Dodging Bullets

A wall of semi-automatic rifles is seen at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits April 14, 2012 i
A wall of semi-automatic rifles is seen at the National Rifle Association (NRA) Annual Meetings and Exhibits April 14, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

Amidst the dizzying array of arguments against any and all arguments for any kind of gun control, I feel as if I'm dodging bullets. Fortunately, these exchanges are bounded by the First Amendment, not the Second -- so no flesh is being shredded. Still, I'm beginning to wish I had swallowed the blue pill!

Argue that ordinary citizens don't need assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, and you are told: Those don't figure in many deaths. So no regulation is warranted because the numbers are small.

Argue, then, that since September 11 didn't kill that many people in the scheme of things, our response -- including two wars, thousands of our own casualties and tens of thousands of others, and expenses well in excess of $1 trillion -- has been excessive, and you are told you are missing the point (not to mention being unpatriotic, and perhaps un-American). The issue of September 11 is not about numbers -- it's about principles: freedom, homeland security. Principles worth defending.

So, circle back and say: Okay, then -- regulating weapons especially useful for massacring innocents is also about principle, not numbers -- and you are reminded how few people die this way. More are killed by knives! So, apparently, numbers do matter, after all.

So then say: Okay, numbers matter. How about this number: How many times since our Constitution was drafted, with checks and balances and a civilian-led military all built into the system, have weapons in the hands of random citizens been used to defend us against tyranny from within?

Uh -- that would be zero. Never. Nada.

I guess that number doesn't matter, right? After all -- it could happen.

Come to think of it, I can think of one situation in which we do, indeed, flirt with tyranny from within. It's the situation where a private entity, accountable only to its members and not the public at large, uses money to influence national legislation that is imposed upon all of us. I'm not sure why, exactly, but the NRA comes immediately to mind. Of course, it's not entirely clear how a particular kind of gun might best be used to defend against the NRA's brand of tyranny. If I come up with something, I'll let you know.

But otherwise, in well over 200 years, there has been no instance of our government devolving into tyranny.

Yet, despite the checks and balances in our government that seem to make it far more likely we can enjoy political gridlock forever than ever have to fear the rise of true tyranny from within, theoretically -- it could happen. And when it does, our sons and daughters and brothers and sisters in the military will, of course, suddenly go from being defenders of truth and freedom and the American way of life to cogs in the tyrannical machine, right?

Suddenly, when tyranny takes over against all odds, our military will go from being populated by patriotic citizens -- to deluded zombies in the service of despotism. And when that happens, when the most powerful military machine the world has ever known has been miraculously bamboozled into serving tyranny rather than freedom, we can all sleep better at night knowing that lots of random citizens have AR-15 assault rifles. That will make everything okay.

Won't it? I mean, those guys -- all those random, tyranny-defying citizens -- they'll come together, form a well-regulated militia, and defend us against our corrupted military, right? They will all band behind the same leaders, won't they? They'll all have the same, clear vision of how to go from the fall of a government designed to be tyranny-proof (by the same founders who omnisciently addressed the right to bear arms, for whatever that's worth) to a new one that truly is, right?

And once these tyranny-defying, gun-toting patriots have saved us from ourselves, it will of course remain vital that from the tatters of our now-shredded Constitution they at least hang on to the Second Amendment -- so that when absolute power corrupts them absolutely, we can do it all again.

You know what, folks? Call me all the names you like. I'm not really seeing any up-side in this scenario and sure as hell don't want that world for my kids.

It sounds like Beirut to me. Or Afghanistan. Or Mogadishu. We have shining examples around the world of what it means to rely on guns in everybody's hands to fight tyranny. It means one man's tyrant is another man's brother, and every man's ambition is a mortal threat to every other. One person's freedom fighter is another's despotic warlord. It means dodging bullets all the time, forever.

We also happen to have one shining example of a better way to defend against tyranny, that doesn't involve everybody shooting at everybody else. It's called the United States of America, founded on a brilliant system of checks and balances, designed to prevent tyranny by the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers who, I have been told many times, were prescient enough to know the kind of arms we would have the right to bear in 2013. (Yeah -- they meant these.)

So we have another dilemma. Either the founders were all-knowing, in which case the government they designed to be tyranny-proof really ought to be so. Or they were just doing the best they could-- in which case, they didn't necessarily have a clue what AR-15s accessible to every random crook out of a population of 300 million would mean.

So let's dispense with tortured logic and contorted arguments. Arguments get mangled when the truth sticks in your craw. One relevant truth is: A lot of people just like big guns. Big guns make people feel powerful. Lots of people like to be able to say: My gun's bigger than your gun! People who buy big guns, like big guns. People who sell big guns like money, and big guns.

It's okay to admit this. It's like the Emperor's New Clothes; everybody really knows it already anyway.

I think a future in which we are relying on random citizens with AR-15s (or whatever) to come miraculously together out of chaos and form a well-regulated militia and defend us against our own (very well-regulated) military is unimaginably bleak. It makes the Civil War look like a picnic.

And, speaking of the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln was labeled a tyrant in his day (and by some even today) by those who opposed him. History has reached rather a different conclusion. But this does seem to serve up a precautionary lesson about the ability of gun-toting patriots to judge tyranny accurately and determine whom they should shoot. I trust everybody knows what has been said about the follies of history.

The notion that our government and military will devolve into tyranny and random, armed citizens will save us is implausible to the point of preposterous, and dreadful to the point of apocalypse. If you tell me you need particular kinds of guns to protect me and my family from all this, my response is: No thank you. We'll take our chances.

I don't trust you to know who is a tyrant and who isn't; and if you rise to power out of this calamity, I don't trust you not to be the next tyrant. And if you turn out to be, somebody will eventually shoot you -- and take your place. I don't want my kids to spend short, wretched lives dodging bullets, and a sequence of tyrants.

I believe we have a well-regulated militia on the side of the people. And I believe fervently in the genius of our Constitution. In fact, I believe it's bulletproof. If it isn't -- then god help us all, and pass me the blue pill.


Dr. David L. Katz;