Editors, Vineyard Gazette:
Ed Gyne in Milwaukee in the 1960s, Charlie Manson’s gang in the 1970s, the Oklahoma City bombing, genocide in Rwanda and 9/11 — it appears the perpetrators relied on knives, fertilizer, machetes, box cutters and airplanes to perpetrate their atrocities. It seems that mass murderers employ many means, so much so that one might easily conclude that guns may not be the weapon of choice to kill lots of people in peacetime. One might even conclude the obsessed and deranged individuals are the proximate cause of these awful deeds! Nevertheless, in the Gazette last week, Mr. Reisman seizes on Aurora to insist that guns are the cause rather than the means of these horrific acts.
In contrast, my reading of history (particularly American history) leads me to the conviction that the right to bear arms is as fundamental to the 225-year success of our republic and essential to the preservation of our liberties as the form of government set forth in our constitution and the other rights and protections in the Bill of Rights.
History tells us that the American revolution was fought to throw off a tyranny that was pursuing its own interests from 3,000 miles away and insisted we be good subjects and do what we were told. When the founding fathers had exhausted their petitions for redress and Americans started to become rebellious, the first step by the British to re-subjugate the people was to march on Lexington and Concord to confiscate stores of powder and guns. Fortunately, the militia and ordinary farmers had lots of guns, needed to hunt food and protect against marauders, and with these and our French allies, we gained our independence. The fact is that just as guns can threaten and destroy, they can protect us. Rarely are the police in a position to prevent an assault, but a gun in the hands of a responsible citizen can not only stop a crime against a person or property, but deter even the thought of it.
I believe that is a big reason for the second amendment in the constitution. The founding fathers knew that power corrupts. So they designed a system that prevents even the most intelligent, enlightened, well-intentioned leader from acquiring too much of it. Nevertheless, they understood that in times of great national distress and in the name of bringing order, leaders will declare martial law, even stage a coup, and even enjoy the approbation of a large part of the population for a time. That is why the second amendment is so important in the grand scheme of things. Just like the separation of powers, the amendment reserves a power to the citizen; it prevents government from attaining complete coercive control over the other rights guaranteed to us. It is the best guarantee that our government will not degenerate to the point that it tramples on the will and rights of its citizens, including minorities.
If you think a resort to arms to resist government is unthinkable in our nation in the 21st century, think what an armed citizenry might accomplish in Syria or what has been accomplished by resisting tyrants throughout history. The very thought of it deters a tyrant. The prospect of one armed person in the Aurora theatre also might have deterred or stopped dead a madman.
Oak Bluffs and Lake Forest, Ill.