A NATION OF COWARDS
by Jeffrey R. Snyder
OUR SOCIETY has reached a pinnacle of self-expression and respect for
individuality rare or unmatched in history. Our entire popular culture --
from fashion magazines to the cinema -- positively screams the matchless
worth of the individual, and glories in eccentricity, nonconformity,
independent judgment, and self-determination. This enthusiasm is
reflected in the prevalent notion that helping someone entails increasing
that person's "self-esteem"; that if a person properly values himself, he
will naturally be a happy, productive, and, in some inexplicable fashion,
responsible member of society.
And yet, while people are encouraged to revel in their individuality
and incalculable self-worth, the media and the law enforcement
establishment continually advise us that, when confronted with the threat
of lethal violence, we should not resist, but simply give the attacker
what he wants. If the crime under consideration is rape, there is some
notable waffling on this point, and the discussion quickly moves to how
the woman can change her behavior to minimize the risk of rape, and the
various ridiculous, non-lethal weapons she may acceptably carry, such as
whistles, keys, mace or, that weapon which really sends shivers down a
rapist's spine, the portable cellular phone.
Now how can this be? How can a person who values himself so highly
calmly accept the indignity of a criminal assault? How can one who
believes that the essence of his dignity lies in his self-determination
passively accept the forcible deprivation of that self-determination? How
can he, quietly, with great dignity and poise, simply hand over the goods?
The assumption, of course, is that there is no inconsistency. The
advice not to resist a criminal assault and simply hand over the goods is
founded on the notion that one's life is of incalculable value, and that
no amount of property is worth it. Put aside, for a moment, the
outrageousness of the suggestion that a criminal who proffers lethal
violence should be treated as if he has instituted a new social contract:
"I will not hurt or kill you if you give me what I want." For years,
feminists have labored to educate people that rape is not about sex, but
about domination, degradation, and control. Evidently, someone needs to
inform the law enforcement establishment and the media that kidnapping,
robbery, carjacking, and assault are not about property.
Crime is not only a complete disavowal of the social contract, but also
a commandeering of the victim's person and liberty. If the individual's
dignity lies in the fact that he is a moral agent engaging in actions of
his own will, in free exchange with others, then crime always violates the
victim's dignity. It is, in fact, an act of enslavement. Your wallet,
your purse, or your car may not be worth your life, but your dignity is;
and if it is not worth fighting for, it can hardly be said to exist.
The Gift of Life
Although difficult for modern man to fathom, it was once widely
believed that life was a gift from God, that to not defend that life when
offered violence was to hold God's gift in contempt, to be a coward and to
breach one's duty to one's community. A sermon given in Philadelphia in
1747 unequivocally equated the failure to defend oneself with suicide:
He that suffers his life to be taken from him by one that hath no
authority for that purpose, when he might preserve it by defense,
incurs the Guilt of self murder since God hath enjoined him to seek
the continuance of his life, and Nature itself teaches every creature
to defend itself.
"Cowardice" and "self-respect" have largely disappeared from public
discourse. In their place we are offered "self-esteem" as the bellwether
of success and a proxy for dignity. "Self-respect" implies that one
recognizes standards, and judges oneself worthy by the degree to which one
lives up to them. "Self-esteem" simply means that one feels good about
oneself. "Dignity" used to refer to the self-mastery and fortitude with
which a person conducted himself in the face of life's vicissitudes and
the boorish behavior of others. Now, judging by campus speech codes,
dignity requires that we never encounter a discouraging word and that
others be coerced into acting respectfully, evidently on the assumption
that we are powerless to prevent our degradation if exposed to the
demeaning behavior of others. These are signposts proclaiming the
insubstantiality of our character, the hollowness of our souls.
It is impossible to address the problem of rampant crime without
talking about the moral responsibility of the intended victim. Crime is
rampant because the law-abiding, each of us, condone it, excuse it, permit
it, submit to it. We permit and encourage it because we do not fight
back, immediately, then and there, where it happens. Crime is not rampant
because we do not have enough prisons, because judges and prosecutors are
too soft, because the police are hamstrung with absurd technicalities.
The defect is there, in our character. We are a nation of cowards and
Do You Feel Lucky?
In 1991, when then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh released the
FBI's annual crime statistics, he noted that it is now more likely that a
person will be the victim of a violent crime than that he will be in an
auto accident. Despite this, most people readily believe that the
existence of the police relieves them of the responsibility to take full
measures to protect themselves. The police, however, are not personal
bodyguards. Rather, they act as a general deterrent to crime, both by
their presence and by apprehending criminals after the fact. As numerous
courts have held, they have no legal obligation to protect anyone in
particular. You cannot sue them for failing to prevent you from being the
victim of a crime.
Insofar as the police deter by their presence, they are very, very
good. Criminals take great pains not to commit a crime in front of them.
Unfortunately, the corollary is that you can pretty much bet your life
(and you are) that they won't be there at the moment you actually need
Should you ever be the victim of an assault, a robbery, or a rape, you
will find it very difficult to call the police while the act is in
progress, even if you are carrying a portable cellular phone.
Nevertheless, you might be interested to know how long it takes them to
show up. Department of Justice statistics for 1991 show that, for all
crimes of violence, only 28 percent of calls are responded to within five
minutes. The idea that protection is a service people can call to have
delivered and expect to receive in a timely fashion is often mocked by gun
owners, who love to recite the challenge, "Call for a cop, call for an
ambulance, and call for a pizza. See who shows up first."
Many people deal with the problem of crime by convincing themselves
that they live, work, and travel only in special "crime-free" zones.
Invariably, they react with shock and hurt surprise when they discover
that criminals do not play by the rules and do not respect these imaginary
boundaries. If, however, you understand that crime can occur anywhere at
anytime, and if you understand that you can be maimed or mortally wounded
in mere seconds, you may wish to consider whether you are willing to place
the responsibility for safeguarding your life in the hands of others.
Power And Responsibility
Is your life worth protecting? If so, whose responsibility is it to
protect it? If you believe that it is the police's, not only are you
wrong -- since the courts universally rule that they have no legal
obligation to do so -- but you face some difficult moral quandaries. How
can you rightfully ask another human being to risk his life to protect
yours, when you will assume no responsibility yourself? Because that is
his job and we pay him to do it? Because your life is of incalculable
value, but his is only worth the $30,000 salary we pay him? If you
believe it reprehensible to possess the means and will to use lethal force
to repel a criminal assault, how can you call upon another to do so for
Do you believe that you are forbidden to protect yourself because the
police are better qualified to protect you, because they know what they
are doing but you're a rank amateur? Put aside that this is equivalent to
believing that only concert pianists may play the piano and only
professional athletes may play sports. What exactly are these special
qualities possessed only by the police and beyond the rest of us mere
One who values his life and takes seriously his responsibilities to his
family and community will possess and cultivate the means of fighting
back, and will retaliate when threatened with death or grievous injury to
himself or a loved one. He will never be content to rely solely on others
for his safety, or to think he has done all that is possible by being
aware of his surroundings and taking measures of avoidance. Let's not
mince words: He will be armed, will be trained in the use of his weapon,
and will defend himself when faced with lethal violence.
Fortunately, there is a weapon for preserving life and liberty that can
be wielded effectively by almost anyone -- the handgun. Small and light
enough to be carried habitually, lethal, but unlike the knife or sword,
not demanding great skill or strength, it truly is the "great equalizer."
Requiring only hand-eye coordination and a modicum of ability to remain
cool under pressure, it can be used effectively by the old and the weak
against the young and the strong, by the one against the many.
The handgun is the only weapon that would give a lone female jogger a
chance of prevailing against a gang of thugs intent on rape, a teacher a
chance of protecting children at recess from a madman intent on massacring
them, a family of tourists waiting at a mid-town subway station the means
to protect themselves from a gang of teens armed with razors and knives.
But since we live in a society that by and large outlaws the carrying
of arms, we are brought into the fray of the Great American Gun War. Gun
control is one of the most prominent battlegrounds in our current culture
wars. Yet it is unique in the half-heartedness with which our
conservative leaders and pundits -- our "conservative elite" -- do battle,
and have conceded the moral high ground to liberal gun control proponents.
It is not a topic often written about, or written about with any great
fervor, by William F. Buckley or Patrick Buchanan. As drug czar, William
Bennett advised President Bush to ban "assault weapons." George Will is
on record as recommending the repeal of the Second Amendment, and Jack
Kemp is on record as favoring a ban on the possession of semiautomatic
"assault weapons." The battle for gun rights is one fought predominantly
by the common man. The beliefs of both our liberal and conservative
elites are in fact abetting the criminal rampage through our society.
Selling Crime Prevention
By any rational measure, nearly all gun control proposals are hokum.
The Brady Bill, for example, would not have prevented John Hinckley from
obtaining a gun to shoot President Reagan; Hinckley purchased his weapon
five months before the attack, and his medical records could not have
served as a basis to deny his purchase of a gun, since medical records are
not public documents filed with the police. Similarly, California's
waiting period and background check did not stop Patrick Purdy from
purchasing the "assault rifle" and handguns he used to massacre children
during recess in a Stockton schoolyard; the felony conviction that would
have provided the basis for stopping the sales did not exist, because Mr.
Purdy's previous weapons violations were plea-bargained down from felonies
In the mid-sixties there was a public service advertising campaign
targeted at car owners about the prevention of car theft. The purpose of
the ad was to urge car owners not to leave their keys in their cars. The
message was, "Don't help a good boy go bad." The implication was that, by
leaving his keys in his car, the normal, law-abiding car owner was
contributing to the delinquency of minors who, if they just weren't
tempted beyond their limits, would be "good." Now, in those days people
still had a fair sense of just who was responsible for whose behavior.
The ad succeeded in enraging a goodly portion of the populace, and was
Nearly all of the gun control measures offered by Handgun Control, Inc.
(HCI) and its ilk embody the same philosophy. They are founded on the
belief that America's law-abiding gun owners are the source of the
problem. With their unholy desire for firearms, they are creating a
society awash in a sea of guns, thereby helping good boys go bad, and
helping bad boys be badder. This laying of moral blame for violent crime
at the feet of the law-abiding, and the implicit absolution of violent
criminals for their misdeeds, naturally infuriates honest gun owners.
The files of HCI and other gun control organizations are filled with
proposals to limit the availability of semiautomatic and other firearms to
law-abiding citizens, and barren of proposals for apprehending and
punishing violent criminals. It is ludicrous to expect that the proposals
of HCI, or any gun control laws, will significantly curb crime. According
to Department of Justice and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF)
statistics, fully 90 percent of violent crimes are committed without a
handgun, and 93 percent of the guns obtained by violent criminals are not
obtained through the lawful purchase and sale transactions that are the
object of most gun control legislation. Furthermore, the number of
violent criminals is minute in comparison to the number of firearms in
America -- estimated by the ATF at about 200 million, approximately
one-third of which are handguns. With so abundant a supply, there will
always be enough guns available for those who wish to use them for
nefarious ends, no matter how complete the legal prohibitions against
them, or how draconian the punishment for their acquisition or use. No,
the gun control proposals of HCI and other organizations are not seriously
intended as crime control. Something else is at work here.
The Tyranny of the Elite
Gun control is a moral crusade against a benighted, barbaric citizenry.
This is demonstrated not only by the ineffectualness of gun control in
preventing crime, and by the fact that it focuses on restricting the
behavior of the law-abiding rather than apprehending and punishing the
guilty, but also by the execration that gun control proponents heap on gun
owners and their evil instrumentality, the NRA. Gun owners are routinely
portrayed as uneducated, paranoid rednecks fascinated by and prone to
violence, i.e., exactly the type of person who opposes the liberal agenda
and whose moral and social "re-education" is the object of liberal social
policies. Typical of such bigotry is New York Gov. Mario Cuomo's famous
characterization of gun-owners as "hunters who drink beer, don't vote, and
lie to their wives about where they were all weekend." Similar
vituperation is rained upon the NRA, characterized by Sen. Edward Kennedy
as the "pusher's best friend," lampooned in political cartoons as standing
for the right of children to carry firearms to school and, in general,
portrayed as standing for an individual's God-given right to blow people
away at will.
The stereotype is, of course, false. As criminologist and
constitutional lawyer Don B. Kates, Jr. and former HCI contributor Dr.
Patricia Harris have pointed out, "[s]tudies consistently show that, on
the average, gun owners are better educated and have more prestigious jobs
than non-owners.... Later studies show that gun owners are less likely
than non-owners to approve of police brutality, violence against
Conservatives must understand that the antipathy many liberals have for
gun owners arises in good measure from their statist utopianism. This
habit of mind has nowhere been better explored than in The Republic.
There, Plato argues that the perfectly just society is one in which an
unarmed people exhibit virtue by minding their own business in the
performance of their assigned functions, while the government of
philosopher-kings, above the law and protected by armed guardians
unquestioning in their loyalty to the state, engineers, implements, and
fine-tunes the creation of that society, aided and abetted by myths that
both hide and justify their totalitarian manipulation.
The Unarmed Life
When columnist Carl Rowan preaches gun control and uses a gun to defend
his home, when Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer seeks legislation
year after year to ban semiautomatic "assault weapons" whose only purpose,
we are told, is to kill people, while he is at the same time escorted by
state police armed with large-capacity 9mm semiautomatic pistols, it is
not simple hypocrisy. It is the workings of that habit of mind possessed
by all superior beings who have taken upon themselves the terrible burden
of civilizing the masses and who understand, like our Congress, that laws
are for other people.
The liberal elite know that they are philosopher-kings. They know that
the people simply cannot be trusted; that they are incapable of just and
fair self-government; that left to their own devices, their society will
be racist, sexist, homophobic, and inequitable -- and the liberal elite
know how to fix things. They are going to help us live the good and just
life, even if they have to lie to us and force us to do it. And they
detest those who stand in their way.
The private ownership of firearms is a rebuke to this utopian zeal. To
own firearms is to affirm that freedom and liberty are not gifts from the
state. It is to reserve final judgment about whether the state is
encroaching on freedom and liberty, to stand ready to defend that freedom
with more than mere words, and to stand outside the state's totalitarian
The Florida Experience
The elitist distrust of the people underlying the gun control movement
is illustrated beautifully in HCI's campaign against a new concealed-carry
law in Florida. Prior to 1987, the Florida law permitting the issuance of
concealed-carry permits was administered at the county level. The law was
vague, and, as a result, was subject to conflicting interpretation and
political manipulation. Permits were issued principally to security
personnel and the privileged few with political connections. Permits were
valid only within the county of issuance.
In 1987, however, Florida enacted a uniform concealed-carry law which
mandates that county authorities issue a permit to anyone who satisfies
certain objective criteria. The law requires that a permit be issued to
any applicant who is a resident, at least twenty-one years of age, has no
criminal record, no record of alcohol or drug abuse, no history of mental
illness, and provides evidence of having satisfactorily completed a
firearms safety course offered by the NRA or other competent instructor.
The applicant must provide a set of fingerprints, after which the
authorities make a background check. The permit must be issued or denied
within ninety days, is valid throughout the state, and must be renewed
every three years, which provides authorities a regular means of
reevaluating whether the permit holder still qualifies.
Passage of this legislation was vehemently opposed by HCI and the
media. The law, they said, would lead to citizens shooting each other
over everyday disputes involving fender benders, impolite behavior, and
other slights to their dignity. Terms like "Florida, the Gunshine State"
and "Dodge City East" were coined to suggest that the state, and those
seeking passage of the law, were encouraging individuals to act as judge,
jury, and executioner in a "Death Wish" society.
No HCI campaign more clearly demonstrates the elitist beliefs
underlying the campaign to eradicate gun ownership. Given the
qualifications required of permit holders, HCI and the media can only
believe that common, law-abiding citizens are seething cauldrons of
homicidal rage, ready to kill to avenge any slight to their dignity, eager
to seek out and summarily execute the lawless. Only lack of immediate
access to a gun restrains them and prevents the blood from flowing in the
streets. They are so mentally and morally deficient that they would
mistake a permit to carry a weapon in self-defense as a state-sanctioned
license to kill at will.
Did the dire predictions come true? Despite the fact that Miami and
Dade County have severe problems with the drug trade, the homicide rate
fell in Florida following enactment of this law, as it did in Oregon
following enactment of similar legislation there. There are, in addition,
several documented cases of new permit holders successfully using their
weapons to defend themselves. Information from the Florida Department of
State shows that, from the beginning of the program in 1987 through June
1993, 160,823 permits have been issued, and only 530, or about 0.33
percent of the applicants, have been denied a permit for failure to
satisfy the criteria, indicating that the law is benefitting those whom it
was intended to benefit -- the law-abiding. Only 16 permits, less than
1/100th of 1 percent, have been revoked due to the post-issuance
commission of a crime involving a firearm.
The Florida legislation has been used as a model for legislation
adopted by Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Mississippi. There are, in
addition, seven other states (Maine, North and South Dakota, Utah,
Washington, West Virginia, and, with the exception of cities with a
population in excess of 1 million, Pennsylvania) which provide that
concealed-carry permits must be issued to law-abiding citizens who satisfy
various objective criteria. Finally, no permit is required at all in
Vermont. Altogether, then, there are thirteen states in which law-abiding
citizens who wish to carry arms to defend themselves may do so. While no
one appears to have compiled the statistics from all of these
jurisdictions, there is certainly an ample data base for those seeking the
truth about the trustworthiness of law-abiding citizens who carry
Other evidence also suggests that armed citizens are very responsible
in using guns to defend themselves. Florida State University
criminologist Gary Kleck, using surveys and other data, has determined
that armed citizens defend their lives or property with firearms against
criminals approximately 1 million times a year. In 98 percent of these
instances, the citizen merely brandishes the weapon or fires a warning
shot. Only in 2 percent of the cases do citizens actually shoot their
assailants. In defending themselves with their firearms, armed citizens
kill 2,000 to 3,000 criminals each year, three times the number killed by
the police. A nationwide study by Kates, the constitutional lawyer and
criminologist, found that only 2 percent of civilian shootings involved an
innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. The "error rate" for
the police, however, was 11 percent, over five times as high.
It is simply not possible to square the numbers above and the
experience of Florida with the notions that honest, law-abiding gun owners
are borderline psychopaths itching for an excuse to shoot someone,
vigilantes eager to seek out and summarily execute the lawless, or
incompetent fools incapable of determining when it is proper to use lethal
force in defense of their lives. Nor upon reflection should these results
seem surprising. Rape, robbery, and attempted murder are not typically
actions rife with ambiguity or subtlety, requiring special powers of
observation and great book-learning to discern. When a man pulls a knife
on a woman and says, "You're coming with me," her judgment that a crime is
being committed is not likely to be in error. There is little chance that
she is going to shoot the wrong person. It is the police, because they
are rarely at the scene of the crime when it occurs, who are more likely
to find themselves in circumstances where guilt and innocence are not so
clear-cut, and in which the probability for mistakes is higher.
Arms and Liberty
Classical republican philosophy has long recognized the critical
relationship between personal liberty and the possession of arms by a
people ready and willing to use them. Political theorists as dissimilar
as Niccolo Machiavelli, Sir Thomas More, James Harrington, Algernon
Sidney, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all shared the view that the
possession of arms is vital for resisting tyranny, and that to be disarmed
by one's government is tantamount to being enslaved by it. The possession
of arms by the people is the ultimate warrant that government governs only
with the consent of the governed. As Kates has shown, the Second
Amendment is as much a product of this political philosophy as it is of
the American experience in the Revolutionary War. Yet our conservative
elite has abandoned this aspect of republican theory. Although our
conservative pundits recognize and embrace gun owners as allies in other
arenas, their battle for gun rights is desultory. The problem here is not
a statist utopianism, although goodness knows that liberals are not alone
in the confidence they have in the state's ability to solve society's
problems. Rather, the problem seems to lie in certain cultural traits
shared by our conservative and liberal elites.
One such trait is an abounding faith in the power of the word. The
failure of our conservative elite to defend the Second Amendment stems in
great measure from an overestimation of the power of the rights set forth
in the First Amendment, and a general undervaluation of action. Implicit
in calls for the repeal of the Second Amendment is the assumption that our
First Amendment rights are sufficient to preserve our liberty. The belief
is that liberty can be preserved as long as men freely speak their minds;
that there is no tyranny or abuse that can survive being exposed in the
press; and that the truth need only be disclosed for the culprits to be
shamed. The people will act, and the truth shall set us, and keep us,
History is not kind to this belief, tending rather to support the view
of Hobbes, Machiavelli, and other republican theorists that only people
willing and able to defend themselves can preserve their liberties. While
it may be tempting and comforting to believe that the existence of mass
electronic communication has forever altered the balance of power between
the state and its subjects, the belief has certainly not been tested by
time, and what little history there is in the age of mass communication is
not especially encouraging. The camera, radio, and press are mere tools
and, like guns, can be used for good or ill. Hitler, after all, was a
masterful orator, used radio to very good effect, and is well known to
have pioneered and exploited the propaganda opportunities afforded by
film. And then, of course, there were the Brownshirts, who knew very well
how to quell dissent among intellectuals.
In addition to being enamored of the power of words, our conservative
elite shares with liberals the notion that an armed society is just not
civilized or progressive, that massive gun ownership is a blot on our
civilization. This association of personal disarmament with civilized
behavior is one of the great unexamined beliefs of our time.
Should you read English literature from the sixteenth through
nineteenth centuries, you will discover numerous references to the fact
that a gentleman, especially when out at night or traveling, armed himself
with a sword or a pistol against the chance of encountering a highwayman
or other such predator. This does not appear to have shocked the ladies
accompanying him. True, for the most part there were no police in those
days, but we have already addressed the notion that the presence of the
police absolves people of the responsibility to look after their safety,
and in any event the existence of the police cannot be said to have
reduced crime to negligible levels.
It is by no means obvious why it is "civilized" to permit oneself to
fall easy prey to criminal violence, and to permit criminals to continue
unobstructed in their evil ways. While it may be that a society in which
crime is so rare that no one ever needs to carry a weapon is "civilized,"
a society that stigmatizes the carrying of weapons by the law-abiding --
because it distrusts its citizens more than it fears rapists, robbers, and
murderers -- certainly cannot claim this distinction. Perhaps the notion
that defending oneself with lethal force is not "civilized" arises from
the view that violence is always wrong, or the view that each human being
is of such intrinsic worth that it is wrong to kill anyone under any
circumstances. The necessary implication of these propositions, however,
is that life is not worth defending. Far from being "civilized," the
beliefs that counterviolence and killing are always wrong are an
invitation to the spread of barbarism. Such beliefs announce loudly and
clearly that those who do not respect the lives and property of others
will rule over those who do.
In truth, one who believes it wrong to arm himself against criminal
violence shows contempt of God's gift of life (or, in modern parlance,
does not properly value himself), does not live up to his responsibilities
to his family and community, and proclaims himself mentally and morally
deficient, because he does not trust himself to behave responsibly. In
truth, a state that deprives its law-abiding citizens of the means to
effectively defend themselves is not civilized but barbarous, becoming an
accomplice of murderers, rapists, and thugs and revealing its totalitarian
nature by its tacit admission that the disorganized, random havoc created
by criminals is far less a threat than are men and women who believe
themselves free and independent, and act accordingly.
While gun control proponents and other advocates of a kinder, gentler
society incessantly decry our "armed society," in truth we do not live in
an armed society. We live in a society in which violent criminals and
agents of the state habitually carry weapons, and in which many
law-abiding citizens own firearms but do not go about armed. Department
of Justice statistics indicate that 87 percent of all violent crimes occur
outside the home. Essentially, although tens of millions own firearms, we
are an unarmed society.
Take Back the Night
Clearly the police and the courts are not providing a significant brake
on criminal activity. While liberals call for more poverty, education,
and drug treatment programs, conservatives take a more direct tack.
George Will advocates a massive increase in the number of police and a
shift toward "community-based policing." Meanwhile, the NRA and many
conservative leaders call for laws that would require violent criminals
serve at least 85 percent of their sentences and would place repeat
offenders permanently behind bars.
Our society suffers greatly from the beliefs that only official action
is legitimate and that the state is the source of our earthly salvation.
Both liberal and conservative prescriptions for violent crime suffer from
the "not in my job description" school of thought regarding the
responsibilities of the law-abiding citizen, and from an overestimation of
the ability of the state to provide society's moral moorings. As long as
law-abiding citizens assume no personal responsibility for combatting
crime, liberal and conservative programs will fail to contain it.
Judging by the numerous articles about concealed-carry in gun
magazines, the growing number of products advertised for such purpose, and
the increase in the number of concealed-carry applications in states with
mandatory-issuance laws, more and more people, including growing numbers
of women, are carrying firearms for self-defense. Since there are still
many states in which the issuance of permits is discretionary and in which
law enforcement officials routinely deny applications, many people have
been put to the hard choice between protecting their lives or respecting
the law. Some of these people have learned the hard way, by being the
victim of a crime, or by seeing a friend or loved one raped, robbed, or
murdered, that violent crime can happen to anyone, anywhere at anytime,
and that crime is not about sex or property but life, liberty, and
The laws proscribing concealed-carry of firearms by honest, law-abiding
citizens breed nothing but disrespect for the law. As the Founding
Fathers knew well, a government that does not trust its honest,
law-abiding, taxpaying citizens with the means of self-defense is not
itself worthy of trust. Laws disarming honest citizens proclaim that the
government is the master, not the servant, of the people. A federal law
along the lines of the Florida statute -- overriding all contradictory
state and local laws and acknowledging that the carrying of firearms by
law-abiding citizens is a privilege and immunity of citizenship -- is
needed to correct the outrageous conduct of state and local officials
operating under discretionary licensing systems.
What we certainly do not need is more gun control. Those who call for
the repeal of the Second Amendment so that we can really begin controlling
firearms betray a serious misunderstanding of the Bill of Rights. The
Bill of Rights does not grant rights to the people, such that its repeal
would legitimately confer upon government the powers otherwise proscribed.
The Bill of Rights is the list of the fundamental, inalienable rights,
endowed in man by his Creator, that define what it means to be a free and
independent people, the rights which must exist to ensure that government
governs only with the consent of the people.
At one time this was even understood by the Supreme Court. In United
States v. Cruikshank (1876), the first case in which the Court had an
opportunity to interpret the Second Amendment, it stated that the right
confirmed by the Second Amendment "is not a right granted by the
constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument
for its existence." The repeal of the Second Amendment would no more
render the outlawing of firearms legitimate than the repeal of the due
process clause of the Fifth Amendment would authorize the government to
imprison and kill people at will. A government that abrogates any of the
Bill of Rights, with or without majoritarian approval, forever acts
illegitimately, becomes tyrannical, and loses the moral right to govern.
This is the uncompromising understanding reflected in the warning that
America's gun owners will not go gently into that good, utopian night:
"You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." While
liberals take this statement as evidence of the retrograde, violent nature
of gun owners, we gun owners hope that liberals hold equally strong
sentiments about their printing presses, word processors, and television
cameras. The republic depends upon fervent devotion to all our
"A Nation of Cowards" was published in the Fall, '93 issue of The Public
Interest, a quarterly journal of opinion published by National Affairs,
Single copies of The Public Interest are available for $6. Annual
subscription rate is $21 ($24 US, for Canadian and foreign subscriptions).
Single copies of this or other issues, and subscriptions, can be obtained
- The Public Interest
- 1112 16th St., NW, Suite 530
- Washington, DC 20036
- (C) 1993 by The Public Interest.
I have obtained reprint permission for the Internet for Jeffrey Snyder's
"A Nation of Cowards". It may be reproduced freely, including forwarding
copies to politicians, provided that it is not distributed for profit and
subscription information is included.
I especially encourage you to copy and pass on this strong statement about
firearms ownership to friends, colleagues, undecideds, and other firearms
rights supporters. Your grassroots pamphleteering can counter the
propaganda blitz now going on by introducing some reason to the debate.
This essay is one of our best weapons.