Whenever folk like me object to erosion of long-held rights, people often ask why we’re “obsessed” with that right, why it’s so important. Why we’re not more worried about whatever other thing they bring up as a distraction. It’s actually not hard to understand.
There is a tale I heard told about the ancient Greek Philosopher Socrates. According to the tale a young man came to Socrates and asked how he might become as knowledgeable as Socrates. Socrates bid the man to follow him and led him to the shore and out into the water. Puzzled, the man followed. When they were out where the water was about chest deep Socrates, being a strong and vigorous man (ancient Greece tended to mix athleticism with its philosophy, that whole “strong mind in a strong body” thing) and no doubt being aided by surprise, grabbed the young and ducked him under the water. There he held the man against his struggles until the young man passed out.
Socrates then dragged the man to shore where he left him and went on his way.
In time, the young man awoke and sought out Socrates. “Why did you do that?” the young man asked. “I nearly lost my life.”
“What did you want most while you were under the water’s surface?” Socrates asked.
“Air!” the man replied.
“When you want knowledge exactly as much as you wanted air, nothing in the universe can prevent you from getting it.”
There is more than one lesson to be learned from that little tale. There is, of course, the obvious one that the key to gaining knowledge is to want it badly enough to do what it takes to get it. (Long hours of study. Tracking down sources. Doing research–and I don’t mean Googling a few key terms but actual scientific research–to find answers that nobody else has found yet.)
But consider also what the man wanted. He wanted air. Why could Socrates not simply tell him at the start that when he wants knowledge as much as he wants air, then he’ll get it? Of course the answer is before the escapade down at the sea shore he didn’t want air particularly. He had it in plenty and didn’t even have to think about it.
It was only when he was deprived of air that he suddenly found it to be important to him.
So it is with long held rights like, for instance, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (RKBA). (I could talk about other rights under assault, but this one is much in the news recently, and frankly, the assault on it has been running a long time and is deeply entrenched.) In the early history of the United States it was the normal state. People didn’t have to think much about RKBA. It was just there. Oh, there were certain inroads made on it. Georgia passed one of, if not the first “gun control” laws in the US in 1837. That law was ruled Unconstitutional by the Georgia Supreme Court. Part of the reason that the Dred Scott decision decided that “the negro race” could not be recognized as having full rights was that they could then buy arms and carry them wherever they went. And a little bit here and there.
Slow inroads on the existing RKBA made over time, but still, for the majority of people it was like air to the young man before Socrates drowned him. Want to buy a Gatling Gun? No problem. A Maxim Gun? Again, no problem. Cannon? If you’ve got the money. Now, most people didn’t because there was no need. A rifle or shotgun (or both) for hunting. A revolver for personal protection if one felt the need (and more likely to be used against snakes than against desperadoes). But most anyone could.
Air to the young man of Socrates’ acquaintance.
Then more strict and more widespread gun laws started being enacted. Prohibition saw a rise in the use of automatic weapons by gangs to shoot up rival’s illegal drinking establishments, which led to other uses by criminals. That lead to the National Firearms Act of 1934. Still not too bad by most people’s lights. It’s not like the various controlled weapons were banned. You just had to pass a strict background check, pay a tax, and get your local head Law Enforcement Officer to sign off on it. You could still get them if you want. You just had to jump through a few hoops first. It’s not like you are denied them. Really.
But then other restrictions went into place. And folk started finding out that “get your local head Law Enforcement Officer to sign off on it” meant “be politically connected, people without considerable political pull need not apply.” The hoops became smaller, lit on fire, and raised way up in the air.
And the young man is sputtering, still not quite underwater, but getting a lot of water in his mouth with each breath.
Then further laws and restrictions. The Gun Control Act of 1968. No interstate commerce in guns except via dealers with Federal Firearms Licences (FFL). No shipping of firearms except to and from FFL holders (and a few select exemptions such as shipping firearms back to the manufacturer for repair).
The Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owners Protection Act, preventing any further automatic weapons being added to the registry for legal private ownership. What was then currently registered was all there was and all there ever would be.
The rise of organizations dedicated to the banning of some or all privately owned firearms. People organized for the express purpose of ending RKBA.
The young man’s barely getting any air at all, now.
Then the “Brady Bill” which implemented a national 7 day waiting period on handgun purchases “so the police would have time to perform a background check” and the federal “Assault Weapons Ban”
And now the young man is completely under water and really wanting his air.
So why is RKBA so important to us? Because you’re trying to take it from us. The only reason you want to dismiss its importance is to make it easier for you to take it.
Through most of our history, people never really thought much about RKBA. But when it comes down to it, of the three “unalienable rights” Jefferson called out in the Declaration of Independence–two of which are echoed again in the Fifth Amendment–every single one is meaningless without the right to defend them and without the right to effective means to defend them. To deny RKBA is to deny right to life and right to liberty.
I would love to go back to it not being “an obsession.” For it to just be “there” with no need to worry about it. Like air to the young man before Socrates took him to the sea.
But you won’t let me.