Of Firearms and American Democracy

Photo by Jacob Morrison on Unsplash

A commentator on a Washington-D.C. area Spanish-language radio station was declaiming at unusual length against private gun ownership. What caught my attention that morning was his expression of wonder at the deep and widespread interest of people in the United States in owning firearms. He could not understand or explain it. He was lost. The interest in private gun ownership was a new cultural phenomenon to him.

No doubt it was, but he was correct to identify the passion for gun ownership as an element of the cultural life of the United States that is not only deep, but deep-rooted. Those roots go back to the very founding of North America by the first colonists, reinforced by subsequent waves of immigrants. The very first North American colonists had guns, as essential to survival as seeds and shovels. As Germans joined the English, the Scots, and the Dutch in the new land, followed by Irish, Swedes, Italians and others, guns traveled with the pioneers west.

Western European society invented common firearms and spread them among the commoners. By means of firearms the commoners won their new land. With their firearms those commoners also won their freedom from the lords and ladies who could no longer control the armed rabble, particularly in the English colonies, and particularly in the colonies that became the United States. Guns in the United States have been instruments of survival, physical and political.

What the kings and nobles of Europe could not know was that there is something powerfully democratizing in gun possession. Firearms ended the reign of the mounted knight and made it hard for kings and emperors to keep their thrones. No aristocrat in any palace was invulnerable to the meanest peasant armed with musket and ball. Guns have been an historically powerful equalizer and defense against tyranny and pillagers.

That democratizing process worked further and faster in America, where courage and a gun could tame a wilderness and provide freedom for the family. Far from the reach of government, and unanswerable for the pretended protection of the manor house, the typical American could take immediate responsibility for himself and his own security and that of his wife and children, backed up by the very real ability to assert that security. No one seems to know the origin of the proverb, “God created men, but Sam Colt made them equal,” but the armed nation builders of the American West understood and believed it.

That is to say that, in the United States at least, people have not needed government, and especially government protection, all that much. Gun ownership has always been at the core of American independence and democracy, essential from the founding up into modern times. It is a symbol of American freedom, but more than that, ownership of firearms is a tangible expression of the independence and self-reliance that are at the core of American citizenship, a culture of freedom sometimes new to people hailing from other parts of the world. It is not accidental that not only the right to keep firearms but the active right to bear them is recognized in our Constitution as fundamental, alongside freedom of expression, free exercise of religion, the protection of private property, trial by jury, and other cornerstones of our liberty.

As the dangerous frontiers of violence encroach again on families beyond the timely protection of law enforcement, that innate American self-reliance is reenergized, and well it should be. The examples of people saved by their guns from robbery, murder, and worse, are legion if little noted by the establishment media reporting from their armed security zones. In the face of increased violent criminal activity—whether from terrorists or thugs—why does it make sense to weaken the defenses of law abiding citizens? Why would the government of a free people impose regulations to expose those who live peacefully to the barbarous cruelty of those who consider a regulation no barrier to preying upon the disarmed? I do not understand it. As an American, I do not understand it at all.

About Wayne Abernathy
I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I am the husband of one wife, the father of 5 children, and grandfather of 16 (and counting). In my career I have served on the staff of the U.S. Senate for some 20 years, including as staff director of the Senate Banking Committee. For just over 2 years I was the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Financial Institutions. Just recently, I retired from the American Bankers Association, where for 15 years I was an Executive Vice President, for financial institutions policy and regulatory affairs. I am most comfortable at home, where I like to read and write, and at the Temple, where I rejoice in helping to unite families.

One Response to Of Firearms and American Democracy

  1. Scott says:

    “Why would the government of a free people impose regulations to expose those who live peacefully to the barbarous cruelty of those who consider a regulation no barrier to preying upon the disarmed?”

    In the leftist worldview it is the government’s job to both control and protect the people. See Biden’s comments about F-15s and nuclear weapons. He clearly thinks the people should have no power to contend against the government. And as with every other aspect of our lives from education and economics to healthcare and morality, he believes the government can protect us better than we can.

    The funny logic in the F-15s and nuclear weapons argument is: Your guns are so weak against the government that you stand no chance against us…so you should give us your guns.

    What I find hard to believe is that anyone, including Joe Biden himself, truly believes what he’s saying. He HAS to be much more educated than that.

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