By Ben Zornes
Politico once published an article––feverish with worry––that the clashes between white supremacists and antifa might soon escalate into a full-fledged wild west gun duel in our streets. The article gesticulates wildly at the militia-like appearance of some of the protesters––open-carrying their AR-15s––as evidence of the fact that if tensions rise, someone might lose it and fire on the crowds. Unsurprisingly, the moral of the story is to chide the open-carry laws and influence voters perception of the need for stricter gun-control.
Correlation, of course, does not mean causation, but some indicators show that in open carry states, violent crime is often lower. Regardless, the real question––beyond what sort of open carry, concealed carry, and so-called gun control laws we should have––is what we mean by the liberty to bear arms?
Why would the founding fathers enshrine in our nation’s constitution the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” and that that right “shall not be infringed”? Were they merely interested in keeping the “National Musket Association” happy? Was deer hunting the main thing in view? Or were there some presuppositions about the nature of humans and human governments that were informing this entry in the Bill of Rights?
This brings us to the inescapable question of what our view of man is. Presuppositions are everything when it comes to fleshing out what sort of laws a nation will adopt. The founders made two assumptions about human nature. One, that it was not “basically good.” James Madison’s famous line, “if men were angels,” reflects this presupposition about the evil found in man. The second, was that governments are comprised of men, and since those men are not somehow different in nature, they are not immune to the corruption which evil has brought to our nature. In fact, the power which our constitution granted to those in government, is granted with the assumption that we are electing wicked men who are very easily corrupted by power and control.
This enlightens why the founding fathers made provision for citizens to bear arms. It wasn’t to ensure that hunters could enjoy a nice fall hobby. We don’t see them preserving the right to own crochet needles in order for old ladies to continue their hobby of darning socks. The reason weapons and arms are acknowledged as an inalienable right of the citizen is to ensure that virtuous men might always have a recourse to overthrow wicked governments.
Today Americans tend to assume that human nature is innately good and the nanny state has encouraged this idea, convincing many that the government is all benevolent. This is the precise concern which our forefathers envisioned and hoped to protect against. Underneath the debate on gun control is a debate about human nature and the nature of government. The liberty which our constitution guarantees presumes a people who are wary of themselves and therefore keeps their government on a short leash.
Liberty never survives without virtue. In fact, liberty suffocates when the prevailing assumption is that “we’re all good people.” It is only by acknowledging our inclination towards selfishness, pride, and lust for power, sex, and fortune that we can then proceed to flee from vice and towards virtue. No matter how many resolutions we pass, virtue cannot be produced by committee votes. Virtue is not innate in us. So, the first step towards becoming a virtuous people is by recognizing that we are a wicked people.
This reality leads us to seek for a standard of goodness and rightness outside of ourselves. This is why we must look to God and His Word as the source and standard of truth and goodness. As long as we have an errant presumption that mankind is basically good, we will continue to think that we can simply decide upon what’s right and determine our own morality through legislation. This naïve assumption is precisely how we end up with bad laws. Bad trees produce bad fruit. If we assume the orchard only has good trees, when in fact they are all infected with blight, we will be shocked when the harvest is rotten.
What our modern skittishness about guns (especially the issue of open and concealed carry) tells us, is that while we are quite comfortable entrusting all the power to our human government, we are quite nervous, on the other hand, when we see individuals with guns. This shows that we have ceded power to the government, and have taken up the assumption that power and force is okay for the government to hold, but individuals are not to be trusted with it. We are distrustful of our fellow man, but large swaths of our nation have embraced a blind trust in the government.
The government does indeed have a rightful jurisdiction to secure peace and enforce justice. Anarchy, obviously, gets messy real quick. However, we must not forget that individual liberties are there to remind us that it is incumbent upon each of us to defend liberty by being the sort of men that are wary of themselves and wary of the corrupting nature of power upon our fellow man. When people are concerned about protesters displaying guns, it reveals that we assume our government is to be the remedy for wickedness. In other words, we become fearful if it begins to appear that someone might actually do something about the wickedness within our government. Thus, we sweep up our petticoats and ask the government to do something; and in comes the police state to rough up the ruffians.
Revolution is an ugly affair, but what these recent protests show is that when ills––whether legitimate or imagined––are perceived in our government, citizens can actually do something about it. War should be a last resort, but we must not be Victorian in our sensibilities and think that the time will never come to throw off tyranny. Our founders recognized the tendency for men to corrupt their government and for their government to corrupt men. Thus, they preserved to us the right to make sure that the government never forgets that “we the people” are able to overthrow a government when it becomes tyrannical, wicked, and corrupt. If we get nervous when certain fringe groups attempt some measure of “overthrow,” our nervousness shouldn’t be because we think our government is pure as the wind driven snow. Rather, we should see in these protests the warning signs that errant assumptions about the nature of man and his governments are coming home to roost. Men really are evil and our government is starting to show the warts, despite all the make-up.
We certainly do not want war breaking out in our streets. We must remember that power rests with “we the people.” The open-carrying of guns reminds and signifies that fact. Our founders, after all, envisioned a people who were wary of their own evil nature, and this spurred them on in the pursuit of virtue. Because soccer-moms get the shakes when they see a firearm doesn’t mean something is wrong with the weapon, it shows that we’ve mistaken the pursuit of virtue for the anemic goal of being nice. Niceness is not a virtue. It is niceness that has convinced us to simply roll over and let babies be murdered with our tax-dollars, have our incomes taxed at exorbitant rates, and allowed our Supreme Court to legislate laws for individual states. But niceness is often a charade to hide the fact that the spine is missing. People, by nature, aren’t nice. They are depraved. Which is why our founders preserved for us this right, as a constant reminder that we don’t need nice people, we need virtuous people.