If there is one issue that alienates me from my liberal counterparts, it’s gun rights. So when the Supreme Court decided last week to hear its first Second Amendment case since the 1930s, and as the College Libertarians raffled off a gun voucher, I felt a bit alienated from other liberals. This experience has forced me to re-evaluate what it truly means to be a liberal.
I attribute my liberal leanings to my upbringing in a politically liberal home. Because of the ideology of my parents and older sister, I get plenty of heat for my beliefs about gun ownership. When I turned 21, my mother asked me if I was excited to finally drink legally on campus. I responded that I could really care less about joining my peers in the teeming, sweaty mess people call Rick’s. For me, turning 21 was really exciting because I gained the right to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Michigan. I was met with the usual emotional response – comments that I was “sick” and would never be welcome in my mother’s house if I chose to buy a gun.
As I wonder what led me to be the black sheep of my liberal family, I remember my middle-school social studies teacher, Mr. Jankowski. Mr. J, as we called him, sported a glass eye and a passion for civil liberties. I now realize Mr. J educated our class indirectly in the political philosophy of John Locke. While teaching lessons on the Bill of Rights, he would explain that this perceived necessity to bear arms is not only for self-defense but is also essential to preserve a democratic society. If a government does not fear an armed populace, then that government is not truly democratic, because it does not need to respect the electorate’s authority.
Through our lessons, we learned that a democratic and civilian-controlled military is never to be taken for granted, which necessitates civilian armament. Gun ownership rights are, in fact, the first rights restricted when a democratic society turns for the worst. Weimar Germany was a free society that treated Jews better than most other places in Europe. Then Adolph Hitler came to power. As The New York Times reported in 1938, after Kristallnacht, Hitler declared an edict “forbidding Jews to possess any weapons whatever and imposing a penalty of twenty years confinement in a concentration camp upon every Jew found in possession of a weapon.”
Consider our presidential election in 2000. Blatantly ignoring the will of Florida voters, the U.S. Supreme Court handed victory to Bush on a technicality. Liberals agreed that there was nothing more to do in appeal, but according to Locke, if a government is guilty of systematic abuse of its power, then citizens have a right install legitimate rule. Instead, liberals stood by willingly after the ruling, acting as if they had just lost a close football game.
We may not need a compelling reason to own a firearm other than the fact that an armed populace is necessary for the security of a free state. Anti-Patriot Act liberals should realize that if they cannot trust the government to respect the privacy of their phone calls or to grant proper due process, then they should probably not also assume the government can be trusted not to disarm its citizens in the name of public safety.
My liberal friends love to cite instances like the Virginia Tech shooting and violent crime statistics as emotional appeals to restrict gun rights. I have heard that guns are more lethal than knives and make society more dangerous rather than promoting general safety. I definitely concede this fact: In the best of all worlds, nobody would need to ensure for his or her own defense. Similarly, in this utopia, we would not need to bother with the constraints of due processes because the government would always be righteous.
Like Ben Franklin and all other liberals, I would not give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety. Weighing public safety against the liberty of gun ownership and establishing militia follow in the same vein. Many Americans scoff at the necessity of modern day minutemen, and I hope they will not be needed in our lifetime. However, preserving the Second Amendment is like having a good insurance policy: You may hate making the monthly payments, but you sure are glad you did when an inferno consumes your house.
Mike Eber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.