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home | Tea Party Economist | Gun Ownership: American Exceptionali . . .

Gun Ownership: American Exceptionalism

Gary North - January 26, 2013
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In response to an attempt by a handful of liberal politicians in Congress to enact laws against the ownership of assault weapons, meaning semi-automatic AR-15's, we are seeing the most remarkable American resistance movement that I can recall in my lifetime.

Websites that run articles in favor of gun ownership and against gun control find that these articles get a high number of hits. Therefore, the sites run even more articles on the same topic. This is only sensible. You give the customers what they want.

The rush to buy ammunition and anything connected with assault rifles is like nothing I have ever seen. In the state of Georgia, one pro-gun group is giving away in a raffle a semiautomatic AR-15. Its membership drive is more successful than anything it has ever done in the past.

It is not just in Georgia that this is the case. Across the South and in the Midwest, there is a kind of mad dash to get involved in organizations that promote Second Amendment liberties.

Activists on both sides of the question have drawn a line in the political sand. The difference is this: the gun control politicians do not have the votes to get anything through the House of Representatives. They know this. Senator Feinstein is pursuing this as a matter of principle. She is a left-wing ideologue. She is getting a lot of publicity for her stand, but she has been completely undermined by Harry Reid, who is staying discreetly away from Feinstein's proposed legislation. He knows better than to attempt it, since too many Democrats will break ranks with him if he pushes this. It would make him look like a poor leader. It would also reveal the fact that Democratic politicians are subject to the desire of wanting to be reelected, and they know that on this issue, if they vote in favor of Feinstein's bill, they risk not being reelected.

I do not think the people who have become active on this issue in the last month are likely to be willing to surrender their guns unless there are policemen at the door with a warrant. There will not be. There are not enough policemen to enforce anything like a comprehensive gun ban. Furthermore, there will be resistance in smaller counties, in both the South and Midwest, to any such enforcement. Police chiefs do not want to antagonize the local voters.


There is a widely accepted argument, popular among Americans, that America is exceptional in the world of nations. I do not mean that Americans have a particular knack at entrepreneurship, or something similar. Many nations have certain specialties they are good at. This makes them normal, not exceptional. But on the question of gun ownership, America really is exceptional. On this issue, something in the range of half of all Americans are really serious about the ownership of weapons. This is ingrained in our culture, although not in the culture of the state of New York and other enclaves of liberalism. This commitment to gun ownership is not necessarily a sign of commitment to the United States Constitution. But it is a commitment to the right of Americans to own symbols of American resistance against tyranny, a tradition which goes back to the American Revolution, and certainly goes back to the Civil War in the American South.

It is more a cultural matter that it is a constitutional matter. This is why the liberals have had such tremendous difficulty in pushing their agenda on this issue. They have been successful in rolling back the United States Constitution in most other areas, with the exception of the First Amendment. Other amendments are barely known. But the Second Amendment is well known, and liberals have not been successful in changing the minds of gun owners on this issue. This is because the bedrock foundation of gun ownership in United States is not the United States Constitution, nor is it a dedicated and large minorities commitment to the Constitution. The Constitution reinforces a cultural value which extends back before 1776.

The ownership of weapons in the United States by private citizens is not matched anywhere else in the world. Switzerland is close. The training is far better. The commitment of national defense by an armed electorate in Switzerland is like nothing else in the modern world. Being part of a citizen army is a matter of national pride. What we see in Switzerland is part of a national ethic committed to the autonomy of Switzerland, and the maintenance of that autonomy. The Swiss stay neutral, and they are armed to the teeth as the best way of staying neutral. In other words, in Switzerland it is a matter of national priority that men be willing to fight, trained to fight, and armed with military weapons.

This is not the American tradition. The American tradition is far more a matter of individual autonomy, individual ownership of weapons, and not a matter of national pride. Americans do not have anything like the training that the Swiss have in the use of their weapons. Americans are not expected to answer a call to arms, and go down to the local armory to get those arms. Gun ownership in America is not a matter of a defense of the nation or a commitment to a military tradition. It is quite the opposite.

This really does make Americans exceptional. The rest of the world does not understand it. Also, political liberals who are in favor of gun control do not understand it. They do not understand that they are attempting to knock down a wall that goes back prior to the American Revolution. They have been successful in virtually every other area of life in which they have extended federal power over individual rights. But in this area, they meet resistance every time. It drives them nuts. They do not understand it, and they deeply resent it. It is an indication that in one area of life, Americans will resist the extension of federal power. They will not cooperate. They will not obey the law. A recent Fox News poll revealed that two-thirds of Americans say they would not obey a gun confiscation law.

Tens of millions of Americans will vote against anybody who attempts to take away their guns. They are not politically correct by liberal standards, and they do not care.

The traditional liberal technique of guilt manipulation does not work in this area of American politics. Liberals invoke their old favorite: "It's for the children!" It does not work. Parents see that the children are safer if there are some guns in the home.

The issue of gun ownership can be used by conservatives to extend to other issues, but this will be a difficult sell. Just because a man will defend his right to own guns does not mean that he is ready to join the tea party movement. In this sense, America's commitment to guns is exceptional. It is not always a sign of political commitment outside of the area of gun ownership.

The importance of the gun issue does not have to do with weekend play-pretend warriors who belong to something they call a militia, who go out and tramp around the woods and carry a weapon. It goes much deeper than this. It also goes much wider than this. It is also not a matter of a commitment to the right of secession, or the right of armed resistance, or anything like it. It is simply an emotional, traditional, and uniquely American commitment to the right of a man to own a weapon, and his obligation to resist any attempt by government agency to take away this right.


This is why I do not think that Americans are anywhere near the point of surrendering their weapons. Even if the federal government could pass that law, it will not get cooperation. It would get defiance. That is the risk that the liberals are taking. If Americans once and for all resist the federal government, and find they can get away with it, the mythology of the power of the federal government will be broken. That would be a disastrous symbolic defeat for liberals. It would not prove that Americans are all conservatives. But it would prove that there is a basic limit on the willingness of the average American, or least half of the average Americans, to cooperate with the government in an area in which the government is perceived as trampling on the rights of Americans. We do not have this resistance in any other area of politics, but we have it in this one, and liberals like Feinstein who think they can push Americans around on this issue are going to find that they are now creating a systematic resistance movement that crosses political lines, racial lines, and geographical lines.

Americans rarely utter the words, "You and who else?" But in this one area, they do.

The federal government is not going to come to take away our guns. That is not because the federal government thinks we are going to resort to armed resistance. It is because the federal government relies on voluntary cooperation to get anything enforced, and in this area, it will not get such cooperation. Just because the government passes a law that says that Americans must turn in their guns, the guns are not going to be turned in.

Usually, Americans worry that the government can impose major sanctions on them as individuals, and therefore they cooperate, in the naïve belief that the government will single them out and make trouble for them. But it is obvious that in the case of gun ownership, there will be widespread resistance. So, the government will not possibly be able to enforce the law. The odds against getting singled out and prosecuted are so low as to eliminate the risk. In other areas, Americans do not think that the resistance will be well-organized and comprehensive. They do not think that most Americans will resist, so they do think that some bureaucrat might come after them. They think they are high-risk resisters. But on this issue, they know it is not true. They know there will not be a knock at the door. And so, family by family, they will utter those lines: "You and who else?"

It's a start.

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