“He who believes in nobody, knows that he himself is not to be trusted” – Red Auerbach
The Obama administration, and the U.S. government is giving (as part of an aid package) 20 F16 fighter jets and 200 Abrams tanks to Egypt, and the Muslim-Brotherhood-Backed government of Mohammed Morsi. At the same time, liberal elements in the states and federal government are moving to apply greater limitations to the weapons that US citizens can legally own. The ironies abound.
The main issue here, of course, is the implicit declaration that the citizenry is not to be trusted with rather menial weapons (“assault” rifles) but the government of Mohammed Morsi, with close ties to the radical Muslim Brotherhood (with its hatred of America) can be trusted with F16 fighter jets and Abrams tanks. To be sure, it fits the progressive narrative quite cleanly: “The elites rule over the citizens, for the good of the citizens. The citizens are mindless serfs who cannot possibly be trusted with weaponry. However, in the name of maintaining some semblance of global order, the elites may extract the production of the citizens and give it (in the form of weaponry or some other form of aid) the ruling elites of other states … and how dare you, the citizen-serfs question the wisdom of the elites in making such decisions.”
The Purpose of Government …
First, a quick note on the purpose of government. I’ve often referenced Frederic Bastiat on this point, and agree with his statement that the purpose of government is collective defense of individual liberties … and nothing more. Indeed, Bastiat would note that the only way government can do more than collective defense of individual liberties is by trampling on individual liberties.
Beyond that, I’ll also note that these individual human rights must be mutually exclusive in their application, or at the very least hierarchical. Two human rights should never be in conflict with one another, or if they are it should be clear which one takes precedence. For instance, it should not be the case that both my wife and I claim ownership of the TV remote as a right (that puts our “rights” in conflict), or at the very least, if we do, it is clear which one of us holds the higher claim … I’ll stop there before I get myself into trouble.
While this is not a expressly a post about the role of government, I will simply add that I think the framers of the Declaration of Independence did a decent job of giving us a set of mutually exclusive, or at least hierarchical rights: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. I would actually have substituted “property” in there after liberty (“pursuit of happiness” is both too amorphous for my tastes, and also somewhat subsumed by “liberty” – though perhaps they only meant it as clarification and expansion of their intent behind “liberty”). The list doesn’t appear to conflict, but if it does it is written in order. Right to “pursuit of happiness” is overruled when it conflicts with the right to liberty, and the right to liberty is overruled when it conflicts with the right to life.
The Right to Keep and Bear Arms …
I’m not a Constitutional scholar – though it appears our Supreme Court justices aren’t either, so I’ll chance it and make some broad sweeping declarations.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed
Now, most on the left will argue that the second amendment only applies to the maintaining of a well regulated militia. In so doing, they invert the meaning to be “if you are a member of a well regulated militia, then you may keep and bear arms” – but this is not what the amendment says. While it justifies the right to keep and bear arms in the context of a militia, it does not subjugate that right to membership in said militia.
As with scripture, it can often be quite useful to read the “verses” above and below to understand context and meaning. In the first amendment we have freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition for redress of grievances. In the third we have protection against quartering of troops. In the fourth, protection from unreasonable search and seizure, and in the fifth, due process.
The whole meaning of these amendments is a rather broad-brushed statement of “the federal government doesn’t have power over your freedoms, they can’t station troops in your house, they can’t take your stuff without cause, they can’t violate due process … and you get to own weapons! (just in case they start to act otherwise)
Contrary to what liberal politicians like Mario Cuomo think, this is not an amendment that guarantees your right to go hunting. So stop it already with the “you don’t need this many bullets to kill a deer” nonsense. Further, this is not simply an amendment that guarantees your right to defend your house. It actually goes further and guarantees the citizens rights necessary for the security of a free state. So stop with this “you don’t need that type of weapon to ward off robbers” nonsense.
So, when would we think to limit rights to keep and bear arms? Well, I’d offer that such limitations could only be couched in terms of the need to defend the right to life of the citizens; which is, by the way, exactly where the argument will go after such horrors as the Sandy Hook shooting. But be careful here. The argument of “we will infringe some lower guaranteed right in order to protect a higher right” should always be the last option, and I feel fairly certain that here it is not the only way.
For instance, I am comfortable with the argument of “the citizens shouldn’t have the right to nuclear weapons” under the auspices of (a) you don’t need them to defend your liberties against an oppressive government and (b) the government cannot possibly defend the right to life of the citizens if the citizens all have nukes. Is the same true of guns in general, or even of high-powered rifles with 10-bullet clips, or even fully-automatic AK-47s? I personally think not.
Imminent Threat to National Security …
Now, about those jets and tanks. Given my prior statements about the purpose of government, I will say that such military giveaways must meet some level of justification on the grounds of “defending the rights of the citizens”. I’m am more than willing to accept broad-sweeping arguments for what is necessary to accomplish this, but it can’t be just anything and everything as long as we say the right buzz-words. (Just like I do not feel that any and every government program can be justified under the “general welfare” statement in the Constitution.)
If there is a country that has declared its intentions to bring about world domination (and thus an end to our liberties), and is making clear preparations and plans to do just that – then by all means, let’s whack ’em now. If the guy across the room is loading a gun and telling you he’ll shoot you dead as soon as he’s done, then you had dang-well better act before he gets the thing loaded.
We failed to engage an imminent threat in the early days of WWII and lost a lot of lives in the process. How many people (here and abroad for that matter) would have been saved if we had engaged in the war effort earlier? On that note, Pearl Harbor pretty much ended isolationism as a widely accepted construct in this country.
Under Reagan, we took the imminent threat of the Soviet empire seriously, and were able to stare them down (and bankrupt them) without firing a shot … or without firing a lot of shots. The isolationists would have argued that we shouldn’t take action until the Soviets were at the doorstep, having conquered the rest of the world – but this is folly; by that time they would have been unstoppable. It was necessary for defense of liberties at home for us to engage the threat abroad, and even to support some pretty unsavory dictators in the process, because they kept the leftists under control.
But, engagement of the foreign threat has its limits. Do the Islamists want take over the world and thus end our liberties? Yes. But do they really have a shot? Not likely. In the ever-opening world of information freedom, such domineering ideologies will continue to struggle and eventually collapse. That’s not to say the Islam will collapse because of information freedom, but rather that the imperialists will find it harder and harder to gain traction.
What about the Chinese or the Russians? I’m hard-pressed to believe that they actually want to dominate the world or end the U.S. (they kind of need our economy to drive theirs).
Are there any imminent threats to American sovereignty in the world? I think not. That’s not to say there aren’t threats to America (e.g., Al Qaeda) and those are threats we’re engaging. (Though, I will say that a good deal of the Al Qaeda threat may be blowback from our prior, unwarranted interventions against non-imminent threats.) But what exactly is the threat that, under the auspices of realpolitick, requires that we give 20 F16s and 200 Abrams tanks to the Morsi government and the Muslim brotherhood? I honestly can’t think of it … unless we think Israel is such a threat and need to contain them on their southern border. Is that it?