Silence rarely conveys knowledge, especially when it's the result of intimidation. There are moments when it's prudent to remain silent, but hardly when you're in the midst of a gun ownership debate. The political class, and its anti-gun proponents, are today engaged in a massive legal assault on citizen gun ownership through regulation and/or abolition. Their arguments are well-known and much has been written on the subject, both in favor and in opposition to the idea.
Unfortunately, silence due to "political correctness" is hampering a frank and honest discussion of the fundamental issue of citizen gun ownership. While gun ownership for personal protection or sporting uses are being heatedly defended, these are only secondary considerations to the more critical concern over citizen ownership of guns. The preeminent and fundamental case for gun ownership by citizens is to secure and preserve the means for individuals to safeguard their lives and property from a potentially threatening oppressive government.
Of course this tends to sound paranoid, for after all, most citizens today view our government as a responsive political institution, primarily engaged in helping its citizens to secure a better quality of life. Such common sentiments about one's government are not new. Even the Germans shared such a view of their own government at the beginning of the 20th century. So, to express concerns today that our politicians and bureaucrats could someday turn against their own citizens and inflict violent harm upon them is harshly condemned by many as being ludicrous.
After all, many politicians and anti-gun proponents today are convinced no democratic government could ever become so oppressive and dictatorial, certainly not our own. But what we believe and what may prove true are not always the same. We know the face of the future is forever veiled by the hand of God and none of us can ever know with certainty where we're headed. But acquiring an understanding of the past is another matter, and we'd all be wise to heed it. Too often the past is prologue to the future so it's always prudent to remind ourselves of Edmund Burke's famous line, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." And it's equally important to remind ourselves that the essence of government is a sovereign power with a monopoly over initiating force upon others, a coercive power which has become deadly and violent many times throughout the ages.
For anti-gun proponents to ignore the ravages of 20th century history and believe today's citizens should be denied the means to protect themselves from the risk of future oppressive tyranny is both dangerous and foolhardy. Have we forgotten how Germany, Russia, and China disarmed their citizens in the 20th century, and shortly thereafter their governments slaughtered tens of millions of their own citizens? Have we forgotten the "killing fields" of Cambodia where disarmed citizens were slaughtered close to annihilation in the 1970's by their own government? Those slaughtered were the helpless victims of their well-intentioned citizen ancestors who acquiesced to government mandated gun control.
Of course, today's anti-gun proponents and their political allies will argue, those places were all different and such horrors could never happen in our country, so why do our citizens need to own guns? Indeed, citizens may not need guns to secure their lives and property from our government today, but can anyone argue with certainty that future citizens will never need guns for that purpose? After all, today's anti-gun proponents are essentially betting on the lives of future citizens, and while making such a costless bet among themselves, do so by placing a deadly bet on the lives of future citizens, should their bet today prove horribly wrong tomorrow!
Every decision imposes costs in our imperfect world, and the issue of citizens owning guns is no exception. We all know gun ownership will surely bring some harm as long as evil and ignorance remain a part of the human condition. Without question, guns will continue to be used in many gruesome and horrible murders by deranged and evil people. But peaceful citizens must have the means to protect themselves from not only the isolated acts of criminals but also from an oppressive government tomorrow with the capacity for evil mass murder. These threats far outweigh any perceived "benefit" from permitting an intrusive government to disarm its citizens today. Such a threatened act, at the very least, would transform future citizens into helpless victims, should an evil authoritarian government someday try to subdue them.
Citizen gun ownership is ultimately a form of "insurance" for a future, unknowable risk. Switzerland, as well as our own country, has acknowledged and practiced this form of "insurance" for a long time. We all know gun ownership by citizens can impose heavy costs, but they are costs dwarfed by the greater horror of millions of future citizens being denied any means to defend themselves against an evil government slaughtering them with impunity.
We would like to believe such a future scenario unimaginable, but we know it's not, as our violent 20th century history has tragically reminded us. Governments murdering millions of their own citizens have inflicted monstrous horrors in our lifetimes, and there is nothing in the history of the human experience to give absolute assurance it will not happen again. The drafters of our Constitution understood this, and hopefully today's citizens will remember it, even though mentioning such a horror makes people uncomfortable, a reaction usually encountered when discussing unpleasant truths.
Finally, there are few instances in a citizen's relationship with government where non-intervention in their personal affairs is more vital than with gun ownership. The Second Amendment was established as a safeguard for citizens, should the government they created ever become evil and oppressive, to have an effective means to defend themselves against that government. With that thought in mind, what would be more devastating than for a future evil government to possess individual records on every citizen who owns a gun, what kind of guns they own, and where he lives? Draw your own conclusions: Is it either prudent or wise to surrender individual gun ownership information to any government today which could become your evil oppressor tomorrow? Can't happen? Tell it to the Germans and Russians a century ago!
Robert Anderson [send him mail] taught economics at Hillsdale Collage and was executive secretary of FEE.