Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun. – Mao Zedong
Happy New Year to all the readers of Well Regulated and the Cornell Review! There’s a thought that has been percolating in my mind over the past few months, and the first edition of Well Regulated in 2021 is the perfect opportunity to share it.
One of the most famous videos of a pro-gun control politician is a clip from over a decade ago when Tucker Carlson (then on MSNBC) asked Representative Carolyn McCarthy what a barrel shroud was. Although it should be obvious from the name (a barrel shroud is a safety device meant to protect a shooter’s hand from holding onto a hot barrel), McCarthy said that she did not know what it was, offering the now-famous guess that “it’s the shoulder thing that goes up”, presumably referring to an adjustable comb. This phrase has since become a prolific meme in the firearms community, and an immediately recognized example of when a politician had no knowledge of the items they were seeking to regulate. While it’s always good fun to have a laugh at the politicians who can’t seem to grasp even the most basic concepts, there’s also an underlying terror that these people have tangible control and power over us. Perhaps even more terrifying is that these politicians are not stupid. The Dianne Feinsteins, Mike Bloombergs, and Javier Becerras of the world are very capable politicians who have been prowling the halls of government for decades each and amassed significant political influence. Surely, such astute individuals are just as capable as anyone else at looking at the CDC research showing that firearms are used defensively hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times per year or at the fine research done by economist Dr. John Lott on gun crime. If the information is so accessible, why don’t they take the time to examine it? The answer is the same as to why an electrician doesn’t spend his time researching the nuances of plumbing: it’s not his job. This isn’t to suggest that politicians aren’t supposed to be informed on the issues they’re legislating, rather, that their goal is not what they claim.
These ambitious individuals do not care very much about the public wellbeing, at least not as much as they care about amassing power. Fundamentally, that is what the right to keep and bear arms is about: power. While I loathe giving a communist dictator any credit, they often understand how to acquire and maintain power, and the quote at the top of this article is absolutely correct. It is a fundamental reality that governments can only exist through the implicit threat of the use of force. They are funded and perpetuated through taxation, and if someone does not pay their taxes – even if they follow every other rule set by the government – eventually men with guns will show up to force them to comply. The Founding Fathers understood that this is an acceptable reality when the government is properly held in check, and its ability to exercise a monopoly on the initiation of the use of force is used sparingly in accordance with the will of the people and while respecting their natural rights.
Within the system of government implemented by the Founding Fathers, there were checks and balances put in place so that power would not accumulate in one portion of the government. The Senate is a check on the power of the House of Representatives, and presidential pardons are a check on the power of the judiciary, etc. A well-armed civilian populace is a check on the power of the government because it allows every citizen the same ability to exercise force as any agent of the government. By owning a weapon, you are implicitly acknowledging that you have authority and agency over your own destiny because you possess the means of the use of force. To disarm the populace is to deny their right and ability of self-ownership and self-determination. As the late Jeff Cooper once said, “Pick up a rifle and you change instantly from a subject to a citizen.”
So, we have established that the possession and use of weapons is an essential means of political power, but it must be restated that this power stems not only from their use, but from their potential for use. As stated above, the government does not always need to use force, but the potential to do so is perpetually implied. As demonstrated by one of my personal heroes, P.A. Luty, anyone with access to a hardware store and a little determination can arm themselves at any time. It is not merely the ability to possess weapons that generates political power, but the ease and accessibility of such an action. When one is denied their right to keep and bear arms by law, the underlying assumption is that they are not worthy of the aforementioned self-ownership and self-determination.
In civil society, we recognize that there is a group of human beings who are not capable of exercising power: children. A child cannot legally consent to medical procedures, contractual obligations, or sexual acts because they are not capable of doing so. They lack the ability to self-regulate or make such impactful decisions for themselves, and so we do not permit others to predate upon them. This is not to say that a child does not have rights, they are still human beings after all, and it would be morally indefensible to deny someone their natural rights due to age (we could not, for example, deny a minor the right to practice religion). That being said, we acknowledge that there are limits to their ability to exercise self-agency, and that onus is placed upon the parent until an individual has reached the age of majority. By denying the people their full right to keep and bear arms in any regard, the government states that citizens do not have any capacity for agency, to decide anything for themselves.
This brings us to the title of the article, why gun control is, in effect, a form of psychological warfare waged against the people. In the state of New York, one must undergo an extensive and invasive process to merely exercise their right to possess and carry a handgun. An individual must prostrate and humiliate themselves in front of the government, begging to simply engage in that most basic and fundamental right without fear of spending years, if not decades, in prison. Once it has been permitted, as though it were a privilege and not a right, the exercise of carrying a weapon is restricted even more in the capacity of the weapon, its features, even the means by which it is carried. New York also has had one of the most restrictive and ambiguously worded “assault weapon” bans in the country since 2013. Does anyone believe that Cuomo genuinely thinks the lethality and propensity for criminal use of a weapon lies in whether or not it has a pistol grip or a bayonet leg? These restrictions are arbitrary by design. The behavior of the government is equivalent to telling a toddler “Because I said so!” except when you disobey, you are thrown in prison and lose the ability to legally exercise your rights forever.
Restrictions on your right to keep and bear arms are meant to humiliate you and force you to submit to the will of despots. Those who push for these restrictions are fully aware that anyone can acquire just about any weapon they desire by illegally purchasing or manufacturing it. The purpose is to demoralize the people to such a degree that they don’t even consider pushing back. Through demoralization, extreme political shifts and authoritarian policies can be put into action without any trouble. People will be afraid of losing what dignity they have and being socially ostracized or sent to prison for standing up for what they believe in.
Ironically, the bearing of arms reduces the likelihood of needing to use them. People who maintain the means of the use of force have an emboldened spirit and strengthened resolve to stand up and push back against forces that would seek to subjugate and destroy them before any violence is even necessary.