Category Archives: Armed America

A License to Insurrection?

A while ago at a gun control blog that I frequent, namely Mikeb302000, we had a discussion about whether the Constitution of the United States authorizes a rebellion against the govenerment.

This question arose because some who advocate for gun rights have argued that the Second Amendment was written to give the American people the power to rebel against a U.S. government gone agley. This line of reasoning suggests that since the Founders had just fought a war of rebellion against the British Empire, they understood the need for that option to be available to future generations.

Of course, this thinking ignores two facts, human nature and the nature of law:

1. Rebels declare themselves to be against authority precisely until they are themselves the authorities. At that point, they see themselves as deserving the loyalty of the people they rule.

2. Legal systems rarely, if ever, include permission to overthrow them, even if pressing conditions exist.

So do we have a right to rebel against our government?

Yes–with caveats.

Whenever government overreaches, it loses some measure of its justification for existing. We in the United States have been fortunate for a long time that our government has kept itself within sufficient bounds that its excesses have been remedied–for the most part, but not altogether, alas–through the courts and legislatures. The War on Terror of the last more than a decade has called into question the legitimacy of our recent and current administrations, as we have seen within the last few days, thanks to the revelations of NSA spying on American telephone calls.

Obama’s response to this news?

If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here.

I do not take comfort in that. In fact, I hope that we do not come to a point at which our government loses all justification and deserves to be overthrown. But the question remains as to how such a rebellion would itself be justified. I answer that with the following two points:

1. The American Revolution was based on the premise that the new government to be created by the rebels would offer better protection of the rights of the people than the British government. It’s the equivalent of a man asking a woman to divorce her husband on the grounds that the new man can treat her better. That may be true, but the new fellow loses his claim if he falls short.

2. More than that, morality and rights are prior to law. That is to say, we are born with rights. Morality is how we protect each other’s rights while we live together. Law is a tertiary system that defends and depends upon the first two.

Governments exist to protect the rights of people living within their jurisdictions and to encourage through cooperative effort the growth in areas such as culture, technology, and so forth. Government is justified when it uses its power to the furtherance of those ends, and its legal system provides the detailed explanation of how it may operate.

Perhaps the Founders wrote the Second Amendment with these ideas in mind. But I prefer to avoid the intentional fallacy and take the text as it’s written. Beyond that, we must keep nested priorities in order and recognize that we do not justify the concept of insurrection in law but in higher sources.

Understand that this is not advocating treason or rebellion. It is instead a reminder to all of us, both citizen and government agent, that we must work within the system, so long as that system is serving its purpose. As long as we all remember that requirement, there should never be the need for anything else.

Whose Business Is It?

The recent shooting incident in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado raises a question of basic rights. According to the reports that I’ve seen, the theater in question bars the carrying of firearms. Of course, we see how well a sign declaring a “gun-free zone” worked, but that’s another matter. I want to consider the broader point about the boundaries of rights.

Take my home as an example. It’s generally agreed that I have a large measure of a right to privacy within its walls. Under our laws, if the government wants to come in, there must be a warrant issued by a judge to allow that, minus a small number of exigent circumstances. Our government violates that all too often, but many of us recognize that to be a violation. In addition to privacy, I have the right to say who gets to come in and what my guests get to do while visiting.

But what about a business? If I own a business, how much control over the behavior of visitors do I have? A business operates in public. We’re not talking about private clubs here, so we’ll leave aside questions as to whether a golf course can bar blacks or women. The point is what rules a store that is open to the public can have.

It’s here that we need to distinguish between passive and active rights. Take the case of a woman walking into a store while wearing a hijab. She is practicing her religion in public, but that’s a passive practice. If she walks around speaking to customers about her beliefs or if she calls out a prayer, she’s moved into action.

I chose the example of Islam first precisely because it’s the one that many Americans will have difficulty with. But the same question applies to a Jewish man who wears a yarmulke.

As I said above, a public business is just that. It has to be open to everyone who comes to participate in the business. A store owner has the right to remove someone who is disrupting that business, but the passive expression of a person’s basic rights–in the examples given, the right to exercise of religion–is not a disruption.

How does this apply to the events in Aurora? The handgun that I carry concealed on my person is not a disruption to the normal activity of any business. Unless I’m in imminent danger, it won’t be visible. I don’t cross over into active expression of my right to self defense on a whim. Since I am passively exercising my right, the business has no justification in banning what I do, any more than it would have to ban a yarmulke or a hijab. The laws in some jurisdictions don’t comply with rights in this regard, and those need to be changed.

What this points to is how much freedom we each may have in public. As always, I seek the most freedom that we all can have while we’re together.

With Friends Like These. . .

I’ve had occasion to mention Joan Peterson’s weblog, Common Gunsense, before, but today, it’s time to have some fun at her expense. Her article of 2 November 2011 is in praise of Plaxico Burress’s joining the Brady Bunch (Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence). Have a look at the video that she includes in the post.

Clearly, public speaking isn’t his strength. That being said, note that he lets us know that he no longer owns a firearm. Was that a message to his parole officer? As a convicted felon, Burress is no longer allowed to own guns. I’m no fan of the gun laws in New York City, but they aren’t hard to understand. To summarize, NYC gun law is, “You have Second Amendment rights only if you can afford to bribe a politician.” I do have to wonder why Burress didn’t play the game, since he does have the money. Perhaps his riche is too nouveau to have learned how to act. Burress illegally carried a handgun into the city, and he suffered the penalty of an unjust law.

He did act stupidly with his handgun, so it may be a good thing that he no longer owns firearms. From the news accounts (which are generally woefully lacking in details on these matters), I understand that he carried a .40 Glock in his pants without a holster. Had his aim been a little better, either to the left or to the right, he would have earned himself a Darwin award or would at least have removed his material from the gene pool.

The lesson that he learned is that firearms don’t provide security. I’d say that he’s a bad student. The lessons that Jeff Cooper tried to teach us for years is keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot and don’t let the muzzle cover anything that you’re unwilling to destroy. Those aren’t so hard.

In the future, if Burress feels his own life or that of his family to be in jeopardy, he’ll be able to hire a security company to provide him bodyguards. Those guards will carry firearms. But that’s the lesson that the wealthy have to learn: Do nothing for yourself that you can pay someone else to do.

Peterson finishes her article with this tissue of foolishness:

“People just don’t like to see others carrying loaded guns around in public places. Plaxico Burress now understands how badly that can work out. His message is important to young people who look up to sports figures. Role models like Burress can better deliver the message that guns don’t make you safer. . . .”

I find the whole idea of role models to be wrongheaded to begin with. I don’t have to be told by some famous person what I’m capable of doing. But if we must have role models, surely we can pick better ones than this idiot.

And surely we can understand that our rights aren’t determined by what some people like to see.

Keep trying, Joan Peterson. Your message is an encouragement to those of us who support gun rights. If you and Burress are the best that the Brady Bunch can offer, the future looks bright for us.

And Joan, if you want to get depressed, look at this page. Hint: Blue and green are good colors.

Happy Days in Wisconsin

As of today, Wisconsin joins the list of states that shall issue a handgun carry license. Any resident of Wisconsin who passes the background check and demonstrates training will receive. For the rest of us, many states have reciprocity, meaning that if you have a license from such a state, you get to carry in Wisconsin. Arkansas is on the list. To check whether your license is recognized, look here

Let the celebration begin..

Playing Twenty Questions

I ran across this site

the other day and tried to submit my own answers to the twenty questions, but it appears that comments on that article are closed. My comments on recent articles only elicited requests for me to use logic and plain English. That being the case, submitted for your approval are my answers:

1. Do you believe that criminals and domestic abusers should be able to buy guns without background checks?

I believe that rights are inalienable. Once a criminal is restored to full citizenship (i.e. full humanity), that person should get everything back. (I presume by domestic abusers, the author means someone who is convicted.) Under our current system, licensed firearms dealers are obliged to run a background check, and the named categories of people are ineligible. I don’t believe that the government has any business regulating private sales.

2. What is your proposal for keeping guns away from criminals, domestic abusers, terrorists and dangerously mentally ill people?

I carry my own guns whenever and wherever doing so is legal, and I encourage the expansion of legal areas. This is not a joke. Unless we want a police state, we cannot keep bad guys from getting guns. My solution is for the good guys–that’s you and I, folks–to have our own and be ready to use them.

3. Do you believe that a background check infringes on your constitutional right to “keep and bear arms”?


Expanded answer: The First Amendment ennumerates rights in the same manner as the Second. Do you want a background check at your library or bookstore? How about for writing articles on a weblog?

4. Do you believe that I and people with whom I work intend to ban your guns?

The author of Common Gunsense is apparently associated with the Brady Campagin. Perhaps she has forgotten the Assault Weapons Ban of the 90s? Yes, I do believe that the Brady Bunch wants to take my guns.

5. If yes to #4, how do you think that could happen ( I mean the physical action)?

Let’s see–refer to the law named in #4. Also, if one more anti-liberty justice gets appointed to the Supreme Court, the balance tips the wrong direction.

6. What do you think are the “second amendment remedies” that the tea party GOP candidate for Senate in Nevada( Sharron Angle) has proposed?

I don’t know. I observe that she lost.

7. Do you believe in the notion that if you don’t like what someone is doing or saying, second amendment remedies should be applied?

That depends. First, define what such remedies are. If Second Amendment remedies mean using arms to fight a tyrannical government–such as what happened recently in Libya–then yes, I do agree with that application.

8. Do you believe it is O.K. to call people with whom you disagree liars and demeaning names?

O.K. in what way? We do not have a right to go through life without ever being offended. Free speech means just that–free. I don’t have to like it or agree with it to support the right to say it. Besides which, some people are lying sacks of shit.

9. If yes to #8, would you do it in a public place to the person’s face?

I don’t generally speak to people that way, but if the situation called for it, then yes. I don’t say one thing on-line and another in person. That being said, as someone who carries a firearm, I have a higher duty to avoid a fight, so I don’t instigate violence.

10. Do you believe that any gun law will take away your constitutional rights?

As I’ve written elsewhere on this weblog, I don’t think that I have a right to artillery pieces or an unrestricted right to dynamite. But laws banning small arms or restricting my carrying of the same do diminish my exercise of my right.

11. Do you believe in current gun laws? Do you think they are being enforced? If not, explain.

Do I believe in them? Yes, they do exist. I don’t support most of them. Are they enforced? I have to fill out a background check form every time I buy a gun, so apparently they are. On the other hand, the BATFE seems able to send weapons to Mexico without following the rules. . .

12. Do you believe that all law-abiding citizens are careful with their guns and would never shoot anybody?

All? No. The vast majority? Yes. (I presume that by never shoot anybody, the author means never shoot anyone who isn’t threatening an innocent person.)

13. Do you believe that people who commit suicide with a gun should be included in the gun statistics?

I don’t like statistics. In this specific case, I also have to state that suicide is the right of all adults without minor dependents.

14. Do you believe that accidental gun deaths should “count” in the total numbers?

“Count” for what purpose? If the study is counting gun deaths, lumping all kinds together just produces a meaningless number. I don’t believe that we should ban guns just because a few people are silly with them.

15. Do you believe that sometimes guns, in careless use or an accident, can shoot a bullet without the owner or holder of the gun pulling the trigger?

Modern firearms designs make that exceedingly unlikely. My blackpowder revolver will fire if the hammer is resting on a live cap and receives a blow, as will my Peacemaker clone. Those are old designs. It is broadly true to say that firearms sold today cannot fire without the trigger being pulled.

16. Do you believe that 30,000 gun deaths a year is too many?

It depends on the circumstances. Are we talking about persons who are in the commission of violent crimes? Then no. If those are innocent persons dying, then yes. The number is irrelevant to the right, though.

17. How will you help to prevent more shootings in this country?

See my answer to #2.

18. Do you believe the articles that I have posted about actual shootings or do you think I am making them up or that human interest stories about events that have happened should not count when I blog about gun injuries and deaths?

As I read recently on the Internet, the plural of anecdote is not data. For every one of your stories about an innocent person being killed by a gun, I’ll raise you accounts of good guys saving themselves and others. But again, rights aren’t subject to quantitative analysis.

19. There has been some discussion of the role of the ATF here. Do you believe the ATF wants your guns and wants to harass you personally? If so, provide examples ( some have written a few that need to be further examined).

I’m not important enough to have gained the attention of said bureaucracy, but I am deeply suspicious of a government agency that monitors an area of my rights.

20. Will you continue a reasonable discussion towards an end that might lead somewhere or is this an exercise in futility?

That depends. As I wrote above, the author of the site told me that my arguments are illogical and are written in difficult wording. Apparently, she doesn’t wish to continue a reasonable discussion with me. If by getting somewhere, the author means further restrictions on gun ownership and carry rights, then hell no.

Speaking of futility, though, have a look at the Brady Campaign’s state scorecard some time. Notice how, with a few dismal exceptions, the trend is going in the direction of individual liberty. The Brady Bunch must be feeling the futility of their efforts.

The lines are now open for comment.

A Debate on the Second Amendment

Last Saturday (2 April 2011), I attended a debate held at Temple Shalom in Fayetteville, AR on the subject of employees of colleges who hold licenses carrying concealed handguns on campus, moderated by Doug Thompson, editorial page editor for Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. Supporting this proposition were Charlie Collins, Representative for the 89th District of the Arkansas House and Wesley Stites, professor of chemistry at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Collins originally advocated the proposal during his campaign for office in 2010. In opposition were Thomas Kennedy, emeritus professor of history at the U of A, and Stephen Sheppard, professor of law at the same. Kennedy had written a letter to a local newspaper that criticized Collins’s call for concealed carry on campus, and the exchange between the two led to this debate.

Kennedy and Collins presented the usual arguments against and for carrying concealed handguns. Kennedy named automatic weapons and cop-killer bullets and observed that the recent rulings of the Supreme Court allow for limitations on gun ownership and use. He said that he has no objection to sport shooting and hunting, but does not include self defense as a reasonable cause for owning a gun. Collins, by contrast, stated that calling a campus a “gun-free zone” in no way restrains someone who has made the decision to commit mass murder. The bill that he introduced in the Arkansas House of Representatives would have allowed full-time employees of colleges who also have concealed carry licenses to carry their handguns on campus. He saw this as an incremental approach to expanding gun rights.

I’ve seen these statements many times before. Those who oppose gun ownership raise the terror of bullets that will penetrate the vests of police officers and of automatic weapons without being clear about what they’re talking about. The fact is that any centerfire rifle round will punch through the standard ballistic vest that the police wear, but those same vests usually block handgun bullets. The definition of automatic depends on the context. Historically, automatic was used to mean self-loading. In other words, an automatic pistol was the kind that loaded a new round after the last one fired. We’re not talking about machine guns that fire until the shooter releases the trigger.

Collins’s statement about a campus as a gun-free zone was challeneged by the President of the Temple, Joel Freund, professor of psychology at the U of A and a member of the audience. Freund said that the atmosphere of a campus would change if handguns were allowed. As a college instructor and a supporter of gun rights, I do find this to be the challenging part of the discussion. Just as gentlemen in days gone by removed their hats indoors as a sign that they were not going to do battle in that space, it would be best if college campuses were areas in which the only fighting that takes place is on the intellectual level. That sounds lovely, and I’m not being sarcastic here. Since the middle ages, the university in its ideal was a place of freedom from the church and the state. Unfortunately, reality does insist on intruding. The academic world depends on rational behavior, and by definition, the insane and the evil are not rational. In addition, as easy as handguns are to conceal, we in colleges have no guarantee that everyone is unarmed, and I’d prefer that at least some of the weapons be in the possession of those whose backgrounds have been checked.

The most interesting part of the discussion for me was what Sheppard had to say. He went through the history of the writing and interpretation of the Second Amendment, observing that of all the Bill of Rights, that one amendment has almost nothing said about it in its early days. He suggested that anyone on either side who claims to know what Madison originally meant in the Second Amendment is simply wrong. This was something of a challenge to the claims of Stites that our Founders were radicals in their thinking and saw the Second Amendment as defending a right of the people to overthrow an oppressive government.

More can be learned from court cases that came later. Sheppard told us about a ruling in Kentucky in the 1820s that took an individualist interpretation of the Second Amendment and one in Arkansas in the 1840s that favored a collectivist model. The general pattern of court rulings throughout much of American history has been that the amendment limits the power of the Federal government, but leaves the states free to regulate firearms as they see fit. The question that the Supreme Court addressed in the Heller and MacDonald decisions was whether the Second Amendment was incorporated under the Fourteenth Amendment, just as was done with the First Amendment in years gone by.

What is important here is to see how our understanding of rights have evolved in the years since the founding of America. Sheppard pointed out that our modern notions of the natural rights of the individual are a recent idea and that the Founders of our country were not nearly as radical as we like to believe. Perhaps I’m revealing my sympathies as a teacher of literature, but a well-chosen mythology is good for our national culture. I’m willing to acknowledge that I’m reading my modern ideas into writers like Jefferson and Madison, but just as we have come to understand that blacks and whites and all other races are included under the beautiful ideas of legal equality, I think that we can find a belief in free citizens as members of the general nobility of America in their words without doing too much violence to the texts.

What I am referring to here is the idea that in Northern European societies, free persons possessed the right to arms by virtue of their status. (This includes having a coat of arms for the family.) Now who was a free person differed from one tribe or kingdom to another, to be sure, but whoever was meant had a right to personal weapons, and the society expected such a person to be armed.

The mythology of America, something that I believe we can read in the works of our Founders, is that each one of us is a free person. It has taken us a long time to work out what we mean by that. We now include those of African descent. We include women and those whose ancestors lived here when Europeans arrived. We no longer require a person to own land to participate in government and rights.

My argument here is that we are more secure and freer when we look for as many individual rights in our Constitution as we can possibly find. The fact that the First Amendment originally only limited the U. S. Congress shows the danger that arises from only finding a state’s right or a corporate right. Stites reminded us that Mao Tse-tung once wrote that all political power flows from the barrel of a gun. I hope that we don’t have to accept that thinking. The American myth is that political power flows from the individuals who make up the population of the nation.

Society must balance the rights of the individual against the stability of the whole and must depend on the responsibility of the actors within. That having been said, the prerequisite is a recognition of the rights that each of us has because we are alive. I prefer groups–businesses, states, the Federal government, and so on–to have to beg permission from individuals. I want all of us to stand up for ourselves, even as we gather together. A personal right to own, carry, and use firearms is one example of this.

Size Matters

On Talk of the Nation yesterday (16 February 2011), Stephen Hunter–novelist, film critic, and firearms enthusiast–was a guest to discuss proposed regulations on handgun magazine capacities.  Hunter was refreshing as he was the only voice that I’ve heard on NPR who actually knew the vocabulary and thinking of gun rights supporters.  I participated in the comments and got into an argument with someone identified as Bob Potter, who kept trying to get me to say that I supported private ownership of things like land mines, weaponized anthrax, and nuclear bombs.

The conversation reminded me of a song that I remember from my childhood, “That’s About the Size of It,” from Seasame Street.  If you don’t recall it, go have a listen here:

The point of the song and the problem with Potter’s responses to me is the matter of perspective.

Since I do encounter the question of why I don’t support allowing private citizens to have nukes from time to time in the arguments of gun ownership opponents, it seems that this kind of reasoning needs a response.

My answer is that size matters, as does legitimate usage.  Let’s dispose of the easiest one first:  nuclear weapons.  We are well acquainted with these bombs, whether we lived during the Cold War or are aware of the dangers of nuclear terrorism.  They produce tremendous explosions and deposit poisonous by-products over huge areas.  It’s obvious that they present a unique order of danger that goes far beyond any other device created by human beings.  But danger is not the magic quality that makes something worthy of being banned, even while it is a factor.  Why ought nukes be illegal for me to own?  There is no legitimate use that I have for one.  I can’t use one in any safe manner, and I can’t use one without harming innocent people.

How about conventional explosives?  Here, the answer isn’t obvious.  A stick of dynamite could be exactly the right tool for removing stumps or rocks from a field.  Fireworks, used with some caution, are a joy during holiday celebrations.  Fertilizer and diesel fuel have legal uses that have nothing to do with blasting.  There is a danger in the mass and indiscriminate effect of explosives, and for that reason, I do see the need for regulation in this case–regulation, but not an outright ban.

Take another dangerous item in modern society:  tobacco.  There is no safe dosage in any form, and smoking in the presence of others creates poisonous secondhand smoke.  Should we ban tobacco?  Absolutely not.  A smoker can use the substance in privacy without harming anyone else or can use it in enough open air to disperse the harmful gases.  We each have to make our own assessments as to how much life we owe to others and how much we can rightly use for ourselves.  The State of Arkansas recently passed a smoking ban on government properties, including state college campuses, and I see that as excessive.  Someone who smokes in a car or in a designated area–a properly ventilated room or an outdoor pavillion away from the entrances, for example–does me no harm.

The questions here are how much danger does the object pose and how many legitimate uses are there for it.  The more of the former and the fewer of the latter that exist, the more regulation makes sense and meets the needs of the individual in a society.

So what about small arms, in other words, weapons used by one person without the support of others?  There is some play in the definition of the term, but we can explain what it means by examples:  handguns, carbines, rifles, shotguns, knives, swords, and bows and arrows.  (I don’t include grenades and missle launchers [see above].)  What about them?

The danger that these weapons pose is one-on-one.  They are used by one person against one other person at a time.  (Yes, bullets can go through one target to another, but the point generally remains.)  A firearm that is fully automatic (firing rounds until the trigger is released) can spray a lot of lead, but again, the effect is small in number.  In addition to this practical limitation, the vast majority of gun owners never use rapid fire to harm innocents.  Outrages such as the one that happened in Tucson are so rare as to be extraordinary.  Most gun owners are responsible, and even more of them want to stay out of prison.  Yes, firearms deaths every year are too high, but if you check the numbers as I did in an earlier article, you will see that they are small, compared to other common dangers, including tobacco.

There are also many legitimate uses for small arms.  Even the Brady Campaign recognizes sport shooting as acceptable.  Their attacks are against weapons that have “no legitimate sporting purpose.”  But sporting doesn’t just mean hunting or paper target shooting.  Some of us enjoy popping soda bottles on the range.  Some of us just like the noise that rapid fire creates.  Nothing is wrong with any of this, so long as we have a safe backstop for the bullets.  Shooting is fun, and that’s a safe usage.

Some people use firearms to gather food.  I do realize that most Americans get their daily sustenance from the grocery store, but there are still many who need a gun to put food on the table.   On this site,

I read a claim that Indians in the American Southwest are an example of this.  The writer argues that a semiautomatic carbine like the SKS is an effective deer-hunting tool and can also be used against feral dogs.  Someone who belives that killing animals is always wrong can argue against this particular position, but if you eat meat or wear leather, the question that we’re actually debating is who will do the killing.

Then there’s self defense.  Here again, we have to ask whether gun ownership opponents believe that it is my right to defend myself against violent attack.  A pacifist can make the argument that firearms ought to be banned, although to be consistent, that person must oppose the military and police having such weapons.  But if you believe that self defense is legitimate, while you oppose tools that make such defense practical, I have to wonder about your sense of realism.

Apply again the test that I named above:  dangers and uses.  The dangers of small arms are few, and the rightful uses are many.  While I believe in the right to own, carry, and use small arms on the basis of natural human rights, what I am claiming here is that there is also a good utilitarian argument for them.

The question now is what we believe about human beings.  Are we generally good and trustworthy, with a few bad actors, or are we fundamentally evil?  Advocates for democracy must believe the former, and broad acceptance of rights and freedoms is necessary for a democratic society.