Monday, October 12, 2015

Response to At the Waffle House

(See: Just Above Sunset: At the Waffle House)

I knew there was something wrong with Carson's Hitler-taking-guns-away story but it's been so long since I'd heard anybody use it that I forgot the true story until Kevin Drum reminded us, which is worth repeating, lest we forget it again:
In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles disarmed Germany. ... This was long before Hitler came to power. 
In 1928 this legislation was relaxed. “Germans could possess firearms, but they were required to have permits” ... Again, this was before Hitler came to power. 
In 1938, Hitler relaxed the law further. Rifles and shotguns were completely deregulated, permits were extended to three years, and the age at which guns could be purchased was lowered to 18. 
Now, Hitler did effectively ban Jews from owning guns in 1938. However, this is highly unlikely to have affected the fate of the Jews even slightly. The Nazis were considerably better armed and organized, and if Jews had taken to shooting them it would have accomplished nothing except giving Joseph Goebbels some terrific propaganda opportunities. The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is a good example of this: Jews fought back, and the result was a few dead Germans and 13,000 dead Jews.
One way to remember this in the future is just to remember that Hitler was a conservative, and conservatives generally favor loosening gun controls, not tightening them.

But it's discouraging that the truth has to be constantly recovered from long forgotten memory, since in time, these false histories always seem to bubble back up from the slime, including this one:
“What I’m talking about is the reason we have a Second Amendment in there,” Carson explained. “In case of an invasion by foreign power, the people will be able to aid the military. And also, if we have a time when we have the wrong people in office and they want to dominate the people, the people will be able to defend themselves.”
I realize I'm repeating things I've mentioned before, but as John Wayne never actually said, "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."

The real "reason we have a Second Amendment in there", despite what some will tell you, isn't so much so the people could "aid the military", it was so the people could be the military, since -- as difficult as it is for us to grasp today -- the founders purposefully founded a nation that had virtually no military! Oddly enough, early Americans thought the idea of maintaining a "standing army" was not only not necessary, but was even slightly evil, something their recently defeated enemy, the British, would do:
In June of 1787, James Madison addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on the dangers of a permanent army. “A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty,” he argued. “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home." ... 
While polls today generally indicate that Americans think of the military in glowing terms (rightly associating terms like “sacrifice,” “honor,” “valor,” and “bravery” with military service), Americans of the 18th century took a much dimmer view of the institution of a professional army. A near-universal assumption of the founding generation was the danger posed by a standing military force. 
Far from being composed of honorable citizens dutifully serving the interests of the nation, armies were held to be “nurseries of vice,” “dangerous,” and “the grand engine of despotism.” Samuel Adams wrote in 1776, such a professional army was, “always dangerous to the Liberties of the People.” Soldiers were likely to consider themselves separate from the populace, to become more attached to their officers than their government, and to be conditioned to obey commands unthinkingly. The power of a standing army, Adams counseled, “should be watched with a jealous Eye.”
In case our country was invaded, we would depend on local militias to hold the line until an army could be raised -- after all, they reasoned, militias served us well during the Revolution. But this would only be possible if we guarantee the people's right to own guns -- and therefore, the Second Amendment. But then, along came the War of 1812, which disabused us of thinking it wise to fight a major war without a regular military:
The United States was not prepared to prosecute a war, for [President James] Madison had assumed that the state militias would easily seize Canada and that negotiations would follow. In 1812, the regular army consisted of fewer than 12,000 men. Congress authorized the expansion of the army to 35,000 men, but the service was voluntary and unpopular; it offered poor pay, and there were few trained and experienced officers, at least initially. The militia objected to serving outside their home states, were not open to discipline, and performed poorly against British forces when outside their home states. ...   
The war was ... a major turning point in the development of the US military. The poor performance of several US armies during the war, particularly during the 1812–13 invasions of Canada and the 1814 defense of Washington, convinced the US government of the need to move away from its Revolutionary-era reliance on militia and focus on creating a more professional regular force.
By then, of course, it was too late to go messing around with the Constitution, so the Second Amendment became a vestige of a bygone era. In fact, throughout most of our history, most American families did not even own guns.

But as strange as it may sound to many of us, Carson's "if we have a time when we have the wrong people in office and they want to dominate the people, the people will be able to defend themselves" has some truth to it. Why, we ask, should the people fear a government of their own making, a government that they own and run?

When founders wrote about the right to bear arms, it was often hand-in-hand with that fear of standing armies, such as the writing of James Madison, the "Father of the Constitution":
In Federalist No. 46, he confidently contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he contemptuously described as "afraid to trust the people with arms." He assured his fellow citizens that they need never fear their government because of "the advantage of being armed ..."
This idea of people having a right to defend themselves from their own government traces back to the English Bill of Rights of 1689, exactly 100 years before our own government got up and running, after King James II, a Catholic, tried to disarm all the Protestants:
One of the issues the Bill resolved was the authority of the King to disarm its subjects, after James II had attempted to disarm many Protestants, and had argued with Parliament over his desire to maintain a standing (or permanent) army. The bill states that it is acting to restore "ancient rights" trampled upon by James II, though some have argued that the English Bill of Rights created a new right to have arms, which developed out of a duty to have arms. 
In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court did not accept this view, remarking that the English right at the time of the passing of the English Bill of Rights was "clearly an individual right, having nothing whatsoever to do with service in the militia" and that it was a right not to be disarmed by the Crown and was not the granting of a new right to have arms.
Okay, well, more to the point, the English Bill of Rights guaranteed the right of Protestants not to be disarmed (which I guess means you Catholic gunmen out there are SOL), unless maybe you're willing to admit that our Bill of Rights has nothing whatsoever to do with the English Bill of Rights, with all its Catholic vs Protestant folderol, especially since our Bill or Rights specifically cites a "well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state..." as a reason for the right to be guaranteed by the government.

But a lot of us are thinking about the huge numbers of shooting deaths in this country, compared to all those European countries that are "afraid to trust the people with arms" that Madison talked about, and wish we could go back in time to chat with Madison and the other founders about their overwrought fear of standing armies, and the mess they left for future generations of Americans.

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