argue that we should rely on our police forces for protection. But there are not enough police officers on the streets to provide such blanket protection. Nor should we want there to be. A cop on every street corner is indicative of a police state. And there are already too many cops cruising around, harassing, abusing, and fleecing the citizenry. In a free society, people should be expected to provide for their own basic security. Private gun ownership makes meeting that responsibility of citizenship much easier.

This latest incident followed the pattern of similar past events: police officers, “first responders,” and various law-enforcement functionaries arriving on the scene after the assailant had claimed his victims.

Which brings up another point to this story. The mass shooting highlights the utter foolishness of declaring schools “gun-free zones.” Such declarations do nothing to enhance the security of the schools. Indeed, all they do is signal to aspiring mass murderers that the teachers and staff are totally disarmed and thus will be unable to defend themselves and the children entrusted to their care.

But in the final analysis, the Second Amendment is not about personal safety (nor hunting). It was included in the Bill of Rights as a recognition of our natural right to defend ourselves from a despotic government and as a guarantee that we would have the means to exercise that right. This may be anathema to the post-constitutional dispensation requiring unqualified obedience to the state, but it is in keeping with the original intent of the Constitution and the principles upon which the country was founded.

The Founding Fathers understood that the right to keep and bear arms was essential to the preservation of liberty. The British Empire understood it too, which is why it sought to quell the American Revolution by dispatching an army to seize the gunpowder stores controlled by the rebellious colonial militias at Lexington and Concord. The rest, as they say, is history.

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    Tim Kelly is a columnist and policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia, a correspondent for Radio America’s Special Investigator, and a political cartoonist.