‘Only the cops need guns” simply could not live forever alongside, “The cops are racist and will kill you.” And so, at long last, the two circles of the Venn Diagram have filed for an amicable divorce. In the end, the differences proved irreconcilable.
At least, they proved irreconcilable without descending into farce. I have been told more times that I can count that “if you want to own an AR-15, you should join the army or the police.” Oh, really. Why? So that I can be pulled back when the rioting starts, lest I inflame those wielding bricks and Molotov cocktails? So that I can be called a fascist, acting in the service of a dictator? So that I can be part of the problem? In light of the new fashions, these old injunctions look rather silly, don’t they? “You don’t need 15 rounds; you’re not a cop! Also, the police are corrupt from top to bottom, and should probably be abolished.”
Pick one, perhaps?
In The New Republic, Matt Ford argues that the police were a mistake per se. They have, Ford writes, “become the standing armies that the Founders feared.” As it happens, unreconstructed small-r republican that I am, I have more sympathy for this idea than many might expect. But I’m sure as hell not going to entertain it at the same time as I subordinate my unalienable right to bear arms to the personal prejudices of the bureaucracy and commentariat. Don’t call the cops! Also, wait three months for a gun permit! Again: Pick one.
In any case, the idea that the existence of police officers in some way negates the right to bear arms has always been a ridiculous one. Police are an auxiliary force that we hire to do a particular job — there to supplement, not to replace, my rights and responsibilities. Every time we debate gun control in the United States, I am informed that the Sheriff of Whatever County is opposed to liberalization. To which I always think, “So what?” My right to keep and bear arms is merely the practical expression of my underlying right to self-defense. That, as a polity, we have decided to hire certain people to take the first shot at keeping the peace is fine. But it has no bearing on my liberties.
And how could it, given that I do not live in a police station? The old saw that “when seconds count, the police are minutes away” is trotted out as often as it is because it is unquestionably true. Whether the average police department is virtuous or evil is irrelevant here. What matters is that no government has the right — and in America, mercifully, no government has the legal power — to farm out, and then to abolish, my elementary rights. It would not fly if the government hired people to speak for me and then shut down my speech; if would not fly if the government hired people to worship for me and then restricted my right to exercise my religion; and it will not fly for the government to hire a security agency and then to remove, or limit, my access to weaponry. This is a personal question, not an aggregate question: I have one life, and I am entitled to defend it in any way I see fit against those who would do me harm. If there is a single principle that has animated this realm since the time of the Emperor Justinian, it is that.
Happily, defending their lives and their property as they see fit is exactly what those who have been abandoned by the authorities are doing in droves. Like father, like son, we have seen the return of the Rooftop Koreans — supplemented, this time, by Rooftop African-Americans, Rooftop Hispanics, Rooftop Pakistanis, and the rest. The NAACP is helping to organize armed patrols of minority-owned business. Gun sales are up by a staggering 80 percent over this time last year. During the coronavirus lockdown, there was a public debate over whether gun stores should be deemed “essential.” During this outbreak of rioting, such an inquiry seems quaint. Now, as ever, there is no greater prophylactic against a criminal on the rampage than a loaded firearm in the hands of a free man.
Underlying most of the arguments that are leveled by the gun-control movement is the assumption that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution is historically contingent: upon a time, upon a people, upon a place. They are wrong. The Second Amendment is as relevant today as it was during the totalitarian 20th century; as it was when Ida B. Wells was observing that “the only case where [a] proposed lynching did not occur, was where the men armed themselves”; as it was in the revolutionary era; as it was when all roads led to Rome. There will be no age in which it becomes unnecessary, nor any transmutation of the human character that renders it moot. This is History. Right now. And Samuel Colt ain’t abandoning anyone.