Violence is traditionally something upon which the state maintains a monopoly, and the application of lethal force is the state’s most jealously guarded prerogative. It is treated as a kind of holy office, which is one of the reasons that American executions are such strangely ritualized ceremonies. Under more frankly statist regimes, executions are much more plebeian affairs: China, for instance, has a mobile “death van,” a kind of lethal-injection chamber on wheels, which it uses to dispatch with maximum efficiency those sentenced under one of its 68 varieties of capital offense. The execution vans are manufactured by Jinguan Auto, which also builds fortified limousines for China’s burgeoning class of oligarchs, and there’s a certain symmetry to that.
To use lethal force in self-defense is the ultimate declaration of independence, a kind of momentary secession from the authority of the government whose laws and prisons and police officers have, in that moment, failed the citizen. To acknowledge the right to self-defense — and the concomitant right to be forearmed against aggressors — is to acknowledge that some things are outside the state and its authority, or at least that some moments are outside the state and its authority.
The horror that progressives feel for gun owners is in many ways like the horror they feel for homeschoolers, whom they recognize, correctly, as one of the few truly radical movements in America. Prof. Robin West of Georgetown University’s law school offers a typical reaction to the phenomenon: “The husbands and wives in these families feel themselves to be under a religious compulsion to have large families, a homebound and submissive wife and mother who is responsible for the schooling of the children, and only one breadwinner. These families are not living in romantic, rural, self-sufficient farmhouses; they are in trailer parks, 1,000-square-foot homes, houses owned by relatives, and some, on tarps in fields or parking lots. Their lack of job skills, passed from one generation to the next, depresses the community’s overall economic health and their state’s tax base.” God defend the holy tax base!
Homeschooling families in fact have higher average incomes than non-homeschool families, a fact that Professor West acknowledges and then magics away through the device of the “radically fundamentalist movement family,” the one she locates on tarps in parking lots. Like Mr. Ignatius, Professor West is forthright about the statist origins of her horror: “Parents in many states have full authority, free of all state oversight, to determine the content of their children’s education,” a situation almost as unendurable as life in a 1,000-square-foot house. Professor West writes longingly of the golden age when practically all education was conducted under the tutelage of the state and opting out of the system was forbidden — and “parents who did so were criminals.”
You will not be surprised to read her lamenting a “constitutional culture” dominated by “militias, gun collectors, and ideologues constructing, with little help from courts and no resistance from liberals, an individual Right to Bear Arms.” She connects this Second Amendment horror to other challenges to unlimited state supremacy — the anti-tax movement and citizen border patrols — and, like David Ignatius, she cites Hobbes, framing the debate as Leviathan vs. anarchy, leaving no room for well-ordered liberty under constitutionally limited government: If those rubes out on the tarps can fill the young skulls of their plenteous broods with any old rubbish, without the least privity or countenance of authority, then they’re bound to get funny ideas about guns and taxes and illegal immigrants. And they are bound to chafe at having their lives run by Georgetown law professors.
Just as state schooling is not about education, but about the state, gun control is not about guns: It’s about control. A citizen who can fend for himself when the predators come or the schools fail is less inclined to look to the state for sustenance and oversight in other areas of life. To progressives, that’s an invitation to anarchy. To the men who wrote the Second Amendment, it was a condition of citizenship in a free republic. It’s what free men did, and do.
– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review, in whose July 19, 2010, issue this article first appeared.