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    Understanding Guns in America: The Noise that Made the Redcoats Run

    January 16, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    The cannons leaped backward, the air was full of flying grass and weeds. Almanzo ran with all the other boys to feel the warm muzzles of the cannons. Everybody was exclaiming about what a loud noise they had made.

    “That’s the noise that made the Redcoats run!” Mr. Paddock said to Father.

    “Maybe,” Father said, tugging his beard. “But it was muskets that won the Revolution…”

    -Laura Ingalls Wilder

    In most of the debates surrounding the Second Amendment, there are statistics flung around. I find these statistics of interest. Is it true that gun-free zones are more likely to attract crime than other places? Do guns cause criminals to think twice before committing an offence? Are most crimes involving firearms committed with illegal weapons, meaning that gun control would have no effect on said crimes because the guns used in these crimes are already disallowed? It’s an interesting discussion, isn’t it?

    The problem is when we try to group this (admittedly interesting) discussion into our talk about the Second Amendment, the issue can get muddied.

    As I said yesterday, the Second Amendment does not exist because our Founding Fathers were concerned with the uncanny knack of guns to deter crime, or the deep American affection for hunting. One of the things I have always appreciated about our Founders was their focus on Permanent Things. They aimed at universal, timeless principles rather than creating a governing document that was mired in its own time.

    Our time, however, is very caught up in itself. This is why, when we discuss issues, we refer to statisticians and economists rather than philosophers and prophets. We have a bad case of chronological myopia. Culturally, we tend to be concerned with here and now. We don’t think much about yesterday, nor do we think about tomorrow.

    I think if we are going to try and understand our time and its problems (which are not unique, mind you), we have to look back through the halls of history and find out how we got here (and also how men wiser than us dealt with similar problems), not just in regard to the problems we have, but the legal documents that structure our society.

    In the latter case, we need to go back to the days preceding the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and even the Declaration of Independence. There are events which preceded these documents that inform their reading.

    Often called “the shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots of the American War for Independence, fired at Lexington April 19, 1775, were fired why exactly? Are you aware of the history of this? You may not be, for I know that I personally was not taught this in school; I had to learn it for myself as an adult studying history.

    No one knows which side fired the first shot (or if perhaps a spectator fired one to get things going), but what we do know is that General Gage had received orders shortly before this battle. His mission was clear: he was to disarm the colonists and arrest the rebel leaders. The colonists, who were supposed to have the rights of a free Englishman, had been taxed without representation, forced to quarter soldiers in their homes, and, to add insult to injury, the King had now ordered their total disarmament.

    The Battle of Concord had the same cause; British troops were sent to Concord for the purpose of confiscating the colonial stock of firearms and ammunition.

    The Founding Fathers were concerned with protecting the rights of citizens to bear arms because they knew not just history in general (though we can and ought to look there), but their own very recent history, in which a tyrant stripped freemen of their rights–first their right to representation, then their right to a private domain, and then their right to arm themselves. The Founders’ purpose was to protect against tyranny.

    Our national discussion must center around universal principles and timeless concepts, around important ideas such as what it means to be free and what a tyrant looks like, what is a free man and what is his proper place and what are the rights proper to his position as a free man, if we are going to make wise decisions. Wisdom does not crunch numbers and read statistics and polls to make decisions. Wisdom concerns itself with truth–timeless truths. Or, as the Founders called them, “self-evident truths.”

    But I digress.

    If we want to understand gun ownership in America, today’s lesson is clear: Americans own guns–have the freedom to own guns–because there was a time when their government tried to take guns from them. The British oppression of the American colonies actually culminated in disarmament. Disarmament was the line the colonists did not allow their King to cross; it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

    Once upon a time, the colonists were stripped of their rights as free men. Tyranny showed itself clearly in the very act of disarmament. And we put an end to tyranny using the very guns we owned.

    Our history runs deep, and if we seem to cling to our beloved Second Amendment, this is one reason why.

    Read the Understanding Guns in America Series:

    The Noise that Made the Redcoats Run  you are here
    Our Inherited Rights as Free Englishmen
    Natural Rights and Legal Rights
    James Madison’s Angel Problem
    On Amendments and Ratification
    Res Publica, the Nature of a Republic

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  • Reply Rahime January 17, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Great post. I get so frustrated when all of the babble about “gun rights” on both sides is focused on crime statistics or hunting and other gun sports. Yes, many people like to hunt or shoot as sport (or for food/sustenance), yes, guns are involved in crimes (either preventing them or helping to carry them out), but that is not WHY we should resist the attack on the 2nd Amendment. Our Founding Fathers knew that history repeats itself. I couldn’t have put it as eloquently or as clearly as you have, but the values that lie behind the amendment and it’s purpose in our history should be central to the discussion, not all of the peripheral issues.

  • Reply Anonymous January 17, 2013 at 7:59 pm

    Jeanne – tyranny is in our DNA. Jefferson had numerous quotes on tyranny that were often used in conjunction with his belief that every American should exercise their right to keep and bear arms.

    In 1965, Reagan quoted a man named Tytler, who two centuries earlier had spoken about the eventual demise of any Democracy (which may be why our Founding Fathers opted for a Constitutional Republic rather than a Democracy). Reagan stated “Perhaps what he had in mind was what Prof. Alexander Frazer Tytler has written, that a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. From that moment on the majority, he said, always vote for the candidate promising the most benefits from the treasury with the result that democracy always collpases over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by a dictatorship. Unfortunately, we can’t argue with the professor because when he wrote that we were still colonials of Great Britain and he was explaining what had destroyed the Athenian Republic more than 2000 years before.”

    Americans are ever vigilant of tyranny, because waiting for tyranny before you prepare to fight is ALWAYS too late. The romantics among us say stuff like “beat your swords into plowshares and then beat your plowshares into musical instruments…” The realists say stuff like “those who beat their swords into plowshares will plow for those who don’t.” That may summarize the difference in American thinking…

  • Reply Anonymous January 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    I took my son to Lexington two years ago and we were actually able to go into my Great(x10) Grandfathers house built in 1720. He was in his 70s when he stood out on the Battle Green in Lexington (and may have even “inadvertently” fired that first shot). Who knows…what I do know is that he was an old codger that memorable April day.

    Influences like Locke profoundly informed our Founding Fathers, who were steadfast in their pursuit of self-determination. Their concepts on liberty infiltrated all of our founding documents, which form the basis of our Constitutional Republic. That concept…a Republic that places a document and the rule of law over EVEN the popular vote, is a concept that transcends the corruption of a standard Democracy. THAT is why we are exceptional. And liberty was tied to the concept of force from our very founding.

    It is interesting that you invoke Gage’s order to disarm the rebellion. You are absolutely correct. Another tidbit lost to history was Margaret Gage’s involvement. General Gage’s wife was torn. She was born in America. There is a school of thought that says Margaret Gage was Joseph Warren’s “spy.” It was the General’s own wife who alerted the colonists to their pending disarmament!

  • Reply Phyllis January 17, 2013 at 2:24 pm

    I’m so glad you’re doing this! Honestly, after all these years away and with very different input, I am just not understanding the American attachment to guns. I’m reading a Russian book about Americans, and the author explains it with history, which is true, but I’ve been thinking that it’s not enough. He says that Americans had to protect themselves and fight for survival at the beginning, but that’s about all. I’ve been wondering why that element of culture hasn’t changed after all these years. (And why it has in Australia? Their history started off similarly, it seems to me.)

    By the way, more about the book I’m reading: like I said, the author is Russian, a political scientist or something. He’s in awe of the American Founding Fathers.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 17, 2013 at 6:22 pm

      Is that book available in English? It sounds fascinating.

      I am not exactly sure why, but out of all the other cultures in the world, some of the best things I’ve read about America written in more modern times {outside of things written here} have been written by Russians! Most of what I’ve read have been articles and not books, but they’ve been *very* insightful.

  • Reply Jeanne January 17, 2013 at 9:24 am

    Why do Americans think they have a tyrannical government? Doesn’t seem to matter who is in power either. I didn’t vote for our prime minister, but I don’t believe she is out to do me evil. I certainly would never call our government tyrannical!

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 17, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      I don’t think they do. At least, not all of us. You can always find someone who believes *something*. 🙂 The relationship between the State and its citizens is, to some extent, a spectrum, with anarchy on one side and total tyranny on the other. We all exist on that spectrum.

      I think the States, as well as some of the other former British colonies, experienced wonderful freedoms during most of their colonial experience. Some of this was due to the British kings being distracted by other issues, some due to the fact that they were not as financially valuable until the 1700s, and some due to the fact that the lack of technology exaggerated the distance between the colonies and their parent country. So when King George began to tighten his grip and disregard the freedoms that had been enjoyed in peace for a very long time, this was unacceptable.

      I’m saying this because I think we value our freedom from having experienced freedom first, rather than from having experienced tyranny first, if that makes sense. It was the great enjoyment we had of our freedom–the rich culture we had developed–that stood in such stark contrast to the King’s way of dealing with the colonies around the time of the Revolution.

      Gosh, I’m too long-winded. Let me try and wrap this up.

      Okay…so I think that it is not so much that we think we have a tyrannical government, but that, first of all, we hold our freedoms–all of them, not just the Second Amendment–very dear.

      Now, I said there is a spectrum. Our government was set up to be waaaay over near the anarchy side. 🙂 We tried something really close {the Articles of Confederation}, which was an almost total disaster, so the next step was a stronger central government balanced with States’ rights. It was truly elegant.

      In my own lifetime, I have seen what can only be called a march toward {meaning in the direction of, along the spectrum} tyranny. I have seen attacks on our First Amendment rights {religion, speech, press, as well as assembly}, Second Amendment, Fourth Amendment {illegal search and seizure}, as well as the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. I am not old. This is a lot to see in a short amount of time, and it’s concerning.

      Those who are currently in power find our enumerated rights to be a great inconvenience to themselves and their desire to “get things done.” But this is not only Democrats–President GW Bush made great attacks on freedom in his Patriot Act.

      We feel ourselves sliding in the direction that we were always meant to try and keep from. When asked what sort of government he had given us, Dr. Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

      You see, every republic slowly slides toward tyranny. This is why Brutus was willing to assassinate Caesar, right? His fear was that Caesar intended to take tyrannical rule over time. This was a heart-wrenching decision for Brutus, but done out of love for the Republic.

      History has taught us that those who do not actively seek to keep their Republics lose them. They have *always* been lost. Our fears, I think, are healthy, and part and parcel of the keeping process.

    • Reply Lady M January 17, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      I don’t think we do believe this (well, most don’t, lol!). BUT, it is there to PROTECT us from that happening. Brandy says it well in her response to you though, so I won’t say more.

  • Reply Keith/Larry January 17, 2013 at 1:40 am

    Reading this reminded me of a quote i heard. our right to bear arms protects us from the suppression of tyrannical governments.

  • Reply Lady M January 16, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    Amen, amen!

  • Reply Rebekah January 16, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Love, love, love this. You are so gifted with explaining things. 🙂

  • Reply sara January 16, 2013 at 11:27 pm

    OH so good. I look forward to reading the rest of your thoughts.

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