by Daniel Gelernter
I don’t need an AR-15 for hunting: It’s not even legal to take a deer with one in my state—the caliber is too small. I also don’t need an AR-15 for self-defense, though I’d want to have one if someone broke into my house. And I certainly don’t need one just because it’s a beautiful piece of engineering. I need an AR-15 because the government doesn’t want me to have one.
Governments hate private weapons, and have always hated them. In Europe, traditionally only gentlemen (that is, originally, only knights) were allowed to carry a sword. In Japan, the samurai’s right to carry his sword came along with the right to kill any commoner who offended him—uchisute or “strike and abandon.” In Soviet Russia, private weapons were illegal, as they still are in China. And when Hitler’s Germany swept through Holland, Belgium, and France in 1940, they put up notices giving the locals 48 hours to hand over private firearms or face death (by shooting).
When England prepared to defend herself against a threatened Nazi invasion, the Home Guard was armed in part with private weapons, as well as by rifles donated by Americans, who were the only people in the world with guns to spare. These were among the weapons confiscated and destroyed when Britain banned firearms in 1997.
There are only two forms of government: One where the people are afraid of the government, and one where the government is afraid of the people. Whoever has the weapons is the ruling class, and there is only one case in all history, only in America, that the ruling class has actually been the common man.
Controlling Guns, Controlling People
Our federal government has been trying to undo this remarkable fact for at least the last 100 years. The first serious blow came in 1934, justified by the rise of organized crime at the time. As I outlined in a recent piece on plea bargains, organized crime was a midway point in the cascade of unintended consequences from Prohibition. The government thought the best way to keep machine guns, short rifles, and silencers out of the hands of the mafia would be to make a national registry and require anyone buying one of these items to pay a $200 tax.
It may come as a shock that organized crime largely ignored the new registration requirements. And neither were they punctilious in the matter of paying taxes. For law-abiding citizens in 1934, however, when the average annual income was $1,600, the National Firearms Act had the practical effect of restricting ownership of certain weapons to the wealthy and, of course, to the government.
When viewed from the standpoint of limiting crime, the National Firearms Act is patently ludicrous: Requiring criminals to register and pay taxes on the weapons with which they are about to commit murder, or else forcing them to acquire these weapons illegally is crazy. When viewed from the standpoint of controlling people, however, the NFA makes perfect sense.
Every action taken by the federal government has one purpose in mind: To protect the government from its citizens by transferring power from those citizens to the government. It is a striking and horrifying fact that, in this eternal quest, criminals and the government are in perfect alignment. Criminal acts of a certain magnitude are necessary in order to make emergency government measures plausible.
Criminals Are Exempt
The government never lets a crisis go to waste—just try replacing the word “crisis” with “crime” to get an accurate picture of the history of gun control. In a twisted quid pro quo, the government has protected professional criminals from the laws it passes in answer to their crimes.
If you have any doubt on this score, a 1968 Supreme Court ruling confirmed that felons are exempt from registration under the National Firearms Act. And this is not a joke: Citing the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, the court ruled in Haynes v. United States that only noncriminals were required to register NFA weapons and pay the tax.
The government’s legal gymnastics and lies concerning firearms laws are staggering. In 1939, the government argued in court that short-barreled shotguns could be regulated because such guns are not military weapons, and only military weapons are protected by the Second Amendment. The NFA, they explained, was purely a revenue measure conducted by the Department of the Treasury. (The very popular “it’s just a tax” argument.) The Supreme Court agreed.
But in 1968, the federal government banned importing military weapons on the grounds that the Second Amendment only protects guns with a “sporting purpose.” The Supreme Court agreed with that as well. In 1986, the government banned the manufacture of full-automatic and select-fire weapons. And since the only way to get one of these guns today is to buy one made and registered before 1986, a full-auto equivalent of the AR-15 will now cost you around $50,000. So unless you’re a wealthy person, or a member of the police (who can buy a new one for what it’s actually worth—around $1000) you can forget it.
The Last Resort Exists
The real problem is that a government with a monopoly on force might do anything. They might respond to your home-schooling plan by confiscating your children, as happened in Germany. They might jail you for making an offensive joke on your Facebook page, as happened in Britain. They might use a pandemic to force you to close your business indefinitely, as happened in New York. A man disarmed by his government is not a citizen—he’s a subject.
The individual American’s best friends in this fight are those states and counties that refuse to implement unconstitutional federal laws. Montana started the ball rolling in 2009 with its Firearms Freedom Act, and numerous other states subsequently passed similar laws. These laws, of course, were ruled out of order by the federal government, but it ultimately remains up to the states to insist that the federal government is operating outside its authority.
The question regarding dangerous weapons is not whether it’s safe for citizens to own them, but whether—or why—we might consider it safe for the government to own them. When the FBI descended on Waco, they managed to kill more people in one day than the most prolific serial killer they ever caught had killed in his whole career. The Branch Davidians at Waco were actually gun dealers and were well-armed, but of course the FBI brought a tank. The FBI should not have had a tank to bring.
The current administration in Washington, D.C. is not elected and is not legitimate. As if confirming this fact, they’ve surrounded themselves with barbed wire and soldiers carrying machine guns. In so doing they implicitly acknowledge the danger posed—to them—by an armed and angry population. An AR-15 is not just a tool of last resort: It is a declaration that the last resort exists, a reminder that there are outer limits to the abuse of power.
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Dan Gelernter is a writer and entrepreneur living in Connecticut.