On April 16 there was a horrible tragedy at Virginia Tech. The extent of the carnage catapulted the gun-control question to the forefront of our national consciousness. To purchase these weapons, V.T. student Seung-Hui Cho underwent a background check for criminal history and mental illness, presented three forms of ID, was over 21 and went through a 30-day waiting period. Clearly, his plan was well prepared and deliberate.
The only gun control question in this case is why a judge’s assessment of Cho in 2005 as a danger to himself due to mental instability didn’t prevent him from purchasing a gun. If the judge had determined he was a danger to others in his report, the background check Cho went through would have denied him the right to buy a firearm.
This small legal differentiation will soon be closed through legislation; no one seriously thinks someone with that kind of mental history should be allowed to purchase a gun. The question of this case isn’t gun control, it is guns themselves. Why do we have a right to bear arms? Is this right relevant, or harmful, in our modern society? The right to bear arms must be protected now more than ever.
In 1964 Malcolm X delivered a speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in which he gave the United States a simple choice: give blacks their civil rights guaranteed in the Constitution or they will take them by force. In our democratic society, there are two methods by which the people hold the reigns of power: the ballot and the bullet.
Voting is just a mechanism to ensure that we maintain a representative government. It can fail. Let us remember that the “government” is merely the execution of public duties by individuals who have their own self-interests. The self-interest of individuals hasn’t changed since the founding of this nation, but the power of the government has grown inconceivably.
Thomas Jefferson said, “The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” The threat to us today is from the collusion of technology, government, business, the military, power and greed.
We all agree that to maintain liberty we must have an informed and educated citizenry to exercise the vote as a real check on the activities of government. Liberals especially emphasize this necessity, and I agree whole heartedly with them. As Abolitionist Wendell Phillips said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”
What liberals too often fail to recognize is that our liberty rests not solely on our ability to prevent abuses of power through the vote, but also upon vigilance in our ability to maintain those rights by force.
The destructive power of modern weaponry is a fact. Assault weapons and handguns are meant to kill people, period. Yet it is the criminals who will exercise the least restraint in utilizing these facts of modernity. A criminal is one who violates the laws or rights of the citizens of this Republic. Criminals can wear uniforms or not, they can hold office or not. Protecting your rights from the government is laughable if you are restricted to hunting rifles and bird-shot.
The great lesson of the last 50 years is not the might of nuclear weapons and modern militaries, it is their weakness. The Israeli wars in Lebanon, the American conflicts in Vietnam and Iraq, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are all testaments to the power of the locally supported and lightly armed civilian-soldier.
Should defense of your liberties from government be too abstract an argument, then let us consider the disturbingly similar Virginia shooting at the Appalachian School of Law by a mentally ill ex-student in 2002. Three people, including the dean of the school, were killed and three others wounded. The incident could have been much worse, but two other students had personal firearms and pulled them on the shooter, forcing him to drop his weapon. Of course, we’ll never know how many people that were saved because of the right to bear arms that day, only how many died.
Even if you read the news, you may not have known that several school shootings have been stopped because of someone else using their personal firearm. Why not? Because the media often reports that someone “tackled” or “confronted” the shooter, not that they pulled a gun. I experienced this blatant bias firsthand in my research.
Are there certain laws that are necessary to prevent the wrong people from purchasing firearms? Of course. We must be extremely wary as citizens of a democratic nation, however, of anything beyond common sense restrictions. We have to realize that our late 20th century American experience of generally beneficial and representative government is the exception, not the rule, and that our circumstances can change in the blink of an eye.
We must recognize that our Constitution enshrined certain means through which the people could control their government and the most important measures they conceived of were the ballot and the bullet. We must recognize that an armed public is not a threat to our safety but a necessary protector of our individual liberty. Most of all, we must not let the horrors of an ill mind be used to erode the rights which have guaranteed us freedom.