The Uncomfortable Relationship Between Guns and Freedom
The cause of freedom has always been one worth defending, no matter whose freedoms are under attack, no matter who is the attacker. Today US citizens mark the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. with a federal holiday. But this year in Virginia it was marked rather differently than usual when 22,000 citizens converged on the State Capitol to demonstrate against a move to curtail their freedom – new gun restrictions being imposed by the State’s Governor.
It can seem strange to us in the UK to watch this stand-off play out between the State Governor and citizens, with even police taking the side of ordinary people against the Governor. Here in the UK we began to lose our gun rights about 100 years ago and have seen them steadily eroded over the passing decades – the paranoia and cynical opportunism of the British establishment evident throughout.
The US is a different place though, founded on revolution against tyranny, the right to bear arms is a founding principle codified in the second amendment to the US Constitution. Gun owner rights advocates frequently cite their right to be armed as a key deterrent to state attacks on their rights. Something Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is finding out today as armed citizens peacefully mingle together, with their guns and banners, including one picturing a rifle with the words “come and take it”. That’s the object lesson for these peaceful demonstrators, no one is coming to take their guns precisely because they are armed and united. It’s an effective check on government tyranny, which is how the Governor’s dismissal of Constitutional rights is viewed. “This is about losing one of the base freedoms that we have. Without it, all the others fall right behind it,” said one demonstrator. And he has a point, as history demonstrates that terrible atrocities have been inflicted by governments against their own unarmed people.
We can take the example of Nazi Germany, whose Minister for the Interior, Wilhelm Frick, promulgated laws forbidding Jews to own weapons in 1938, then barely 3 years later the regime hatched what became known as the ‘final solution’ to kill the jews, over 1 million children included. Or we can look to more recent times, in 2012 the Chávez regime in Venezuela banned private gun ownership, but in 2017-18, under Maduro, pro-democracy demonstrators were shot dead by government forces in brutal retaliation to their call to end the oppressive socialist regime.
Against that backdrop perhaps we can have some sympathy with Second Amendment supporters in Virginia pushing back against Governor Northam’s disregard of their constitutional rights. Pushing back before it was too late is something Venezuelans can only wish they had done. “Guns would have served as a vital pillar to remaining a free people, or at least able to put up a fight,” said Javier Vanegas, 28, a Venezuelan teacher of English now exiled in Ecuador. But too late, is always too late.
What can Virginians learn? Power changes hands, they can’t guarantee the safety promised by the regime removing their guns will be honoured by future wielders of power. A sobering thought – one that might keep us Brits awake at night, and counting our lucky stars Marxism didn’t gain power at the last election.
And if the history of the world’s oppressive regimes is not enough reason to encourage the anti-gun lobby to think twice, there is at least one other important lesson from the Virginia demonstration for those who think triggers pull fingers – nobody got shot. The only arrest at the demonstration was of a woman who refused to remove a bandanna covering her face – though perhaps even that is a step too far in what is called a ‘free country’.
A free country is what we believe we have because 60 or so years ago millions of our relatives did take up arms against a tyrannical foe across the water, on the water and in the air. We know that guns were essential in pushing back tyranny then, and we don’t worry too much about that because we imagine such tyrants exist elsewhere. But elsewhere wasn’t what it was for Jews in Germany, and elsewhere wasn’t what it was for demonstrators in Venezuela, or Tiananmen Square, or any other government atrocity against their own people. Elsewhere isn’t what it was for peaceful voters in Catalonia or those resisting tyranny in Hong Kong. Has it been luck that Britain has been different of late? Are our leaders somehow made of finer clay? Have we moved on and left far behind in Peterloo, or Amritsar, a less civilised age of British rule? Or is it something a future generation must experience too?
As if to distract from the issue, here in the UK the social stigma the state has effectively constructed against guns is compounded by a whipped up paranoia against other inanimate objects – knives. So much so that the checkout assistant had to confirm my middle aged wife was over 18 when purchasing a butter knife. Even the common sense of that decision has been relegated to ‘computer says no’ procedure. But no need to worry, knife crime and shootings are rife, pepper spray legal in EU countries for self-defence is harder to obtain in the UK than a shotgun, and while you might become a victim at least you won’t be a perpetrator. Cold comfort indeed. But it’s a free country we’re told, so let’s hope it stays that way, because if it ever isn’t there won’t be anything you can do about it except run.
So, to the Virginians I say, stick with it, the alternative perhaps carries too high a price.