Following the recent Supreme Court ruling on Chicago’s gun ban ordinance, some commentator pronounced that the Second Amendment was the first and most important guarantee of freedom. What on earth was he thinking? Where does the mindset come from that enshrines a gun toting citizenry as the first and most important guarantee of freedom? Among other things, I’m a bit suspicious that too many of the would be gun toters are those whose blustery demeanor and desire to prove their willingness to defend their rights are, perhaps, not the most stable persons one would like to see parading well armed down Main Street. I’ve offered that opinion to a few gun toting acquaintances, and their rabid defense, tinged with angry outrage, of their right to be armed darn near proves my point.
But I digress. I wonder what that commentator, whoever he was, might think of the rest of our Constitution: our constitutional separation of powers, freedom of the press and religion, and commitment to civil rights. What do they have to do with the freedom he so cherishes? Or does he want his own ideal of freedom imposed on others, and is willing to do so backed up by the force of the weapon he carries?
Force of arms has had a role in developing the civil freedoms we now take for granted, but in every case I can think of that force, whether threatened or applied, did not involve gangs of armed vigilantes. Moreover, as was the case in our own war of independence and civil war, force of arms had no enduring value except as imputed to it by the unarmed power of the freedom of expression.
On the other hand, force of arms has also been the source of decades and centuries of persecution, destruction, oppression, and tyranny. Sometimes, as in the case of our own Indian wars, it has been wielded by the state. Sometimes, as in the case of the current rash of Chicago murders, it has been wielded by revenge seeking criminals. It has been wielded far too often by angry relatives and friends against those closest to them.
In the end, being armed is not, in itself, a defense of anything. It’s just having the easy and conveniently at hand means to kill. That’s all. Nothing else. The true defense of freedom is in ideas, the ability to express them, and the ebb and flow of unfettered public debate about them.
For what it’s worth, once upon a time I owned a few rifles, shotguns and handguns. Moreover, I was authorized to and did carry a handgun as a civilian in public.