[The following piece first appeared at the Palace of Reason on April 1, 2001, shortly after the now all-but-forgotten EP-3 incident in the Far East. -- FWP]
It's been awhile since I really reflected on the nature of a free people -- a people determined to remain free, and possessed of the means to do so.
Armament is critical, of course. If your adversary is armed and you aren't, you're in the position of a grasshopper trying to face down a lawn mower. We might make admiring note of your courage in our elegies, but we surely won't be attending your victory parade.
Also, one must be careful not to hand any levers to a potential tyrant. There are a number of things Man requires to survive and flourish: air, food, water, the ability to move about, the ability to communicate with others, heat, fuel, many kinds of knowledge, the cooperation of others with different kinds of knowledge, and so on. Whenever any entity moves to monopolize access to any of these or the other necessities of survival, it's nominated itself Tyrant-In-Embryo. Abort!
But both the above are resultants of a far more critical, indeed, a fundamental requirement of the free man. No one can remain free, no one can ensure the freedom of his descendants, unless he nurtures and transmits to those around him the essential defiance that animates all the other freedom-conserving behaviors.
We see a lot of bumper stickers that run roughly as follows:
When They Pry It
From My Cold Dead Hand!
I can only applaud the sentiment... if it's genuine. How often is it genuine?
Test yourself, as sincerely as you can. Imagine that tomorrow, without warning, a deputy sheriff were to appear at your door with a clipboard and demand that you surrender your guns to him. Imagine that he knows accurately how many guns you have, and what types they are. (It shouldn't be hard to imagine this, since de-facto owner registration of firearms has been in place for some years now. Why else would you be required to show proof of identity when buying a rifle?) How would you react?
Well? The deputy sheriff is waiting.
I regret to say that most gun owners would resist with at most a question about the legal basis for the sheriff's demand. If he replied with anything even vaguely plausible, they would comply, even though the right to own weapons is recognized by the U.S. Constitution as an absolute, to be infringed by no one.
Why do I say this? Because it's happened. It's here.
After the race troubles of the summers of 1964 and 1965, several major cities, New York prominent among them, imposed unConstitutional new restrictions and requirements on weapons ownership. The residents of those cities went along without significant opposition. To the best of my knowledge, none of the restrictions were ever rolled back, though the supposed dangers they were put in place to forestall (e.g., here in New York, we heard a lot about "urban snipers") failed to materialize.
California, more recently, passed a law forbidding the ownership of an "assault weapon," a category so broadly defined that virtually any semiautomatic rifle would qualify under a liberal interpretation of the standard. The law became effective on January 1, 2000. I have heard no report of any opposition to this patently, blatantly unConstitutional law in the Golden State.
Now, about those bumper stickers...
I'm not saying that it would be easy to refuse that deputy sheriff. I'm not saying there wouldn't be risks. I am saying that unless the will and determination to refuse him are present in a large percentage of the citizenry, the country will lose the liberties that the right of private firearms ownership was intended to safeguard.
Without that ineradicable defiance, that willingness to spit into the face of "authority," firearms are mere trinkets.
Every major gun confiscation known to history has been followed by the erection of a totalitarian regime. It's not as if we didn't have a little history on the matter. When they come for our guns, we'll know what they're about.
Over the past century, liberty has been flensed away from Americans, slice after thin slice. That's the way to subordinate a free people. Get them used to bending the knee and tugging the forelock in little things first, things that don't appear to be relevant to them personally. Get them thinking that only antisocial curmudgeons would raise a fuss over matters as trivial as zoning restrictions, or licensing requirements for hairdressers. Better yet, get them thinking that anyone who would resist these "obviously desirable" new requirements of the law must want to do them harm.
With each slice of lost liberty has gone a little of the defiance that animates a free people. We're closing in on the point of no return, the threshold that, once crossed, will become an impenetrable wall that forbids us a backward step.
In parallel with the loss of personal defiance has gone a slackening of the national will toward foreign enemies. The recent contretemps with the Chinese is an important harbinger of things to come. Few have dared to suggest that, when America puts young men and women into uniforms and weapons into their hands, it's preparing them to risk their lives for some purpose beyond a trade agreement. Few have dared to suggest that a country whose government dares to take Americans hostage, to stake their lives and freedom as counters in a game, has committed an act of war, an act to which a country with dignity could respond in only one way.
We have become comfortable with subordination at home and humiliation abroad.
The red and white stripes wobble and weave. The starry blue field softens and begins to run. The borders dissolve, the colors blend, and soon there is only a uniform dull brown. The color of mud. The color of failure, The color of the loss of hope. And the hand that holds liberty's banner aloft slackens, and fails, and becomes cold.