Saturday, April 21, 2007

Guns and Liberty

Second Amendment fetishists like to argue that guns in themselves preserve liberty; we see this from a commenter on Steve's post, and we see it at wingnut sites like this one.

They always argue this in the abstract, though. The whole guns-as-guarantors-of-freedom argument would be more credible if a) they could come up with a plausible mechanism by which it accomplishes the task, and b) it had any basis in how American history has actually played out.

Which, if you look at it for five minutes, it doesn't. Widespread ownership of guns did nothing to prevent, say, the internment of Japanese-Americans or the Red Scares of the '20s and the '50s. It didn't prevent the wholesale extermination of Native Americans; in fact, much of the slaughter was carried out not by the military but by armed settlers, in violation of treaties (but, we suppose, in full accordance with the Second Amendment). We'll likely have more spasms of mass oppression in the future, and I'm pretty confident in predicting that guns won't prevent any of it.

(What does protect liberty: phones. Faxes. Copiers. E-mail. Satellite communications. Those are the things that made the difference when the Soviet-backed regimes fell in Eastern Europe. Not perfect, not always decisive, but a whole lot more effective as a weapon for freedom than guns will ever be.)

Conversely, look at groups that have taken up arms (or, if you will, 'exercised their Second Amendment rights') against what they perceived as oppression: the SLA, the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations...and of course the traitorous Southern militias, which by any real-world standard took up arms in defense of oppression. (Off the top of my head, the only really justified example I can think of is John Brown...and he got hanged for 'exercising his Second Amendment rights'.) All of which illustrate another serious problem with the guns-as-liberty argument: the least reasonable are the first to embrace violent means.

Finally, there's the problem that we Gringolandians can't even agree on what rights are worth protecting. Habeas corpus? Not an issue for a lot of gun owners. (Here I have to give Bob Barr, wingnut though he is, credit for consistency.) Vaporizing prairie dogs with assault rifles? Now there's a 'right' worth protecting. If some truly (as opposed to pseudo-) fascist regime took control, what are the odds that the gun owners will be on the right side? How realistic is it to imagine that we would rise as one to oppose injustice? Isn't it far more likely that if it came down to shooting, it would be Gringolandian against Gringolandian, with sizable minorities on each side and most of the guns on the side of evil?