Saturday, January 5, 2013

Jacob G. Hornberger: Guns and tyranny

  There are three important things to remember about the Second Amendment. First, it doesn’t give people the right to own guns. Second, it is an implicit acknowledgement that the U.S. government is the biggest threat to the freedom and well-being of the American people. Third, the rationale for enacting the Second Amendment was to ensure that the American citizenry retained the means to violently resist tyranny by the federal government.

  The first point would obviously shock a lot of people — that is, those who are convinced that people’s rights come from the Constitution. Even many federal judges, who received their education in government-approved law schools and who received a license of competency from the state, erroneously believe that the Constitution is the source of people’s rights. Whenever the issue of rights comes up, those judges say, “Well, let’s see if that particular right is mentioned in the Constitution to determine whether it is constitutionally protected.”

  The Framers understood that people’s rights existed before the birth of the Constitution and the federal government. People’s rights come from God or nature. As Jefferson pointed out in the Declaration of Independence, the purpose of government is simply to protect people in their exercise of such fundamental, preexisting rights.

  The purpose of the Bill of Rights was to expressly prohibit the federal government from taking away the fundamental, God-given, natural rights of the people. That is, obviously, an extraordinary purpose. It implies that that is precisely what U.S. officials would do.

  Consider the First Amendment. It doesn’t purport to give people the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. Instead, it expressly prohibits Congress, and implicitly the entire federal government, from taking away these fundamental rights of the people.

  Why did our ancestors feel it necessary to enact such an explicit prohibition? Because they knew that Congress and the federal government would inevitably attract the type of people who would do that sort of thing. The purpose of the First Amendment was to clarify that while Americans had gone along with the Constitution, which called the federal government into existence, they had done so with the understanding that federal officials could never suspend or infringe on people’s rights of free speech, freedom of the press, and religious liberty.

  The principle is the same with respect to gun rights. The right to own guns — indeed, the right to own any kind of property — existed before the Constitution, the government, and the Bill of Rights. The Second Amendment simply clarifies that U.S. officials are prohibited from infringing on this right. But the important thing to remember is that the Second Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to keep and bear arms. Instead, it prohibits U.S. officials from suspending or infringing upon people’s preexisting God-given, natural right to own guns.

  To put it another way, if the Bill of Rights had never been enacted, people would still have the rights of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and the right to keep and bear arms because these rights are natural, God-given rights that adhere to all men and that preexist government.

  Time and again, we have seen the wisdom of our forefathers in enacting the Bill of Rights. Today, there is nothing that many U.S. officials, including many members of Congress, would love more than to confiscate everyone’s guns — precisely the action that the Second Amendment was intended to prevent.

  Of course, there are those who say that tyranny isn’t possible in the United States — that our nation is so exceptional that such a thing could never happen here. But that’s palpably ridiculous. Human beings are human beings. Tyranny that befalls other nations could occur here as well.

  If such a thing were to happen, at least Americans, unlike so many other people around the world, would have the ability to resist the tyranny with guns. As Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski put it in his dissenting opinion in the case of Silveira vs. Lockyer, if Americans permit their guns to be confiscated, it is a mistake that can only be made once. Once tyranny sets in, it’s too late to reacquire them to resist the tyranny.

  Might U.S. officials respond to crises in the same way that tyrannical regimes have done in foreign lands? It’s impossible to predict. But what we do know is that the U.S. government has long supported, trained, and partnered with foreign tyrannical regimes. That’s obviously not a good sign.

  Consider Iran, which the U.S. government supported, trained, and partnered under the brutal and tyrannical regime of the shah. U.S. officials believed in his regime. In fact, they didn’t even see it as a tyrannical one. They helped train his brutal domestic police-intelligence force and fully supported its use against the Iranian citizenry, especially with respect to arbitrary round-ups of dissidents and critics, torture, and even execution.

  Like the shah, U.S. officials viewed the oppression as maintaining “order and stability.” In their eyes, it wasn’t oppression or tyranny at all. Of course, the Iranian people disagreed, which was the reason they revolted in 1979 and ousted the shah and the U.S. government from their land.

  Or take the brutal, tyrannical military dictatorship in Chile of Augusto Pinochet. U.S. officials, especially the Pentagon and the CIA, loved it. They saw it as a way to defeat communism. They helped bring about the coup that brought the military dictatorship into power.

  In fact, many of the actions of the U.S. national-security state in its post-9/11 war on terrorism might easily have been modeled on the actions that Pinochet took after his coup, which, ironically, occurred on September 11, 1973. Like President George W. Bush, Pinochet decreed that he had the power, as commander in chief, to round up people, cart them away to concentration camps and military dungeons, torture them, and execute them without due process of law or trial by jury.

  Indeed, President Obama’s assassination program is practically a mirror image of Pinochet’s assassination program. Of course, Pinochet justified his assassinations under the rubric of killing communists while Obama justifies his under the rubric of killing terrorists. But obviously that’s a distinction without a difference. Like Pinochet, Obama does not limit his assassination program to foreigners. Pinochet also assassinated Chilean citizens living abroad who he suspected of being communists, such as Orlando Letelier, just as Obama assassinates American citizens who he suspects of being terrorists, such as Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son.

  And like the federal courts in Chile, which showed extreme deference to Pinochet’s round-ups, incarcerations, torture, and assassinations, so it is with the federal courts here in the United States with respect to similar actions taken by the U.S. national-security state in the war on terrorism.

  Egypt is a modern-day example of the U.S. government’s love of tyrannical military dictatorships. For years, the Egyptian people suffered under the Hosni Mubarak military dictatorship, one that claimed the power to round people up, cart them away to prison, torture them, and execute them. U.S. officials loved it and believed in it all. Year after year for some 30 years, billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money were funneled into the coffers of the Egyptian military to enable it to fortify its brutal, tyrannical hold over the Egyptian people.

  Of course, U.S. officials never viewed the Mubarak regime as brutal and tyrannical. The dictatorship was viewed simply as “friend of the United States” and a “stabilizing force” in the Middle East. The Egyptian people — the people who were the victims of the cruel and tyrannical regime — disagreed, which is the reason for their recent rebellion that succeeded in ousting Mubarak from power.

  Don’t forget also that U.S. national-security state officials chose the Egyptian military dictatorship as one of its rendition-torture partners in the war on terrorism, precisely owing to its loyalty and brutality.

  What’s the U.S. government’s love of and support of brutal and tyrannical foreign dictatorships say about the United States? It says that our American ancestors — those who demanded the enactment of the Second Amendment — knew exactly what they were doing. Indeed, as our American ancestors understood so well, the fact that millions of Americans own guns is the best insurance policy against tyranny that a citizenry can ever have.

  About the author: Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

  This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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