Countless opponents of any adjustment whatever in current gun laws say that it is wrong to ban AK-47s and other assault or assaultlike weapons because such weaponry is necessary for citizens to defend themselves if the government should ever come after the citizenry.
The argument stems from the view that the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms is a right extended not only to “a well regulated militia” but to individual citizens.
The question is, what kind of arms do individuals have the right to bear? We would argue that AK 47s are not included. Others, however, say that AK 47s are included because simple muskets or pistols or rifles could not effectively provide self-defense should the government ever attack its citizens.
We will refrain from dismissing this argument on the grounds that there is no evidence in American history for the US government going after its citizens, and that analogies from Nazi Germany are a gross abuse of accepted canons of historical analysis, based on appropriate criteria of comparison and contrast. We will simply accept this argument and observe that it is, in fact, subject to empirical verification or refutation, since, unfortunately, we do observe some governments attacking their citizenry.
We observe the methods that such governments use in 2013. They do not principally use AK 47s. They do not principally use machine guns, deadly as the use of these weapons may be.
Take Syria, for example. Here is a government that attacks its citizens. Syria uses rocket-propelled grenades, drone, gunships, fighter planes, bombs; Syria uses weaponry against which AK 47s would be useless.
The idea that in the nuclear age, in the age of “shock and awe,” in the age of destructive fire power seen, for example, in Kuwait and Iraq, that a government would think of conquering its citizenry with AK 47s is incompatible with the tenets of modern warfare, and inconsistent with the examples of real states going berserk. In those states which are less strong, and which do turn on some or all of their citizens, they only resort to AK 47s or simpler weaponry because they don’t possess anything stronger. When a state goes berserk, it seeks to use the strongest weaponry it can lay its hands on.
This means that if the US government contradicted its entire history —radically different from the history of Europe and the Middle East (and elsewhere) — and did come after its citizens, it would use the weaponry at its disposal. It would use weaponry incomparably more destructive than AK 47s. Against the weaponry the US possesses and could use, AK 47s would be worthless.
The idea that the Second Amendment was intended to enable people to defend themselves against their own government, and not merely against criminals and psychopaths, would require a reading of that Amendment to give the individual American citizen the right to keep and bear any and every type of weapon now in the service of the armed forces of this country. That reading would be untrue to the history and the wording of the Amendment, and would be entirely impractical.
That it is why, from the constitutional perspective, it is perfectly fine to ban AK 47s.
From other perspectives, such a ban is an open-and-shut case. The idea that AK 47s or weapons like them have not been used to massacre people is untrue. The idea that they alone, and not smaller weapons, have been necessary for self-defense is untrue.
And the idea that because the federal ban on assault rifles expired over 15 years ago and mass shootings in this country have not stopped, it is pointless to ban assault rifles now, is an argument without merit. It is an argument that presumes “all other things being equal.” But all other things have not been equal. Since the assault weapon ban expired, the production, sale and distribution of other weapons multiplied. The availability of weapons multiplied. The gradual public despair, seeing mass shootings as inevitable, set in. A culture of weapon worship set in. It is this culture of guns and of the misuse of guns that must be shut down for a ban against assault weapons to be fully effective. It is a ban on such weapons that constitutes a critical first step — but hardly the only one — to change that culture.
Yes, let mentally healthy people without criminal records keep and bear pistols if they like, and if appropriate limits on quantities of ammunition are legally in place.
But do not confuse this right with a putative Second Amendment guarantee to keep and bear assault or assault-like weapons on the grounds that these would ensure self-defense against the government.
Ask 60,000 Syrian dead. Ask heavily armed Syrian rebels how much good an assault rifle does if the government actually does come after you. You need an army, not a rifle, however powerful, to defend yourself.
Certainly in 2013, if ever, self-defense against a government and the Second Amendment are totally unrelated.
Copyright © 2013 by the Intermountain Jewish News