Between government and guns
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Thursday, May 10, 2007

In the immediate shock of the Virginia Tech murders, many people have called for increased controls on gun ownership. Tragedies like this make people feel that we should do something to make us safer, but these people do not realize that increased government power poses a far greater threat than the risks of crime, accidents and maniac attacks.

Baldly stated, one day we (or our children or grandchildren) will almost certainly need guns to defend ourselves against our own government, and if it has become tyrannical enough, to overthrow it. This might sound like the paranoid rambling of a militant survivalist homesteader, but it’s not as farfetched as you might think. All civilizations eventually falter, usually as a result of government powermongering.

And although America has flourished for two centuries, there are disturbing signs of failing freedoms: an exponential increase in the size of our government, and a steady erosion of our protections under the Bill of Rights that has accelerated under President Bush’s War on Terror.

Torture, long imprisonments without trial or hearing, IRS and DEA seizures of private property without proof of any wrongdoing, warrantless searches, SWAT teams bursting into sleeping citizens’ homes to serve marijuana warrants (sometimes accidentally killing homeowners in the process); these are only a few of the totalitarian tactics already employed by our government against us. And they are sure to get worse.

Some people naively think that if only we could elect another, more “caring” president, these problems would go away. But the decline started with the beginning of our fledgling democracy and has continued ever since, usually accelerating during times of war – and there’s always another “necessary” war just around the corner. It is the nature of governments to covet power and do anything they can to increase it.

History shows that fear of government power is not irrational. Governments are responsible for far more deaths than criminals, crazy individuals or “greedy” corporations. Remember Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Cambodia. R.J. Rummel’s fascinating book “Death by Government” details the more than 260 million people murdered by governments during the 20th century alone.

260,000,000 people executed, “disappeared”, ethnically-cleansed, deliberately starved to death, worked to death in gulags, murdered for disagreeing with government policies or for simply being the wrong kind of citizen – and that number does not include military battle deaths. Nearly all of these poor souls lived under totalitarian regimes, and had been deliberately disarmed by their governments prior to the purges. Reading the book should (but won’t) disabuse even the most socialistic of their notion that governments’ main goal is to protect citizens.

Our country’s founding fathers understood this dark side of government. They designed our government for division of power. Likewise, the phrase in the Bill of Rights: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed” is meant to prevent firepower from being concentrated only in government hands. They had only recently overthrown an oppressive government and understood that it would probably be necessary to do so again in the future.

It is profoundly unwise to allow government to have all the guns. Government attempts to disarm the citizenry should fill us with alarm. It makes no difference that the attempts are precipitated by foolish, “concerned” citizens who trust government to protect us.

They are concerned about the risks of guns, but those risks are comparatively small: More gun deaths are from suicides than homicides, and more Americans die from lightning strikes than from school violence, which has been decreasing, contrary to media portrayals.

Nobody has the “right” to a risk-free existence. Putting safety ahead of the freedom our forefathers gave their lives for is irrational. Our freedom resulted in the past century’s incredible improvements in our safety, and abridging that freedom is what will compromise our safety. It will continue to improve via free markets (customers demanding more safety) as long as we remain free.

We have an obligation to preserve the right to own guns against the day when we, as a people, will need them. We must prevent well-meaning, overly-risk-averse people from disarming us, so that we and the generations following us won’t be helpless on that day.