Second Amendment Follies, Part 3: “the Security of a Free State”

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So we have seen that the real purpose of the Second Amendment was to guarantee a “well-regulated militia”. Why? Well, continue reading to the next phrase: “being necessary to the security of a free state”. Which is, compared to some of the other amendment’s components, rather straightforward. Which hasn’t prevented the gun fanatics from turning it completely on its ear.

According to them, the real function of this beatific addendum to the Constitution is so “patriots” can be armed to fight against their own government (if the president happens to be a Democrat). Under their logic, they could offer the ultimate demonstration of their “patriotism” and “support for the troops” by killing as many troops as possible.

Never mind that the chances of an armed citizenry successfully fighting an armed government are exactly two: slim and none. No, make that infinitesimally slim and none. The peddlers of this myth like to claim that the American Revolution itself was an example of such a successful campaign. Nope. The Revolutionary War was not fought between civilians and their government; it was fought between armies, supplemented by militia. And that militia, as we’ve already noted, was not merely a gaggle of armed citizens.

But at the moment, we’re not really concerned about how realistic this bit of dogma is, but rather with how constitutionally grounded it is or isn’t. And the gunsters also maintain that the Founders wanted future citizens to be prepared to fight their own government because that’s what they themselves had had to do. In other words, having overcome a tyrannical regime imposed by a monarch on the other side of the planet, the Founders carefully and meticulously constructed a new republic with a system of checks and balances designed to make certain that its government never became monarchical; yet they had such little faith in this new system they designed that they also installed a loophole to encourage anarchy against it.

To buttress this claim, gunsters often quote the Founders on the topic, or at least so it appears. Here’s one example that’s been making the rounds.

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Seems like an unequivocal pronouncement from an unequivocal Revolutionary authority, no? Unfortunately, this photo is fake, and so is the quote — at least the part of it that really matters to the gun cult.  Washington’s actual statement, in part, was this:

A free people ought not only to be armed but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent on others, for essential, particularly for military supplies.

The comments about “discipline” and a “Uniform and well digested plan” is a strong indication that the Father of the Country wasn’t talking about the kind of nightmare scenario that today’s NRA has brought to fruition.

Yet there are other quotes from figures of the Revolution that the NRA cult has packed into its arsenal.  For example, there’s this one from Thomas Jefferson:

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.

That’s definitely a strong case, and Jefferson is definitely a well qualified person to make it, so… um, wait a minute. Turns out that one is bogus too.

Of course, there are many genuine quotations from the Founders and their compatriots that seem to support a citizen’s right to be armed. But it’s important not to take them out of context. And it’s especially important not to take them as an admonition to be armed against one’s own government.  There are at least two major obstacles to such a conclusion.

First, there’s Article 3 of the Constitution, which includes this:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

In other words, taking up arms against your own government. That’s a very serious offense, traditionally punishable by death. So do you believe that the Founders spelled out what treason is, and then appended a provision to the Constitution that encourages citizens to commit it?

The second obstacle can be found in Article 2 of the U.S. Constitution:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States;

And in the Militia Acts of 1792:

That whenever the laws of the United States shall be opposed or the execution thereof obstructed, in any state, by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, or by the powers vested in the marshals by this act, [words requiring notification by an associate justice or district judge were omitted in 1795 revision. The revision gave the President more authority] the same being notified to the President of the United States, by an associate justice or the district judge, it shall be lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia of such state to suppress such combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed. And if the militia of a state, where such combinations may happen, shall refuse, or be insufficient to suppress the same, it shall be lawful for the President, if the legislature of the United States be not in session, to call forth and employ such numbers of the militia of any other state or states most convenient thereto, as may be necessary…

All of which adds up to the bottom line that the militia is ultimately answerable to the president.  Furthermore, if one state’s militia is unwilling or unable to do his bidding within the bounds of its state, the president is authorized to summon forth militias of other states to do the job. (And note that the mention of different militias for different states is a strong indication that a militia was meant to be more than just an armed populace.) Which means that in order for the gun culture fantasy of bringing down Uncle Sam to be realized, the president would have to mobilize the militia against himself. And while some really kooky happenings are happening at the White House these days, this is not likely to be one of them any time soon.

Still, it’s not inconceivable that the Founders did indeed intend for the militia to be available to combat tyranny. It’s just that, inevitably, it would be marshaled to support the federal government instead of to oppose it.  A classic example occurred in 1957 when Arkansas governor Orval Faubus refused to comply with federal directives to desegregate Little Rock Central High School. Faubus initially mobilized the Arkansas National Guard (i.e., the militia) to impose his own will and resist what many southerners considered the “tyranny” of forced desegregation. This sounds like the gun culture wet dream. No, actually, it would be more like armed civilians marching on Washington and overthrowing the president because of this “tyranny”.

But what happened then was that President Eisenhower stepped in and took control of the Guard, as presidents have the right to do. The tyranny of Faubus was suppressed, and segregation in Arkansas schools was ended. This is the kind of “security of a free state” the Founders had in mind. And it’s the way they intended militias to work. How do we know? Because they clearly said so.

(Next installment: we get to the heart of the matter, the gun culture’s favorite part of the Second Amendment.)

More on the Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban (Part 1)

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Thanks to a routine gun massacre at a school, a plug of this blog by Randi Rhodes, and the routine level of rabidly hateful insanity spewing out of the Second Amendment crowd, my previous post on The Myth of Hitler’s Gun Ban, written more than a year ago, has suddenly been catapulted through the stratosphere, at least by my readership’s usual standards: more than 32,000 hits in one day alone. And I’m pleased to see that, for the most part, the new comments have been civil, informed, and sometimes thought-provoking. This even applies to many individuals who chose to challenge my research.

And then there are the others: the gun fanatics who resent being deprived of one of their pet myths, and come out with hardware blazing in an effort to hold onto it. Some have accused me of being “misleading”, though they haven’t been able to tell me exactly how I’ve misled. Some have suggested that I’m an admirer of Hitler myself; or that I want to take away their guns like he didn’t; or that I’m anti-Semitic for pointing out that the Jews were unable to resist Nazi oppression.

For some of these folks, it’s very, very important to believe that Hitler banned guns, because their window on the universe looks something like this: (1) President Obama is trying to ban guns; (2) Hitler banned guns; (3) therefore Obama is Hitler reincarnate; (4) therefore we need to prepare for the day when he’ll come banging our door down and dragging us off to a FEMA concentration camp, where we’ll be either converted to Islam, or will be tortured and killed; (5) thus, we must stockpile as many weapons as possible and coincidentally stack up some healthy profits for Lord LaPierre and company.

“The first thing a tyrant does”, they often say, “is take away people’s guns”.  Whereupon they point to a string of historical dictators who supposedly did just that, and proclaim that President Obama belongs in that nefarious procession himself. They’re quite mistaken on every count (for one thing, tyrants seldom attach as much significance to “gun control” as gun nuts do), but as one gathers from their frequent attempts to politicize the gun debate to the nth degree, it doesn’t matter whether you have the right facts, so long as you have the right ideology.

I recommend reading the comments on the original post, but the following is an attempt to address objections, shed some additional light, and summarize and reiterate some salient points:

Salient Point # 1. Hitler did NOT ban guns. Did not, did not, did not.

No amount of devious spin can alter that fact. Sorry. Get over it, already.  Even GunCite (a pro-gun website that, unlike other pro-gun websites, generally does some solid research) acknowledges as much. The Nazis inherited a system of firearm registration and regulation that was already quite strict, though it also did not, by any means, amount to a gun ban. And the gun law they passed in 1938 actually loosened those existing regulations considerably.  Regulations were still stringent. But to call it a “gun ban”, is… well, misleading at the very least.

Okay, I admit it: I may have goofed. In debunking the popular Hitler gun “quote” (you know, the one beginning “This year will go down in history”), I noted that he did say this:

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.”

From which I deduced:

So it’s fair to conclude that he believed “gun control” had its uses.

Okay, but a great deal depends on what you  mean by “gun control”.  I may have goofed by cutting Der Fuhrer off too soon. Just a couple of sentences later, he added this:

“So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order throughout the occupied Russian territories, and a system of military strong-points must be evolved to cover the entire occupied country.”

This suggests that his real concern about “conquered peoples” having arms was really about them having organized armed forces, not merely armed citizens. And he was referring specifically to governing the conquered “Eastern peoples” (i.e., Russians) rather than Germans.

The Nazis loved their guns. They loved guns almost as much as today’s American Gun Worshiping Cult that compares Obama to Hitler. They loved guns so much, they taught children to march and drill with them, starting as early as five years of age. The nursery rhymes these children heard encouraged them to play with guns. Does that sound like something Nazis wanted to outlaw?

While I’m hesitant to consult white supremacist organizations on anything, it’s interesting to note that the National Alliance, which has a certain amount of reverence for both firearms and fascism/white nationalism, has this commentary ,which lays out some of the specifics of the 1938 law. It’s excerpted from a book that includes the complete text of the law, both in English translation and in the original German.  For what it’s worth, the commentary concludes with the declaration that it was not Hitler, but his enemies, who advocated for “gun control”. Quite the reverse of the claim made by gun enthusiasts who (presumably) do not admire Hitler.

Salient Point # 2: Yes, the Jews were barred from gun ownership. So what?

They were barred from a lot of things. Like voting, owning businesses, working in professions, attending schools, patronizing cinemas or theatres, and visiting public parks or “Aryan” areas. Jews were not considered citizens in Nazi Germany (and in a very real sense they weren’t even considered human), and gun ownership was one of the perks of citizenship. The fact that the gun culture considers the Jews’ lack of guns of more consequence than their lack of far more basic civic rights says a great deal more about the gun culture than it does about the Nazis or the Jews. And even when they get it right about what the German gun laws did or didn’t do, they misrepresent the significance and consequences of those laws.

And we say laws in the plural because there were indeed more than one. We’ve been discussing primarily the German Weapons Act of 1938, passed in March of that year, which as we’ve noted before, significantly deregulated firearms. It also prohibited Jews from manufacturing and selling them; one gets the impression that the intent was to prevent Jews, whom the Nazis regarded as subhuman, from handling the sacred implements of power that they later would touch with their own hands. Even so, note that this law itself did not expressly ban Jews from owning guns.

It wasn’t until November of that year that a different law, The Regulations Against Jews’ Possession Of Weapons, did what its name suggested. That’s right: even though they’d subjected the Jews to just about every form of degradation and brutal oppression possible, it took the Nazis  five years before they actually got around to barring Jews from owning guns. Gives you some indication just what an all-consuming priority it was, doesn’t it? Furthermore, this law was passed only after Kristallnacht, which might have given Jews an incentive to retaliate violently.

“Aha”, says the gun fanatic, “so obviously the Nazis were concerned about the threat of an armed populace”. Well sure, to some degree; but let’s not blow it out of proportion. Just because they wanted to prevent a few of their own from getting killed or wounded in the line of duty didn’t mean they gave any credibility to the Tea Party wet dream of a small contingent of armed citizens overthrowing their government. As one of my readers so astutely observed, if they’d encountered armed resistance at the first two houses they came knocking at, then at the third house they would have stopped knocking and just started shooting.

In a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League, national director Abraham Foxman, a survivor of the Holocaust (you know, the one that didn’t really happen), said:

“The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families.”

The ADL statement also says:

“the small number of personal firearms in the hands of the small number of Germany’s Jews (about 214,000) remaining in Germany in 1938 could in no way have stopped the totalitarian power of the Nazi German state.”

But hey, just because someone was there and actually lived through it doesn’t mean they can match the expertise on the subject exhibited by Glenn Beck or Ann Coulter, does it? Incidentally, the ADL has politely urged people to refrain from using Hitler as a political scarecrow. Do you really think anyone’s gonna listen?

(More to come on this, alas.)