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Copyright © 2000 by J. Neil Schulman. All rights reserved.
As the author of two books on the "gun rights" issue, I must conclude that I have been less successful than I had hoped in making my feelings clear about the NRA, the Second Amendment, and even guns themselves.
When all is said and done, I really don't care all that much about the NRA, the Second Amendment, or even guns.
The NRA could cease to exist tomorrow, and my political activities would be unaltered. As a matter of fact, I have been embarrassed in the past by the NRA publicists' apparent inability to convey my beliefs to the media, American intellectuals, and most urban professionals.
The Second Amendment could be repealed tomorrow, and it would make no change whatsoever in my political beliefs. I believe that Americans have no greater right to keep and bear arms than anyone in any other country that doesn't have such a right written into its constitution. The Second Amendment is irrelevant to the existence of the right to keep and bear arms.
Tomorrow, all the privately-owned guns in America could be grabbed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, then melted down into a mountain of slag, and my ultimate political goals would be unchanged. The absence of guns would not stop me from pursuing the same personal and political goals that I do now.
Those who want to ban guns think I care about the NRA, the Second Amendment, and guns. They think if they can marginalize the NRA, so that it is regarded as an extremist organization such as the Ku Klux Klan, they will be free to repeal the Second Amendment. They think if they repeal the Second Amendment, they will be free to pass all the laws they like banning the private ownership and possession of guns. They think that if they actually succeeded in collecting all the privately held guns in America, they will be free from violence, free from fear, free from extremists who oppose their oh-so-benevolent plans to remake society in their image.
I'm here to tell them that not only do they not have a good sense of reality, they don't even have a good sense of what motivates the people they think of as enemies.
I am personally motivated by my belief in inherent human rights. I'm an advocate of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I believe people have the right to pursue their own lives free from tyranny, regardless of whether the tyrant is a schoolyard bully, a street thug, a violent family member, nosy neighbors, or armed bureaucrats.
I'm seeking a society where property rights enable people who disagree with each other's lifestyles to live in peace with each other. I want a society where a gay bar can peacefully coexist next door to a Seventh Day Adventist church -- and as long as the blow-jobs are kept behind the closed doors of the gay bar, and the Seventh Day Adventists keep their prayers for the souls of the gay men on their side of the property line, they can live as neighbors. I want a society where channel 44 is Jimmy Swaggart and Channel 45 is Baptist Babes in Bondage--and I can unsubscribe to whichever channel I find offensive. I want restaurants and bars to be free to cordon off smokers' sections and non-smokers' sections -- and saloon keepers are free to make a rule that in the smokers' section you have to smoke. It is only respect for the demarcations of private property that enables people who despise each other to coexist. For many people, it is only the fear of retaliation for violating someone else's rights that motivate respect for them. In the real world, there is no respect without deterrence.
Each of us has the right to defend the rights of life, liberty, and private property, if necessary applying violence against those who threaten or first use violence to violate those rights. A right that cannot be exercised is no right at all. A right which is not yours to defend belongs to no one.
These are fundamental principles. The problem with those who want to ban guns is that they do not have the ability to think in principles. They think not in syllogisms but in what I've termed sillygisms. A sillygism is a sequence of statements which appear logical but which produce nonsense. For example: People who die after jumping out of airplanes are almost always wearing parachutes. Therefore, if people jump out of airplanes without parachutes, they will be safer. That's a sillygism.
This may seem obviously ludicrous to you. But I can point out to you studies conducted by people with doctorates and medical degrees, and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, where the logic is just as silly: People who die from a gunshot wound more often keep a gun for protection than people who don't. Therefore, if people don't keep guns for protection, they will be safer.
The sillygism is the same for both parachutes and guns. People who jump out of airplanes need parachutes far more often than people who don't. The failure of a parachute to save a jumper's life in a few cases doesn't mean that jumping out of a plane without a parachute is safer. Most of the time parachutes save the jumper's life. Likewise, the failure of a gun to save a victim's life in a few cases doesn't mean that living in a dangerous world without keeping a gun for protection is safer. Most of the time, the availability of a gun will save the victim of a criminal attack.
It is a love of life, liberty, and the property rights that protect pursuit of one's own concept of happiness that motivates me politically. It is an historical study of what has been necessary to secure fundamental human rights that dictates where I devote my energy to shape the future. It is an understanding of the usefulness of guns in defending the rights of the individual that causes me to defend the Second Amendment as a political barrier to the unilateral disarmament of the private individual. And the NRA being the only well-funded, popular institution that defends the Second Amendment is what causes me to support that organization, despite its failure to convey my beliefs to the media, American intellectuals, and most urban professionals.
Destroy the NRA, and I will be no less enthusiastic about preserving human liberty. I will merely see it as necessary to organize fresh grass-roots support to preserve the Second Amendment.
Repeal the Second Amendment, and I will be no less committed to the right of the people to keep and bear arms. That right precedes the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution is merely a contract among the American people in an attempt to secure this and other rights. If that contract is broken, it may be assumed that I am no longer bound by the terms of that contract -- and I will start renegotiating until I secure acceptable terms. The American Revolution which began on April 19, 1775 at the old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts was such a renegotiation.
Ban private guns -- send armed bureaucrats house-to-house to collect them all -- and my right to self defense will be lessened in no way. There are weapons other than guns that can be effective in combating even the best armed and most tyrannical government. In countries where guns are few, home-made bombs are many. There are chemical propellants other than gunpowder that can be effective in aiming and accelerating small objects at a target, and drilling holes in it.
In an America with common household objects including aerosol oven cleaners, laser pointers, microwave ovens, spread-spectrum cordless phones, and laptop computers, you seriously don't want to piss off millions of Americans who believe they own guns to keep the government under the people's control. We're peaceful and law-abiding now because our right to defend ourselves with guns is politically secure. Make those rights insecure and I, for one, promise those who use the force of the state to destroy our rights that I will find other ways to make their offices a living hell until we have once again secured our liberties.
Here's a sillygism for them: They think gun owners are dangerous. But they also think it is safe for them to try taking away guns from millions of gun owners.
Maybe they should try thinking that one through again.
J. Neil Schulman
June 11, 2000