The Second Amendment's Second Coming, Part 2

There are no words to express my sorrow at the tragedy that befell Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007. My heart goes out to the families of the dead and wounded — as well as to the thousands of Virginia Tech students and faculty who were traumatized by this senseless and vicious rampage. I’m sure that’s the case for many Americans today…

And in the wake of the deadliest shooting spree ever on U.S. soil, it must seem jarring to read an essay on the necessity of guns. But it’s perhaps most appropriate to broach this subject now, because this tragedy underscores yet again the need for policy changes with regard to firearms — specifically, the liberalization (or rather, the restoration) of citizens’ rights to the concealed carry of firearms.

Monday, Bloody Monday

As the second of a two-part series about the ongoing battle over our right to guns in America, this essay was originally going to address some reader comments on the first installment and delve into greater detail about the bias against guns in the media. I was also going to explore obvious interpretations of the Second Amendment that seem perennially to elude the pundits and courts — wrapping up with some observations about the modern “balance sheet” mentality when it comes to liberty…

But these things seem less urgent now that 32 innocents lay dead and numerous others wounded after a 23-year-old resident alien brought two guns onto the Virginia Tech campus and murdered his way into history. What seems a more important point to make right now is that this massacre happened as much because of the LACK of firearms among the sane and law-abiding as it did because guns found their way into the hands of a lawless madman.

True to form, the media have been quick to target what they perceive as flaws in the system that allowed an unstable man to obtain guns — yet in no mainstream venues have I heard anyone asking why this same system has stripped his helpless victims from the right to defend themselves! If this isn’t stark evidence of a tremendous bias in the mainstream media against Second Amendment rights, I don’t know what is.

And of course, the talking heads were also ignorantly talking up the guns themselves. I read at least one early report that added a shamelessly agenda-driven mention along the lines of “It is not known at this time whether the guns were standard or high-capacity models” — as though this has any bearing at all on the scope of this crime. What difference does it make whether a psychopath executes trapped, defenseless victims with 15-round magazines or 30-rounders?

As it turns out, the spree was committed with run-of-the-mill, 100% legal guns anyone without a major criminal record could buy for a few hundred bucks in any gun shop in America. And the shooter (some are reporting his name as Seung Hui Cho, others as Cho Seung-hui) sailed right through the entire litany of gun control measures Congress has been heaping onto us for years — the myriad state and federal background checks, waiting periods, etc.

Much good they did, huh?

What Evil Lurks in the Hearts of Men…

Naturally, as more details come out about these killings, much of the discussion is now focused on prevention. And as we always do after a mass shooting in short attention span America, people are asking and commentators are speculating, “How can we avoid this in the future?”

The brutal truth is that while we CAN make kooks think twice about opening fire — and limit the body counts when they do, by giving people back their right to self-defense — we can’t prevent the urge to mass murder in those who are so inclined. Humanity hasn’t the ability to distinguish those capable of such heinous acts from the innocents among us, nor should we trust any technology or psychology that purports to be able to do so. One of the timeless human truths is that we simply cannot know whether heroism, cowardice, or murderousness lurks in the hearts of our fellow men and women until it bubbles to the surface or is forced there by circumstances.

And sad as it is, violent rampages and mass murders are nothing new. They didn’t begin with the advent of firearms — and they don’t solely happen in “gun culture” America. History points to many examples of insane folks going berserk and racking up high body counts by a variety of means: spears, swords, knives, Kool-Aid, biotoxins, chemicals, passenger jets, etc…

However, it is undeniable that firearms grant far more immediate and far-reaching power to the murderous than most of these other things. Something else that’s undeniable is that almost all of the shooting sprees in modern American history have one thing in common aside from a lunatic with a gun:

They happened in places where there was little likelihood that anyone could shoot back.

Psychos aren’t stupid. They’re cowards, but they aren’t dumb. They don’t often stage their rampages at police stations, gun shows, National Guard armories, honky-tonk bars, biker rallies, or even bad neighborhoods. They pick schools and malls and post offices and restaurants and quaint Amish communities to murder their way to their sick 15 minutes of fame. That’s because they KNOW no one is there who can fight back effectively…

Tragically, it was the same way at Virginia Tech. Although Virginia is one of the most liberal concealed-carry states in the country, schools and universities in the Old Dominion state (like many others) are mandated as “gun-free zones.”

And like it or not, it’s because of this that one esteemed university became a terror zone on a bloody Monday in the spring of 2007.

Two Solutions — but Only One Right Way

I know in my heart that every law-abiding gun owner in America desires the prevention of these tragedies as passionately as those who’d ban all guns, Constitution be damned. This is the common ground that any reasoned debate should spring from.

And since there’s nothing anyone can do to make the 200 million or so guns in this country disappear — or get the 80 million or so lawful gun owners to voluntarily give up their firearms — there are only two ways I see that we could prevent these kinds of massacres from occurring again. Neither of these solutions is pleasant for many to think about, but only one is identifiably American. They are:

1)Become a Police State (think the USSR circa 1987) — Murder-wise, Russia was one of the safest places on the planet in the 1980s. That’s because the USSR was a police state. Everyone was afraid of a government that had gotten so pervasively menacing to the individual specifically because the citizenry had no access to any weapons with which to overthrow it. That’s the Marxist doctrine at work: Unite, revolt, then submit. A fringe benefit of this type of society is low violent crime rates.

In this kind of state, schools would look and feel like prisons. Imagine high fences of razor wire, dogs, gates with metal detectors, and everyone filing through them every day with shoes in one hand and papers in the other while guards with machine guns verify that you’re not a threat to the status quo. This would surely keep weapons out. But it would also keep out the freethinkers, the dissenters, the diverse, and the nonconformists — everything that makes higher education the great engine of democracy that it is.

2)Restore a Free State (think the USA circa 1787) — Since the US of A was not envisioned as a police state, a place where troops are housed in every home, or even as a country with a very strong government, the success and viability of this nation depended on citizens themselves to uphold order and the integrity of the rule of law. Until relatively recently, the natural system of “checks and balances” that comes with having an armed populace is what kept people safe from the murderous impulses of psychopaths. And foreign invaders. Oh, and the tyranny of overreaching government.

Warped minds have undoubtedly always existed under the Stars and Stripes, yet the presence of firearms in the hands of people free to use them in defense of good has historically proved a powerful disincentive toward acting on premeditated mass-homicidal impulses. Such is not the case in firearm-phobic America today. Were we to restore our country to something closer to this ideal, schools, malls, city parks, and sport venues would remain the idyllic places we all want them to be, yet still be quite secure…

Now, I know that neither of these realities seems very appetizing to the new literati of the genteel, soulless, “Starbucks Nation” we’ve become in the last 20 years or so. It seems most Americans nowadays, like the Eloi in H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, would rather live in blissful denial and take their chances with the Morlocks than grapple with the unpleasant notion that they might actually one day have to fight for their lives, the lives of those they love…

Or heaven forbid, their rights.

“Be Prepared.” (The Boy Scout’s Motto)

In much of modern America, ONLY those with murder or malice in their hearts now have the “right” to bear arms in public — seized by virtue of the fact that they aren’t bound by the rule of law like those of us who leave our guns home because some bloated bureaucrat who lives a risk-free life of chauffeurs, guarded offices, and gated communities decides we can’t be trusted with our own Constitution…

This is the most evil, twisted irony on the American landscape today!

Imagine what life would be like under an untrammeled Bill of Rights — a world where you and I and every other American of sound mind (and yes, I agree that there have to be controls in place to ensure this) would be free to carry a concealed firearm. Not everyone would HAVE to pack heat to make things a whole lot safer. If only a few in every crowd were carrying, that would be enough to make the next psycho who’s pondering shooting up a school or post office or Luby’s restaurant think twice about it. Or maybe not do it.

Think about it for a minute. In any imperiled crowd, some will cower — but some will fight. They will rise to lead and protect and defend those around them. Look at United Flight 93. They knew what they were up against, they fought with what weapons they could, and they undoubtedly saved God knows how many American lives. The most tragic irony of all is that these heroic souls were only forced to fight and die because no one on the plane was allowed to have a gun. With a firearm in every cockpit, Sept. 11 doesn’t even happen!

My point is this: Give THESE kinds of people — the ones on United 93 who sacrificed themselves to save those on the ground — back their right to carry guns and the Cho Seung-hui of the world will be cowering over journals in their dorms, committing their crimes in ink, instead of in blood. Or in the worst-case scenario, they’ll find themselves eating as much hot lead as they’re slinging. Either way, fewer innocents die.

Seriously, do you really think that if just a few professors, resident assistants, janitors, ROTC seniors, or even freakin’ cheerleaders had been armed in that building at Virginia Tech this coward Cho would’ve been able to wreak such carnage? Could YOU have stood there and watched some psychopath murder your friends, students, teachers, or even total strangers if you had the means to stop it?

Another way to look at it is this: If you found yourself staring down the barrel of some madman’s Glock yourself, would you be thinking about how this country needs more gun control laws — or would you be thinking…

“If only I could shoot back!”

Let me drive this point home with a scenario that actually happened recently. Sometime before closing, two would-be robbers entered a large strip joint/bar in south Baltimore. They both pulled guns, and one of the men fired to get everyone’s attention to announce the stickup. Within seconds, one of the assailants lay dead and the other wounded by the guns of two off-duty cops in street clothes who were there relaxing in their off hours.

Now, do you think the bandits would have pulled their guns and tried to rob the place if the officers had been in uniform? Of course they wouldn’t have. Uniforms means guns, and guns mean resistance and possibly death. But in Baltimore, where concealed carry permits are harder for lawful folks to get than fake Social Security numbers are for illegals (and where penalties for permitless carry are harsh), a bar full of average Joes virtually guarantees an unarmed group of victims.

However, Baltimore City cops are required to carry their guns at ALL TIMES while inside the city’s limits, whether on duty or not (and even when they’re out drinking and carousing, apparently). That night, these two cops were indistinguishable from ordinary citizens in the eyes of the robbers — and because they were innocuous looking, yet were still armed, multiple crimes were thwarted, possible injury or death to the innocent was averted, and justice was swiftly meted out…

The lesson: In an environment in which criminals are forced to contend with the presence of concealed weapons, crime doesn’t end up paying so well. And even though you aren’t hearing this from the mainstream media, the statistics on concealed carry’s effects on crime from both inside and outside of the U.S. are so lopsidedly illustrative of this fact that it’s absurd we aren’t all issued carry permits with our driver’s licenses.

Seriously, the numbers are that compelling (if you want a quick snapshot of this, read John Lott’s More Guns, Less Crime).

The thickest irony here is that although I don’t think it’s proper or fair that American freedoms must stand up to any kind of “balance sheet” test in order to remain in place, no liberty we’re (supposedly) guaranteed is so demonstrably bottom-line beneficial than the concealed carry of firearms. And yet it’s a “right” that relatively few Americans actually even have, so oppressive have gun control laws become in most states…

My most solemn and sincere hope is that this latest tragedy at Virginia Tech will finally spur some reasoned, sustained dialogue about whether gun control laws, specifically those relating to the concealed carry of firearms, really do what they were passed to do. In my view — and as demonstrated time and again by both statistics AND the actions of maniacs — these restrictions simply make it easier for criminals to make a living, and for the deranged to kill as many as they can without fear of their slaughter being cut short by a bullet from any gun other than their own. Already, it looks like the Virginia Tech massacre is shaping up to fuel massive debate about guns in America. Battle lines are being drawn, and the polarization of viewpoints is already beginning…

My hopes aren’t high, though. I wished for meaningful dialogue and change after the Columbine killings — but nothing happened except more gun restrictions (like trigger locks), more debate about firearm availability (instead of accessibility), and the emergence of a powerful anti-gun propagandist (Michael Moore)…

“Se vis pacem, para bellum.”

“If you want peace, be ready for war,” is what Roman militarist Vegetius wrote in his Summary of Military Matters (Epitoma rei Militaris) around A.D. 400. This exact same sentiment is found earlier in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, later in Machiavelli’s writings, and in countless other works through the ages. It was echoed in recent history in the Cold War’s “Mutual Assured Destruction” or “Peace Through Strength” doctrine…

But this is not just an immutable tenet of international relations — it’s the law of the jungle, and of the schoolyard, too. As much as we like to think that in a civilized society, we must certainly be above all that “claw and fang” nonsense, clearly, we are not. What’s so mind-boggling to me is that this isn’t obvious to everyone.

Why don’t people intuitively, instinctually, understand that the only deterrent to crime or aggression of any type is the imminent threat (or even possibility) of retaliation in kind? Criminals and murderers, whether genetically aberrant or monsters of our own making, will only think twice about victimizing us — especially in large groups — if they suspect there’s a better-than-average chance they’ll end up on a slab.

No one relishes the notion that random violence might invade their everyday life, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to do my best to be prepared for it to the fullest extent the law allows. But right now, in most places, that’s virtually unprepared — and if folks make themselves properly prepared, they become the criminals! Is that fair? What rationale against guns could be more important than the inherent (and constitutional, let’s not forget) right to defend one’s own life?

For the sake of those who’ve died in all of history’s killing sprees, I hope we’ll finally learn something from their deaths, and from those 32 helpless souls who lost their lives at Virginia Tech this past Monday. May their sacrifice at last grant some measure of protection to tomorrow’s would-be victims.

Bottom line: Concealed carry of firearms isn’t for everyone. But it doesn’t have to be. Enough people would carry that all would be safer. It’s the possibility of armed response that would have a measurable effect on crime. In only rare occasions would that force need to be unholstered…

I, for one, would carry if I were allowed (or, rather, if lawmakers would grant me the rights I already have). I’d rather deal with a few uncomfortable pounds of cold blue steel gnawing at my armpit under my jacket every day than perpetually wonder is this the day the Morlocks get me, someone I love, or some innocent Americans because I’m too lazy or deep in denial to fight back?

I’m betting that if a mall-shooting madman ever comes for you, you’ll wish someone like me were beside you with a big, ugly gun. And I’m certain that no matter WHAT your political bent, right now you’re wishing someone besides Cho Seung-hui had been carrying a gun in Virginia Tech’s Norris Hall this past Monday…

Armed and alarmed,

Jim Amrhein
Freedoms Editor, Whiskey & Gunpowder

April 23, 2007