The Founders warned us about an overzealous protection of liberties.
by Andy Cohen
The fight over guns rages on. The good news is that the parents and relatives of the victims of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting have not allowed us to forget what happened in their quiet little town last December. The bad news is that it still doesn’t look like anything significant is going to get done.
The whole argument would seem to be pretty cut and dry, and relatively simple to resolve: Ban assault weapons from public ownership—after all, their sole purpose is for killing large numbers of people in a very short period of time. Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, managed to fire off 154 rounds during his five minute rampage that took the lives of 20 young kids and six adults. There is no earthly reason for anyone outside of the military or police forces to own such a weapon. They’re not used to hunt. They’re used to kill people. That’s what they were made for.
Placing restrictions on who can and cannot own a firearm would be another reasonable step to take, and to make sure that undesirables can’t easily skirt the law by requiring background checks on anyone wishing to buy a gun. Start by closing the gun show loophole. Bolster straw sales laws. Despite right wing arguments to the contrary, these are perfectly Constitutional steps that the government can take. The Supreme Court already ruled in the Heller case—in an opinion written by Antonin Scalia, not exactly a liberal Justice—that government can impose reasonable restrictions on gun ownership.
Republicans—and especially the Tea Party Republicans—like to cite the Constitution as their reason for opposing almost any regulation, not just with regards to gun safety. Their entire agenda seems to revolve around an anti-government paranoia that borders on the insane. It’s a perpetual fear of “government tyranny,” as if the government is going to turn on them at any second. They don’t trust government, and so they send people to run government to deliberately undermine its ability to function. Then they complain about how government can’t function.
“States’ rights” and the will of the Founders is the usual rallying cry for why government should not be allowed to regulate, as if it was the will of the Founders to put all of the decision making power into state government instead of the federal government. The trouble with that theory is that we know pretty much exactly what the intent of the Founders was. They gave it to us in the form of the Federalist Papers. And their intent is pretty much not what the right wing says it was.
“Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of Government,” wrote John Jay in Federalist No. 2, “and it is equally undeniable that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights, in order to vest it with requisite powers. It is well worthy of consideration, therefore, whether it would conduce more to the interest of the people of America, that they should, to all general purposes, be one nation, under one federal Government (he capitalized the ‘G’), than that they should divide themselves into separate confederacies, and give to the head of each the same kind of powers which they are advised to place in one national Government.”
The Founders, of course, chose a strong federal government that trumps state laws. The numerous Republican nullification attempts at the state level, are therefore entirely futile and a waste of taxpayers’ time and money.
The entire Republican/Tea Party argument against increased gun security laws centers around this anti-government paranoia. The fear is that for some reason the government is going to come after us and we need these weapons as a means to defend ourselves against government tyranny. Government bad, private gun owners with massive stockpiles of grenades, rocket launchers, and enough assault weapons to supply a small army good. The idea seems to be that if a small group of individuals doesn’t care for their government, then they have the right to forcibly dismantle that government via any means necessary. Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies” and all. Because, you know, shooting up City Hall is a perfectly legitimate means of making a political statement. At least that’s the Republican vision of America.
Alexander Hamilton had a response for this delusional paranoia in Federalist No. 1:
An enlightened zeal for the energy and efficiency of government will be stigmatized, as the off-spring of a temper fond of despotic power and hostile to the principles of liberty. An overscrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretence and artifice; the bait for popularity at the expence of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of violent love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is too apt to be infected with a spirit equally forgotten, that the vigour of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people, than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us, that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism, than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics the greatest number have begun their career, by paying and obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.” (Emphasis added)
It is this fear of government, the fear of the other that continues to define the Republican Party of today. They want that we be afraid of the very government we ourselves selected. But even the Founders themselves knew that it was people like Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz that ultimately become the despots.
The Republican/NRA utopia is one where everyone owns a gun, and a fear of mutually assured destruction is what will keep us safe—the notion that if I own a gun, and my neighbor owns a gun, I’m less likely to shoot my neighbor because he’s likely to shoot me back…..unless I have a bigger, badder arsenal than he does, in which case I have the firepower to kick his ass, which will only inspire him to buy a bigger arsenal for himself….and so on and so forth until every day is the Fourth of July. Everyone lives in utter and complete fear of everyone else.
Just some food for thought as the Manchin-Toomey gun bill comes to a vote in the Senate today, and we see more and more authority ceded to the Tea Party. The Founders told us what would happen. If only the zealots would bother to pick up a book….other than Atlas Shrugged, that is.
Sadly, Sandy Hook is bound to happen all over again.