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Sighting in the Second Amendment

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WE SHOULD NOT let the hoopla associated with the Million Mom March cause us to lose sight of the real purpose and meaning behind the Second Amendment: the ability to protect ourselves from the tyranny of our own government.

Virtually all the arguments in the gun-control debate have revolved around gun violence in American society. The proponents of registration, licensing, waiting periods, gun buy-backs, and even gun confiscation aim to rid our society of gun-related deaths.

But as their opponents have so ably pointed out, the means that the supporters of gun control are advocating are not likely to achieve their ends. People who violate laws against violence are not likely to feel constrained by gun-control laws. And people who do obey the gun-control laws are going to be less able to defend themselves against those who don’t obey the laws.

Moreover, there is no more reason to believe that a war on guns will rid American society of guns than that the war on drugs has eradicated drugs from our society. Those who wish to purchase illegal guns will be able to do so on the black market as easily as they purchase drugs on the black market.

Thus, the ultimate consequence of gun control would be a society in which violent antisocial people are armed while peaceful, law-abiding people are disarmed. Of course, that’s a prescription for disaster for those who are disarmed.

But despite its obvious importance, being able to protect oneself from murderers, thieves, robbers, burglars, and the like is not why the people of the United States enacted the Second Amendment to the Constitution in 1791. The true purpose of the amendment — one that modern-day Americans forget at their peril — was to protect us not from private thugs but rather from government ones.

Don’t forget that revolutions are, by their very nature, wars against one’s own government. Keep in mind that when George Washington and Thomas Jefferson revolted against England in 1776, they were British, not American, citizens. At various times throughout history, people have taken up arms against their own government because of what they considered to be nasty and brutal acts that their own officials had committed against them.

Historically, the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of a people has lain not with some foreign government but rather with their own government. And as Thomas Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, if a government “crosses the line” by engaging in overly tyrannical conduct against its own citizens, it is the right of the people to meet force with force, even to the point of violent revolution.

Weapons and tyranny

Violent revolution and resistance to tyranny, however, require an essential ingredient — weapons. In the absence of weapons, there is only one course of action in the face of government brutality — obedience. A disarmed society is an obedient society, a society in which, at the extreme, people obey their own government’s orders to follow the line into the gas chambers.

This point was recently reflected by what Fidel Castro said about the U.S. government’s raid on the home of the Miami relatives of Elián Gonzalez. He commented that his forces would not need to be armed to conduct a similar raid in Cuba because Cuban citizens are not permitted to own guns. What he failed to say, of course, is that because of gun control, the Cuban people also lack the means to overthrow the gun-toting communist thugs who rule over them.

“But in America, our leaders are democratically elected. We are the government. There’s nothing to fear here.” But given the proper circumstances, a democratically elected government can be even more tyrannical than a totalitarian one. Remember: the very purpose of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is to protect us from our own democratically elected government officials!

When citizens are well-armed, government officials must think twice before going too far down the road to tyranny against the citizenry. Thus, the right to bear arms protected by the Second Amendment is the best insurance policy that the American people could have against tyranny.

Mr. Hornberger is co-editor of The Tyranny of Gun Control (1998), published by the Foundation.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.