Preface: I was raised to be against guns. My parents hated guns, and believed that they only lead to crime and to accidental shootings.
Raised in a blue state, I had the stereotype that militias were made of crazies … and so the “right to bear arms” as part of a “well-regulated militia” seemed like a nutty anachronism.
And I have long been deeply influenced by leading voices for non-violence, such as Gandhi and King. So – Until recently – I was pro gun-control. As such, I understand that gun control arguments very well.
Gandhi and the Dalai Lama Were AGAINST Gun Control
I was surprised to learn that two of the best-known promoters of nonviolence in history were not opposed to guns. Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi taught that we must first be brave enough to use guns to defend ourselves, and only then can we be qualified to use non-violent methods. For example, Gandhi wrote in his book, An Autobiography (page 446):
Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms, as the blackest … if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity.
As Gandhi wrote in Doctrine of the Sword:
I do believe that where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence I would advise violence.
When my eldest son asked me what he should have done, had he been present when I was almost fatally assaulted in 1908, whether he should have run away and seen me killed or whether he should have used his physical force which he could and wanted to use, and defended me, I told him that it was his duty to defend me even by using violence.
Hence also do I advocate training in arms for those who believe in the method of violence. I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honor than that she should in a cowardly manner become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
In Between Cowardice And Violence, Gandhi wrote:
He who cannot protect himself or his nearest and dearest or their honour by non-violently facing death may and ought to do so by violently dealing with the oppressor. He who can do neither of the two is a burden. He has no business to be the head of a family. He must either hide himself, or must rest content to live for ever in helplessness and be prepared to crawl like a worm at the bidding of a bully …
[When violence] is offered in self-defence or for the defence of the defenceless, it is an act of bravery far better than cowardly submission.
A man who, when faced by danger, behaves like a mouse, is rightly called a coward.
Not knowing the stuff of which nonviolence is made, many have honestly believed that running away from danger every time was a virtue compared to offering resistance, especially when it was fraught with danger to one’s life. As a teacher of nonviolence I must, so far as it is possible for me, guard against such an unmanly belief.
Self-defence … is the only honourable course where there is unreadiness for self-immolation.
As quoted in the Seattle Times, May 15, 2001, the Dalai Lama said:
If someone has a gun and is trying to kill you, it would be reasonable to shoot back with your own gun. Not at the head, where a fatal wound might result. But at some other body part, such as a leg.
What the Founding Fathers Said About Guns
The Second Amendment had more to do with freedom than historical militias. Here’s what the Founding Fathers actually said about arms:
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms, disarm only those who are neither inclined, nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants. They serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.
– Thomas Jefferson, 1764
What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.
– Thomas Jefferson
Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who didn’t.
– Ben Franklin
Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property… Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.
A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.
– George Washington
Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined…The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.
Are we at last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms under our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
– Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot, Debates at 386.
The Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.
–Samuel Adams, debates & Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87.
The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…
–James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).
(The Constitution preserves) the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government…
– Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist (#28) .
The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.
–Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-B.
To disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them.
– George Mason
The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
–Noah Webster, “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (1787) in Pamplets on the Constitution of
the United States (P.Ford, 1888)
[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or the state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the People.
– Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.
But SOMETHING Must Be Done to Stop the School Shootings!
History is interesting, but something has to change. Kids are getting murdered in their own schools.
We agree …
The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience published a study in 2001 showing that one modern anti-depressant is associated with violent acts.
David Healy and David Menkes from Cardiff University, and Andrew Herxheimer from the UK Cochrane Centre, published a study in 2006 showing that antidepressants can cause severe violence in a small number of individuals.
Numerous other mental health experts say that anti-depressants may be a substantial factor in school shootings and other gun-related violence. And see this, this, this, this. If you have any doubt about this, please watch these videos:
So - whatever else we do to address school shootings - we must either stop pushing anti-depressants on kids or at least stop selling guns to people taking anti-depressants.
How Useful is a Gun Against Tyranny When the Government Has Bigger Weapons?
Of course, the usefulness of a gun as a defense against tyranny depends partly on the types of arms possessed by the government.
As George Orwell – author of 1984 – pointed out in the Tribune (October 19, 1945), the effectiveness of arms in preventing tyranny partly depends on whether the average citizen can afford the current weapon of choice possessed by the government:
The connection between the discovery of gunpowder and the overthrow of feudalism by the bourgeoisie has been pointed out over and over again. And though I have no doubt exceptions can be brought forward, I think the following rule would be found generally true: that ages in which the dominant weapon is expensive or difficult to make will tend to be ages of despotism, whereas when the dominant weapon is cheap and simple, the common people have a chance. Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon–so long as there is no answer to it–gives claws to the weak.The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day. After the musket came the breech-loading rifle. This was a comparatively complex thing, but it could still be produced in scores of countries, and it was cheap, easily smuggled and economical of ammunition. Even the most backward nation could always get hold of rifles from one source or another, so that Boers, Bulgars, Abyssinians, Moroccans–even Tibetans–could put up a fight for their independence, sometimes with success. But thereafter every development in military technique has favoured the State as against the individual, and the industrialised country as against the backward one …The one thing that might reverse it is the discovery of a weapon–or, to put it more broadly, of a method of fighting–not dependent on huge concentrations of industrial plant.
If he were alive today, Orwell might say that – unless the American people create and adopt high-tech ways to defend themselves – guns will not be able to compete with drones, robots and other high-tech weapons created by the virtually unlimited American military budget.
On the other hand, as John Aziz notes:
The vast majority of America’s 285 million guns are in Republican states, which are unlikely to be disarmed easily, even with an overwhelming Federal consensus. Some might even try to secede from the Union.
In other words, gun ownership as a deterrence to a tyrannical government might work better in Red States – where a lot of people have guns – than in Blue States.
Note: I strongly believe that safety training is essential. Keep weapons away from kids, and lock up the bullets SEPARATELY so children can’t find them. It is also easy to hang weapons above arm-reach of youngsters. Please be safe.