Why Americans Need Assault Rifles

After introducing a plan to ban 150 different types of guns and high capacity magazines, Sen Diane Feinstein tweeted, “The bill will NOT affect hunting or sporting firearms. Instead, the bill protects hunters and sportsmen.” Congressman Rick Nolan (D-MN) , speaking on Face the Nation, defended the legislation, saying he didn’t need an assault rifle to shoot a duck. Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) also supports the legislation saying hunters don’t require assault rifles to kill game.

I’m always somewhat bemused when gun control advocates talk about hunting, as if the 2nd amendment is the right to eat meat, while the word “hunt” or “hunting” does not appear anywhere in the Bill of Rights. In fact by that logic one doesn’t need any type of gun to hunt; a bow and arrow or a flint-tipped spear can take down a deer just as effectively. The 2nd Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with hunting; it is much more powerful than that.

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Never has a single sentence caused so much controversy. The late SCOTUS Chief Justice Warren Burger once criticized the amendment on the MacNeil-Lehrer news hour, claiming it was poorly written and a disaster for the country. Like many liberals he believed the amendment applied to organized state militias such as the National Guard. The original Bill of Rights lays out the rights granted to the People of the United States by the Creator, it does not give rights to government, whether state, local or federal. As for the definition of militia, Buckhorn provides reference to Title 10 United States Code section 311:

(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard. (b) The classes of the militia are – (1) the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and (2) the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.

So if you are a male American between the ages of 17 and 45, guess what? You’re part of the militia, and while Title 10 USC Sec 311 defines the National Guard and Naval Militia as “organized,” the 2nd Amendment does not begin “A well organized Militia.” Besides the “unorganized militia” is just a class of militia according to Title 10 USC Sec 311 so we don’t have a situation where one group of people bears arms and another does not. And better yet, like all the Bill of Rights the “right of the people” derives not from government or any sovereign, but from God – just as the rights to assembly, free speech and freedom of religion do. That undermines the idea put forward by gun control advocates that the term “well regulated” grants power to the government to control arms. The word “regulated” today isn’t the same as it was in 1789, and replacing the Framer’s word with  modern usage would make the amendment nonsensical. How could a right granted by God be controlled by a government of man?  A better modern word would be “trained” or “provisioned”, but it’s unfair to blame the Founders for failing to anticipate the evolution of English after they have succeeded in creating a document that has withstood the test of time so well.

Reams of paper have been produced supporting or disparaging this or that about the 2nd Amendment, and brighter men than me have argued both for and against it, but my view is that the Founders of the Republic had a nation like Switzerland in mind. While gun control advocates are keen on comparing the US to the UK, Canada and Australia, nations that ban guns in most cases, they tend to ignore Switzerland. Switzerland does not have a professional army and instead relies upon civilians to participate and train in a militia. The Swiss are issued an assault rifle, currently the SIG SG 550, a fully automatic weapons that even US gun nuts can’t easily get their hands on*. The Swiss also have a very weak central government, something I believe the Founders preferred but became an idea that got lost after the North won the Civil War.

So the purpose of the militia isn’t to hunt, it’s not target-shooting, or even self-protection: it’s to level the playing field between the People and a tyrannical regime. This is something I hadn’t even realized myself until recently. In the past I’ve argued in support of gun ownership on the basis that self defense is a human right. I even have a bumper sticker on my car to that effect. But the 2nd Amendment is much more sublime. The amendment does not specify what kind of threat requires an armed population. It doesn’t say it’s necessary to protect against a foreign power, Indians, or the forces of mad King George V. It simply states that a militia is necessary for the security of a free state, and freedom is thread that is consistent throughout the documents of the period from the Declaration of Independence through the Articles of Confederation and finally, the Bill of Rights. That free state is so important that is requires a well trained and provisioned militia to secure it.

Could that threat be the tyranny of our own government? Why do you think the Founders placed it so high up in the Bill of Rights? They weren’t fools. They knew that tyrants often take power through democratic means. They recognized that power corrupts and over time any government can be corrupted from within, presenting a danger just as great as invasion from without. The 2nd Amendment therefore provides Americans with a “reset button,” allowing its citizens to resort to force of arms to remove any tyrannical government that comes to power. Such a government would possess the means of the state – billions of dollars, tanks, warplanes, and other tools of war to subjugate the citizenry, but as the American Revolution proved, and as shown by every counter-insurgency the US has participated in from the Philippine Rebellion of the 1920’s to Vietnam of the 1960’s and Afghanistan of today, superior men, arms and material do not in themselves guarantee victory.

The reality of this statement means that Americans would be fighting Americans. It wouldn’t be the first time; the greatest calamity ever to befall our nation was the Civil War, killing 620,000, the equivalent of 5.2 million Americans today, and setting the development of our nation back decades. The idea of Americans killing Americans repulses me in a way that is hard to describe. The extremes of Right and Left both celebrate the idea for the advancement of their own particular causes, and yet the very thought just makes me want to puke.

The best thing about having a “reset button” such as the 2nd Amendment is that it makes such scenarios unlikely. As my good Watcher’s colleague Joshupundit pointed out in a personal communication, extremists like Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam demand gun control because it makes it easier for them to impose their will on the majority of Americans once Americans are disarmed. “He (Farrakhan)  likes the idea of gun control because the [Nation of Islam] has it’s own channels to obtain firearms if they need them.” Ditto the American Communist Party. The masses will be disarmed but the extremists, whether inside the government or at society’s fringes, won’t be and their path to power will be unobstructed.

This reset button comes at a price. Every year Americans die by guns who would otherwise not, and it would be a grievous insult to comfort a parent who has lost a child to gunfire by saying that his or her life is the price we pay to guarantee freedom. But if we are to consider those lost by gun violence today, we also must consider those who would die under dictatorship. The 2nd Amendment minimizes the losses and insures our government’s, and by extension our society’s stability by making any serious attempt at destroying our democracy impossible due to the hundreds of millions of guns in the hands of 80 million Americans who bear them responsibly and vigilantly.

Most people who aren’t familiar with guns don’t understand the difference between automatic and semi-automatic weapons; at least I didn’t until I started educating myself about guns and owning them. An automatic weapon is one that continuously fires until the magazine is empty after the trigger is pulled once. A semi-automatic fires one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. Assault rifles can be semi-auto or full auto, but those under consideration for banning are semi-auto because full auto versions are highly restricted.

Automatic weapons are for all intents and purposes banned from private ownership in the US. While it is possible to get a license for one, the guns are expensive and highly regulated. Most of those I have seen in action are rented at gun ranges by guys with more testosterone than sense. Want to blow $30 in 5 seconds? You can by firing an AK-47 at full auto. In the process you’ll pretty much hit everything BUT the target you are aiming for which is why I don’t see a need for a fully auto weapon. A gun on full auto will pull up and controlling it becomes like wrestling a python, but some guys like to show off at the ranges by making noise. It makes a lot of money for the ranges and ammo manufacturers, but honestly I prefer the maxim “One shot one kill,” myself. As a result I don’t believe a ban on them tilts the playing field towards tyranny the way a ban on assault rifles would.

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  1. Sara:

    The point about the Nation of Islam and the Communists is a great one and needs to be mentioned more.

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  10. Harold:

    Battle of Athens 1946- 2nd amendment in action http://www.americanheritage.com/content/battle-athens

  11. John Hudock:

    A great essay. One point though, while I agree that protecting against government tyranny is the major reason for the inclusion of the 2nd amendment, I still don’t discount the use of gun ownership for self defense. So, while the cost may be some people killed who may not have been, this assumes that they wouldn’t have been killed in other ways, all of which become easier when the populace is disarmed, as the two mass murders of school children in China a couple of years ago by knife wielding maniacs (one of which claimed more children’s lives than Sandy Hook) demonstrates. And it also ignores the lives saved by citizens carrying guns. There are approximately 6000 homicides by firearm each year (out of a total of 11000, so people find plenty of other means to kill each other). But there are 1.5 to 2 million defensive uses of firearms each year. One can easily imagine that at least multiple thousands of these might have resulted in homicides if the person attacked were not armed. So the balance doesn’t require people killed under dictatorship to defend gun ownership (even though governments have claimed well over 150 million lives in the 20th century not including wars).

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  15. Cargosquid:

    Unfortunately, the millions of gun owners are unorganized. The mindset of requiring a militia needs to be reinstated. Only organization and teamwork among the the millions of 2nd Amendment supporters would make a difference. Individuals with rifles are nothing more than targets.

  16. Scott Kirwin:

    That’s true, but individuals without rifles would be nothing more than cannon fodder.
    The idea is that organization would begin when the gov’t crossed the line into tyranny. Unfortunately for many on the fringes that has already occurred. I’m very familiar with the “militia movement” as it exists today: racist/xenophobic extremist groups on the Left and Right that honestly I have little sympathy for. But as the gov’t slides into tyranny, those groups would be joined by more mainstream ones and the organization would go into high gear.

    As a libertarian I don’t think the gov’t has crossed the line yet, but I’m watching it closely. In the meantime we have to do everything in our power to protect our rights and fight the slide so that we can make avoid making the reset button necessary, or if we can’t, we are capable to carry out the Founder’s intent of the amendment.

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