A Polite Society
Vol: 49 Issue: 19 Wednesday, October 19, 2005
1950’s-era science fiction writer Robert F. Heinlein observed, in one of his science fiction novels in which he depicted future society as a kind of Wild West in which all citizens were armed and duels were commonplace; “An armed society is a polite society.”
In the American West in the 1880’s, a man could find himself in a fight to the death over a perceived insult. Shooting a card cheat caught in the act was justifiable homicide in practice, whether or not it was codified in law.
Disrespecting decent women was an offense that could put one on Boot Hill pushing up daisies before sundown. And one thought twice about using a gun to commit a robbery, since the odds were better that even that every other person in the room was armed, as well.
That is not to say I am an advocate of returning to the era of vigilante justice as handed down from the barrel of a .44 Colt. That said, it doesn’t change the basic truth behind Heinlein’s contention: An armed society IS a polite society. Moreover, an armed society is a safer society.
Consider, for a moment, the terror inspired by the Beltway sniper case. People living in the area surrounding the Washington DC area were terrified by the prospect of being gunned down at random in the streets by a crazed gunman. (Or gunmen, as it turned out)
Had John Muhammed and Lee Malvo had to worry about whether or not every person they saw might be armed with a weapon, the killing spree might never have begun. Throughout America’s cities, gang violence runs rampant. Gangs control entire neighborhoods in some cities, terrorizing and victimizing with relative impunity.
Some Los Angles gangs require prospective members to commit a murder as a form of initiation. To fulfill their initiation, they just walk up to a stranger in the street at random, pull out a gun, and shoot him in public in front of witnesses.
Gangsters call that ‘making their bones.’ Such murders are seldom solved, since random shootings leave little for police to follow up on, greatly diminishing the chance of getting caught. Remove the risk of getting shot by some bystander, and it is practically risk-free.
If the possibility existed that armed passers-by might pull out their own guns and shoot them in return, the practice would suddenly become a whole lot riskier. And a whole lot less common.
I recall a movie I saw once in which a couple of crooks decided to stick up a neighborhood bar. They walked in, took up positions on either end of the bar, and announced it was a stickup. What they didn’t know was this was a bar frequented by off-duty police.
Every cop in the bar simultaneously pulled his weapon and pointed it at the bad guys. The robbers, outnumbered thirty guns to two, surrendered meekly in what was a visually hilarious scene.
One of the many terrorist manuals confiscated in Afghanistan included a plan in which various terrorist cells would send its members out knocking on doors in American neighborhoods and then shooting whoever answered the door. When revealed by authorities, the plan sent chills up and down spines across America, as it was intended to do.
But if behind every door was an American armed with a gun, the terrorists’ plan would have been noteworthy only because of its stupidity.
The Swiss have the most liberal gun laws in Europe. Every Swiss citizen is required to both own, and be proficient with, his own gun. That is the secret to the famous Swiss neutrality that has kept it free from invasion for centuries. Even Adolf Hitler respected Swiss neutrality. Switzerland, with its armed population of gun enthusiasts, would be too costly to take by force.
A relative handful of well-armed and motivated citizens can hold even the most powerful military forces at bay. Just look at what a handful of armed insurgents — out of fifty million Iraqis — have been able to accomplish against the most powerful military forces the world has ever seen.
Pretty much every American concerned with homeland security recognizes the threat posed by our porous border with Mexico. For years, the federal government argued that federal agencies were doing the best that they could.
Until armed members of the “Minutemen’ took up positions along the border and illegal immigration was immediately choked off.
The 2nd Amendment says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”.
The Supreme Court decided in a landmark case styled “The United States v. Miller” that the 2nd Amendment did not apply to ordinary citizens, but instead conferred a special privilege on the National Guard.
This interpretation was one of those that make you go, “Hmmm.” In this view, the 2nd Amendment confers the right to bear arms to the government. It would, therefore, be the only amendment specifically granting a special right TO the government among a series of amendments designed to LIMIT the rights of government and to enumerate the rights of the people.
It is simply ludicrous that the Founding Fathers would convey the right to bear arms to itself. They already conferred the responsibility to provide for the common defense to the Congress.
Did the Founding Fathers feel the need to tell the Congress, (via the people’s “Bill of Rights” no less), that the Congress could use GUNS to defend against foreign enemies? What did they think Congress was going to use, absent the 2nd Amendment? Spitballs?
The Supreme Court’s interpretation grows even more bizarre when viewed in light of USC Title 10, Chapter 13, Section 311 (a);
“The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are commissioned officers of the National Guard.”
And, “(b) The classes of the militia are- (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.”
Note that Title 10 doesn’t identify those who are qualified to join a militia, or even those who have, but identifies all able bodied Americans between 17 and 45 as already being members of ‘the militia’ by default.
Ummm, run that Supreme Court decision by me again? The 2nd Amendment gives the right to bear arms to the militia, but not to ordinary citizens?
Despite propaganda to the contrary, guns are used in America more than twice as often for defensive purposes as they are for offensive purposes. Bad guys choose their victims based on the likelihood they might be armed.
When I was a police officer, our department issued a cruiser to each officer to take home, and to use off duty within the city limits. The idea was to convey the image of a much larger police presence on the street than there actually was. In addition, an off duty officer in his cruiser was automatically available for backup as needed.
It also accomplished something else. In ten years, I never had to lock the doors to my house when I went out, as long as that cruiser was parked in my driveway. The homes of police officers are rarely deliberately chosen by burglars as preferred targets.
Especially if there looks like there might be someone home.
Noted John Stossel in a recent column, “As Alex Kozinski, a federal appeals judge and an immigrant from Eastern Europe, warned in 2003, “the simple truth — born of experience — is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people.”
“The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do,” Judge Kozinski noted. “But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.”