“I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense.” Thomas Paine
“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Thomas Jefferson
I can’t think of any reason I need to own my AR-15 assault1 rifle. I don’t pretend to need it for self defense. I also own several handguns. Any one of my handguns would be adequate to allow me an opportunity to defend myself, or another person, from virtually any act of aggression by another individual. Indeed, I could have easily halted any of the recent gun based rampages, by any of those deranged lunatics, with just one of my handguns. I wish I had been there.
I have needlessly and peacefully owned my AR-15 for many years. I keep my AR-15 securely locked in a gun safe in the very same home where my young children live. My children are aware of my AR-15. Like many other things in life, I have taught my children about guns.
Recently, some of my kids attended a private gun safety class given by a highly experienced gun expert. I enjoyed watching my kids learn about my AR-15. I admit being a bit nostalgic about my AR-15. I spent lots of time learning about every aspect of the AR-15 when I was in Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. I also carried an AR-15 when I served my country in Operation Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia. I had it with me when I lived in a dirt hole on the border of Kuwait. It is the weapon I know better than any other.
I own lots of dangerous things I don’t need. I don’t need my highly modified 600+ hp Z06 Corvette, or my Harley Davidson motorcycle, or that crazy looking knife I sometimes jokingly say was imported directly from the Klingon Empire.2 All of these things can be used, intentionally or accidentally, to hurt others. Because I have always been careful, peaceful and responsible, none of the things I own have ever been used to hurt another person.3
I am an American. As such, none of my rights depend on a showing of need. I am a free man who has the right to define and pursue my happiness in any peaceful way I see fit. The government does not grant me rights. I was born free. The legitimate role of government is to act as my agent to protect my rights; which exist independent of government. Americans do not beg the government for rights nor are they required to demonstrate a “need” for rights.
I cherish lots of my rights for which I can’t demonstrate any need. I don’t need the right to say highly offensive things to another person. Although I generally don’t try to offend other people, I cherish my right to do so. I also cherish, and would aggressively defend, your right to say highly offensive things to me. Defending the rights of people to say things most people agree with is entirely unimpressive. Liberty must always be defended at the edge.
As a criminal defense attorney, I seek out unpopular clients. When I represented Elizabeth Johnson in what is sometimes referred to as the “Baby Gabriel” case, one of the things that attracted me to the idea of representing her was the fact that she was hugely unpopular. Defending the right to a fair trial starts with the unpopular client.
Although I never have anything to hide, I cherish my 4th Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. I would never consent to a warrantless government search. Opportunities to defend the 4th Amendment usually arise in cases where people are engaging in some type of criminal activity. The cost of defending our rights in this area sometimes results in dangerous criminals going free. I frequently advocate for our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures on behalf of people who think nothing of trespassing on others. Indeed, I always advocate for the right to refuse searches in cases where there is nothing to hide. Protecting liberty in hard cases requires the work of the most committed liberty minded Americans.
Government never has a more tempting opportunity to increase its size, power and scope, and to curtail the liberties of free people, than during or immediately after a crisis. Indeed, crisis is so tempting an opportunity for government that governments invent crisis whenever possible. This is why “emergency acts” and “wars” on anyone and anything are so popular for governments. Nothing entices people to stop thinking, act impulsively, and to relinquish liberties so easily as a “crisis” or a “tragedy” or an “emergency.” We need to be smarter if liberty is to survive.
Our world is unfortunately filled with real tragedies. The recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, orchestrated by a deranged lunatic with several guns, was one of the worst tragedies I have seen in my life. However, because of the magnitude of this tragedy, much like the September 11th tragedy, it presents an almost unprecedented opportunity for government to curtail liberty. Don’t be fooled!
Banning Guns is Un-American and Immoral
“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms; …” Samuel Adams
The right to peacefully own a gun is such an important and fundamental American concept that it was enshrined in the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution. Millions of peaceful Americans own guns for various reasons; none of which need to be justified to the government or anyone else. Peaceful people owning guns is not a problem needing a solution. Countless Americans will peacefully own and even use their AR-15 weapons today without incident.
Ignoring the obvious Constitutional problems with simply banning guns, such action would require immorally initiating force against peaceful people. People who abhor guns have no right to impose their will on peaceful gun owners. So long as peaceful gun ownership poses no harm or substantial risk of harm to others, it ought to be a protected activity like all other peaceful activities conducted by competent adults.
Attempting to punish everyone for the acts of one or several deranged lunatics is immoral. Like most AR-15 owners, my AR-15 ownership has always been peaceful. Seeking to deprive me of my AR-15 because others have irresponsibly used theirs is akin to revoking my driver’s license because others have irresponsibly driven drunk resulting in tragedy. People need to be held accountable for their own actions, but not for the actions of others.
The Idea of Banning Guns is Foolishness
“They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Ben Franklin
It is estimated there are approximately 300 million guns in the United States. I suspect that estimate is conservative. The nature of criminals is such that they do not comply with the law. As such, we can predict, with absolute certainty, that the violent criminals who currently possess guns will not comply with any law requiring them to relinquish their guns. Additionally, I suspect many peaceful gun owners would similarly never comply with any law requiring them to relinquish their guns. As such, any law banning guns would be entirely ineffective and would actually make matters worse. All peaceful law abiding gun owners would be disarmed and more vulnerable to violent criminals.
We already have laws absolutely prohibiting convicted felons from possessing guns. As a criminal defense attorney, I regularly represent such people deemed “prohibited possessors” for the crime of simply possessing guns. Nobody working in the criminal justice system could seriously assert that laws banning guns for felons have been successful. A deranged lunatic, named William Spengler, ambushed and murdered two firemen in upstate New York on December 24, 2012. He was a “prohibited possessor” who previously served 17 years in prison. The law absolutely banned him from having guns. He had several. Thankfully, Mr. Spengler terminated his killing spree by shooting himself after being confronted and engaged by an off duty armed police officer who happened to be present. There is no doubt many more would have been murdered had an armed man not been present.
Even if we strained our imaginations to think banning guns could result in abolishing all guns currently in existence, a gun ban would still be futile. If the failed war on drugs has taught us anything, it is that making something illegal, when there still exists a demand for the illegal item, absolutely results in a lucrative black market. There is no doubt a lucrative, vibrant, and violent black market in guns will immediately grow to whatever size is necessary to manufacture and supply violent criminals with guns. Such violent criminals would be enticed to engage in even more criminal endeavors knowing their law abiding victims are entirely unable to defend themselves against such aggressions.
Whether we like the conclusion or not, like marijuana, guns are here to stay. The facts of reality are such that bad guys with guns are an unfortunate fact of life. Our focus should be on how we deal with this fact rather than wishing the fact was otherwise.
Gun Regulations Never Reduce Gun Violence and Usually Increase Violent Crime
“The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; … ” Thomas Jefferson
I realize it seems counter-intuitive, but it is true. The same unintended results occur in many other contexts as well. Just like minimum wage and rent control laws hurt the poor,4 banning alcohol results in more alcohol related problems,5 raising taxes sometimes results in less revenue for the government,6 government spending results in fewer jobs,7 banning guns usually increases gun violence and never reduces it.
The examples of gun control resulting in increased gun violence are easy to find. In 1976, after Washington D.C. instituted the toughest gun control laws in our nation, its murder rate increased dramatically during a time when the nation’s overall gun related murder rate decreased by 2%. Washington D.C., the nation’s leader in gun control, became known as the nation’s murder capital.8 A comparison of states which allow legally concealed guns to states which outlaw concealed carrying of firearms reveals no difference in overall gun related violence.
In 1982, when Kennesaw, Georgia passed a law requiring a firearm in every home, not only did crime not escalate, but violent crime sharply decreased9 and has remained that way for decades. Indeed, Kennesaw, Georgia claims to have the lowest crime rate of any comparable city its size in the nation.
These counter-intuitive results are not limited to examples within the United States. Australia boldly banned all semi-automatic firearms, including many rifles and shotguns, in 1997. Indeed, it was a gun grabber’s dream; approximately 640,000 firearms were confiscated and destroyed. This misguided Australian policy resulted in an armed robbery increase of 69%, an assault involving firearms increase of 28%, a gun related murder increase of 19%, and a home invasion increase of 21%. Violent criminals love gun bans.
I realize the proponents of gun control also offer statistics. However, when our most respected, unbiased and professional scientific and research organizations analyze the issue, their conclusions do not support the gun control advocates. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 253 journal articles, 99 books and 43 government publications evaluating 80 gun-control measures. Researchers could not identify a single regulation that reduced violent crime, suicide or accidents.
In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control analyzed ammunition bans, restrictions on acquisition of firearms, waiting periods, registration, licensing, child access prevention and zero tolerance laws. After their analysis, the Centers for Disease Control concluded there was no conclusive evidence that any gun control laws reduced gun violence. Foreign researchers have also come to the same conclusion. In Australia in 2008, a peer reviewed study at the University of Sydney reached virtually the same conclusions as both the National Academy of Sciences and the Centers for Disease Control. Gun control measures simply do not reduce gun violence.
Although President Obama appears excited about the notion of banning guns, I have not heard him order a ban on the very guns used to protect him. Apparently, when it comes to his protection, President Obama prefers to be protected by people armed with guns. Indeed, I suspect none of these gun ban advocates would hesitate to call 911 and request help from people armed with guns if they were faced with an intruder in their homes in the middle of the night. I fail to understand why we can’t all agree that guns save lives.
Our Culture of Violence
“It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.” Samuel Adams
Unfortunately, we do have a culture of violence in America. It did not spontaneously arise. It is entirely our fault. There are several contributing factors.10 The single biggest contributing factor to our culture of violence is that our society no longer adheres to the once basic notion that initiating force against non-aggressors is wrong. We no longer recognize the sovereignty of the individual. Our laws are replete with instances of legal trespass against peaceful people. Rather than living in a democratic republic where most decisions are left to the property11 owner, we now have an unfettered democracy where anything goes so long as the majority of voters agree. This is not what was intended by the founders of our country, and it has no connection to freedom. Without freedom, there simply is no opportunity for peace.
Democracy and freedom are not the same. To some extent, they are incompatible. Freedom requires that the owner retains jurisdiction over his or her own body, time, money and other property. Democracy puts the voting majority in charge of whatever is up for a vote. Said another way, democracy is akin to mob rule. At the infancy of our country, few things were subject to majority vote via democracy. Today, virtually anything and everything can be put to a vote. The jurisdiction of government has far exceeded anything envisioned by our founding fathers.
The drug war is a fundamental example of government, or the voting majority, immorally exercising its jurisdiction over the bodies of competent adults. Despite the laws, many competent adults insist on controlling their own bodies. This has dramatically increased the amount of violence and conflict in our society. Indeed, until the drug war ends, and we once again start respecting the sovereignty of the individual, there is nothing that can be done to effectively end the culture of violence destroying our society. The good news is that by simply ending the drug war, we can immediately and dramatically reduce the culture of violence.
To be sure, few countries have such an intense war on drugs as we have in the United States. Indeed, our drug laws are entirely draconian, and we imprison far more people than any other country in the world. Our spending on the drug war will soon be approaching 100 billion dollars per year. As a result of all this drug war generated violence, we have a very high corresponding rate of gun violence. I have personally represented many clients charged with violent gun related crimes resulting from drug war related issues. Indeed, much of the gun related violence I see, as a criminal defense attorney working in the justice system for the past two decades, stems from the drug war.
The United States does not have the highest rate of gun violence in the world. It should not be a surprise that several countries at the forefront of the drug war have an even higher rate of gun related homicide than the United States. The firearm related homicide rate, as a percentage of population, is higher in Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Paraguay. The United States spends millions of dollars ramping up the drug war in these countries. There is no doubt that several other drug war involved countries have even higher firearm related homicide rates than the United States as well.
I would be remiss if I failed to point out that these awful homicide rates in other countries persist despite much stricter gun control laws than in the United States. Indeed, Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world. Its laws effectively prohibit gun ownership. Not only do guns remain widely available in Mexico, but their gun related homicide rate outpaces ours. The same can be said of all these drug war countries.
Attempting to blame our culture of violence on the availability of guns is entirely erroneous. Canada has a gun culture similar to the United States. Indeed, their ratio of gun ownership as compared to the United States is roughly equivalent. However, Canada enjoys a firearm related homicide rate dramatically lower than in the United States. It is noteworthy to point out that people who live in countries like Switzerland and Israel have greater access to even fully automatic weapons and have higher rates of gun ownership than in the United States, but enjoy much lower firearm related homicide rates. The number of guns simply isn’t the problem.
Our culture of violence is more directly attributable to anti-freedom government policies which diminish and disrespect the rights of the individual. Guns, like other tools, can be used for both good and bad purposes. Demonizing the tool, while piling on more anti-freedom regulations and laws, without getting to the root cause of the violence, is exactly the wrong approach. We will never achieve a more peaceful society until we recognize that competent adults own themselves and the drug war is reduced to an awful historical mistake.
How to Stop a Bad Guy with a Gun
“To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” Richard Henry Lee
Dangerous violent people should not have guns. Additionally, people should not shoplift. We already have laws against both. Notwithstanding our laws, dangerous violent people continue to, and always will be able to, obtain guns. Likewise, people continue to shoplift. Regarding the shoplifting problem, major retailers have accepted that shoplifting remains a fact of life and they have endeavored to combat the problem with private security guards, cameras, RFID chips, etc. As I often represent such people accused of shoplifting, I know these rational combative measures against shoplifting are reasonably successful.
As a society, we need to accept the reality that bad guys will continue to get guns notwithstanding our laws. We need to devise appropriate, rational and effective measures to combat this foreseeable reality. Well intentioned and famous Hollywood actors simply saying, “Never Again!” or simply passing more gun regulation laws will not combat the problem.
As the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut proves, the passing of more laws is entirely the wrong approach. Federal law prohibits the presence of guns in schools. It is clear the deranged Mr. Adam Lanza was entirely undeterred by this federal law. Indeed, this law may have encouraged Mr. Lanza to work his horrific violence at the Sandy Hook Elementary School knowing federal law provides that nobody could have the capacity to stop him. One unintended consequence of this federal law has been to create a guaranteed victim zone, comprised of children, who are unprotected sitting ducks for any deranged lunatic such as Mr. Lanza.
Additionally, Connecticut’s gun control laws also proved to be entirely ineffective. By stealing his mother’s gun, Mr. Lanza exempted himself from any laws regarding background checks, waiting periods, permits, licenses, etc. Neither unarmed security at the front door nor the presence of heroic yet unarmed adults at the school had any chance of stopping Mr. Lanza’s murderous rampage. Even the courageous school principal, who dashed toward Mr. Lanza in a heroic effort to protect her innocent students, had absolutely no chance and was therefore also tragically murdered.
There can be no legitimate criticism of the local police. Their trained and armed police officers arrived as quickly as one could reasonably expect upon learning of the tragedy. However, by the time they arrived, the incident was completely over. They were not able to save even one life. The only thing that stopped the deranged Mr. Lanza was the deranged Mr. Lanza himself. One can only wonder how many more lives would have been needlessly taken had Mr. Lanza decided to continue shooting others rather than shoot himself.
I wish I could have been there that day with my AR-15 rifle or even my .40 caliber handgun. This story would have had a different ending. What a shame that not even one peaceful, responsible, trained and armed teacher or parent could have been present, when Mr. Lanza arrived, to do the one thing that actually could have avoided this tragedy; shoot him. I can say, with absolute certainty, that one well placed round from a gun could have saved the lives of everyone at the Sandy Hook Elementary that day.
I don’t know if that well placed round would have been the first shot fired, but I do know at least there would have been a chance to stop Mr. Lanza before he decided to stop himself. As a parent of five children in school, I prefer that my children are no longer unprotected sitting ducks at a federally mandated gun free zone in school. The only way to stop these types of gun related tragedies is by force.
I recognize that some parents feel differently than I do. For reasons I do not understand, they prefer to have their children at school totally unprotected in federally mandated gun free zones. I respect their rights to have their children at schools which comply with whatever rules they deem appropriate. However, the current state of federal law prohibits parents from choosing schools which could actually protect their children against the horrendous acts of deranged bad guys like Mr. Lanza. Just like at my home, I would prefer to have my kids in schools where responsible adults, with adequate training, have immediate and safe access to firearms. I, like many parents, don’t want my kids to be unprotected sitting ducks while they are at school.
I fail to understand why the anti-gun people find it appropriate to thwart my choice as a responsible parent. As I have stated, I respect the rights of the anti-gun parents to send their kids to schools without guns. I have heard their protestations that my plan to have armed people at school would not work. I don’t know why their judgment should be substituted for mine regarding the safety of my kids.
Some of those parents claim that armed people at the school could make no difference if such a shooting was to occur. They are entirely wrong. There are many examples of occasions where armed people successfully terminated some deranged person’s gun rampage. Here is a short list of some notable examples compiled by the Libertarian Party:
- A 1997 high school shooting in Pearl, Mississippi was halted by the school’s vice principal after he retrieved the Colt .45 he kept in his truck.
- A 1998 middle school shooting ended when a man living next door heard gunfire and apprehended the shooter with his shotgun.
- A 2002 terrorist attack at an Israeli school was quickly stopped by an armed teacher and a school guard.
- A 2002 law school shooting in Grundy, Virginia came to an abrupt conclusion when students carrying firearms confronted the shooter.
- A 2007 mall shooting in Ogden, Utah ended when an armed off-duty police officer intervened.
- A 2009 workplace shooting in Houston, Texas was halted by two co-workers who carried concealed handguns.
- A 2012 church shooting in Aurora, Colorado was stopped by a member of the congregation carrying a gun.
- At the recent mall shooting in Portland, Oregon the gunman took his own life minutes after being confronted by a shopper carrying a concealed weapon.
Moreover, the internet is full of videos documenting peaceful armed people thwarting a violent criminal’s attempt to victimize others.12 I fail to understand why the anti-gun crowd refuses to acknowledge guns save lives. It is estimated, and there are several scholarly studies to support, that guns are used to prevent crimes between 700,000 and 2.5 million times each year.13 While I agree there are examples of bad guys doing bad things with guns, we should also agree there are millions of armed good guys who successfully and frequently stop bad guys with guns as well.
Three Reasons Americans Have a Right to Own Guns
“Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” Patrick Henry
There are three main reasons why Americans, or any free people, should have a right to keep and bear firearms. First, free people have a right to self defense. This is the most basic of all rights. Although government can legitimately act as one’s agent to assist in protecting against another’s aggression, the individual need not delegate or rely upon another person or entity for the exercise of that right. To deny a free and competent adult the right of self defense, is to deny such a person their sovereignty. No society can be considered a free society, or even a civilized society, without the basic right to individual defense of one’s self.
The second reason for a right to keep and bear arms is to deter possible foreign invasions. I acknowledge we live in a world where mass destruction is an option for many foreign governments. However, history has shown that foreign governments generally like to advance on territory they seek to make their own. As such, a radioactive wasteland is not the preferred trophy of most hostile governments.
During World War II, Hitler’s Germany advanced against much of Europe. However, Switzerland, despite its vast gold resources making it an extraordinary prize, was not one of those places advanced upon by Hitler. One rational explanation for this lack of aggression by Hitler was the reasonable conclusion that Switzerland, with its exceptionally high proportion of civilian gun ownership, would have been an unusually difficult target.
During the same time period, it is speculated that Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto reached a similar conclusion regarding a possible invasion of the United States. Some have attributed the comment, “You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass” to the Japanese Admiral.14 Given our high proportion of civilian gun ownership, it also seems a reasonable conclusion.
Indeed, it gives me a sense of pride, as I know it does many other veterans and other proud Americans, to know that in the unlikely event our country ever was invaded, we would not need to sit idly by, helpless, to assist in defending our country. Rather, much like the other civilian militia that was so instrumental in assisting to win our independence from King George III, we may also be able to assist in some way.
The third reason for a right to keep and bear arms is, as Thomas Jefferson stated, “The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” Citizens have a right to keep and bear arms as a defense against their own government. Further, Mr. Jefferson also stated, “When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty.”
The founders of our nation believed people must always preserve their right to resistance and revolution against their own government. “And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms….The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Thomas Jefferson.
The founding fathers of our nation were keenly aware of the potential for governments to ban guns, then curtail liberty, enslave, torture or even murder their own naïve and trusting citizens. One can only wonder what the founding fathers would say had they been aware of the human slaughter suffered in the 20th century by unarmed people at the hands of their own gun grabbing governments.
In the 20th century alone, the death toll resulting from governments murdering their own disarmed citizens after guns were legally banned is estimated at 56 million.15 Our founding fathers knew any government, including ours, has the potential to become tyrannical and even deadly towards its own citizens. I suspect many or even most of those 56 million murdered by their own governments believed their government could always be trusted. Let’s learn from history.
“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” Samuel Adams
1 Rifles don’t “assault” people. People assault people. Calling the AR-15 an “assault” rifle is inflammatory. I have been known to sometimes choose inflammatory titles for my articles. Like any other weapon, the AR-15 should be used solely for defensive purposes. I suspect the vast majority of people who own them, intend to use them only defensively.
2 See, Star Trek.
3 I realize there are some things I could own which, by their very nature, cannot be owned by me in a community without posing a substantial risk of harm to others. Reasonable people can disagree about what things truly and honestly fit into this category.
6 See, the Laffer curve. Higher taxes inhibit economic growth and encourage people to conduct business in the black market. I am never in favor of higher taxes, and I always favor less revenue for the government.
8 See, http://gunowners.org/sk0601.htm for an interesting but informal investigation into the efficacy of Washington D.C.’s gun control efforts.
9 Kennesaw City officials claim an 89% drop in the overall crime rate.
10 We have too many absentee parents. A cradle to grave government does not replace a set of involved parents. Our society is too de-sensitized to violence and wars and not interested enough in fostering peace. We have strayed from the old school values of hard work, individual responsibility, honesty, integrity, discipline, tolerance, patience and respect. The government can’t fix this problem.
11 I refer to “property” in its most general sense to include one’s body, money, possessions and time.
12 For one example that occurred on July 13, 2012, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpBXkvigads I enjoyed watching how fast the two armed bad guys scrambled to leave when the senior citizen with the handgun emerged to protect everyone present. I bet the other people were glad this peaceful and heroic man thought to bring his loaded firearm. We can only wonder what tragedy was avoided that day.
13 See Armed: New Perspectives on Gun Control, New York: Prometheus Books (2001) Kleck and Kates.
14 There is some controversy regarding the legitimacy of this quotation. However, the fact remains that a high proportion of civilian gun ownership may have discouraged the Japanese and would certainly act as a deterrent to any potential invading force.
15 The Soviets murdered 20 million from 1929-1953; the Chinese murdered 20 million from 1948-1952; the Germans murdered 13 million from 1939-1945; the Turkish murdered 1.5 million from 1915-1915.