Richard Ebeling_coby Richard Ebeling

For millions of Americans the Second Amendment and its guarantee of the right of the individual to bear arms appears irrelevant and practically anachronistic. It seems a throwback to those earlier days of the Wild West, when many men, far from the law and order provided by the town sheriff and circuit judge, had to protect their families and land from cattle rustlers and outlaw bands. Such people are wrong.

If in our contemporary world the law fails to do its job of seeing that the guilty pay for their crimes, we take solace in the fantasy of extralegal solutions. We imagine that somewhere there is a Clint Eastwood on a metropolitan police force who uses some “magnum force” to see to it that the perpetrator of a crime doesn’t go unpunished. Or we want to think that there is a Charles Bronson occasionally roaming the streets of a large city at night fulfilling the “death wish” of the street criminal whom local law enforcement is not able to punish.

The crime once having been committed, it is some breakdown in the judicial system that prevents justice from being served. If only the law didn’t coddle the criminal or allow his defense attorney to use “loopholes” in the law, no criminal would ever escape his just deserts.

This popular conception of the legal system, law enforcement, and government, however, suffers from two fundamental flaws: first, it focuses on the legal process (and any supposed weaknesses in it) only after a crime has been committed; and second, it ignores completely the fact that it might be the government itself that is the potential perpetrator of crimes against the American citizenry.

The Tragedy of the Unarmed Victim

Locks, bars on windows, and alarm systems are all useful devices to prevent unwanted intruders from making entrance into our homes and places of work. But what happens if an innocent victim is confronted with an invader who succeeds in entering his home, for example, and the safety of his family and possessions is now threatened? What if the invader confronts these innocent occupants and threatens some form of violence, including life-threatening force? What are the victims to do?

Critics of the Second Amendment and private gun ownership never seem to have any reasonable answer. Silent prayer might be suggested, but if this were to be a formal recommendation by the government it might run the risk of violating the separation of church and state.

Even in an era promoting equality among the sexes, it nonetheless remains a fact that on average an adult man tends to be physically stronger than an adult woman, and most especially if there is more than one man confronting a single woman.

Several years ago, economist Morgan Reynolds wrote a book on the economics of crime. The following is from one of the criminal cases he discussed. It seems that four men broke into a house in Washington, D.C., looking for a man named “Slim.” When the occupant said that he didn’t know where Slim was, they decided to kill him instead. One of the defendants later testified,

“I got a butcher knife out of the kitchen. We tied him up and led him to the bathroom. And we all stabbed him good. Then, as we started to leave, I heard somebody at the door. Lois [the dead man’s girlfriend] came in…. We took her back to the bathroom and showed her his body. She started to beg, ‘don’t kill me, I ain’t gonna tell nobody. Just don’t kill me.’ said we all could have sex with her if we wouldn’t kill her. After we finished with her, Jack Bumps told her, ‘, I ain’t takin’ no chances. I’m gonna kill you anyway.’ He put a pillow over her head, and we stabbed her till she stopped wiggling. Then we set fire to the sheets in the bedroom and went out to buy us some liquor.”

Would either of these two victims have been saved if the man had had a gun easily reachable by him in the house or if the woman had had a gun in her purse? There is no way of knowing. What is for certain is that neither was any match for the four men who attacked and killed them with a butcher knife. Even Lois’s begging and submitting to sexual violation did not save her. How many people might be saved from physical harm, psychological trauma, or death if they had the means to protect themselves with a firearm?

Equally important, how many people might never have to be confronted with attack or murder if potential perpetrators were warded off from initiating violence because of the uncertainty that an intended victim might have the means to defend him- or herself from thieves, rapists, and murders? A gun can be a great equalizer for the weak and the defenseless, especially if an intended victim doesn’t have to waste precious seconds fumbling with the key to a mandatory trigger lock.

But what is an ordinary man to do when he finds that it is the government that is the perpetrator of violence and aggression against him and his fellow citizens? How do you resist the power of the state? Tens of millions of people were murdered by governments in the twentieth century. They were killed because of the language they spoke or the religion they practiced. Or because those in political control classified them as belonging to an “inferior race” or to a “social class” that marked them as an “enemy of the people.” Furthermore, the vast, vast majority of these tens of millions of victims were murdered while offering little or no resistance. Fear, terror, and a sense of complete powerlessness surely have been behind the ability of governments to treat their victims as unresisting lambs brought to the slaughter.

But part of the ability of government to commit these cruel and evil acts has been the inability of the victims to resist because they lacked arms for self-defense. However, when the intended victims have had even limited access to means of self-defense it has shocked governments and made them pay a price to continue with their brutal work.

The Power of Armed Resistance

Many have been surprised by the lack of resistance by the European Jews who were killed by the millions in the Nazi concentration and death camps during the Second World War. For the most part, with a seemingly peculiar fatalism, they calmly went to their deaths with bullets to the back of the head or in gas chambers. Yet when some of the people were able to gain access to weapons, they did resist, even when they knew the end was most likely be the same. The following is from historian John Toland’s biography of “Adolf Hitler,” in reference to the resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943:

“Of the 380,000 Jews crowded into the Warsaw ghetto, all but 70,000 had been deported to the killing centers in an operation devoid of resistance. By this time, however, those left behind had come to the realization that deportation meant death. With this in mind, Jewish political parties within the ghetto finally resolved their differences and banded together to resist further shipments with force . . .

“At three in the morning of April 9, 1943, more than 2000 Waffen SS infantryman — accompanied by tanks, flame throwers and dynamite squads — invaded the ghetto, expecting an easy conquest, only to be met by determined fire from 1500 fighters armed with weapons smuggled into the ghetto over a long period: several light machine guns, hand grenades, a hundred or so rifles and carbines, several hundred pistols and revolvers, and Molotov cocktails. Himmler had expected the action to take three days but by nightfall his forces had to withdraw.

“The one-sided battle continued day after day to the bewilderment of the SS commander, General Jürgen Stroop, who could not understand why ‘this trash and subhumanity’ refused to abandon a hopeless cause. He reported that, although his men had initially captured ‘considerable numbers of Jews, who are cowards by nature,’ it was becoming more and more difficult. ‘Over and over again new battle groups consisting of twenty or thirty Jewish men, accompanied by a corresponding number of women, kindled new resistance.’ The women, he noted, had the disconcerting habit of suddenly hurling grenades they had hidden in their bloomers . . .

“The Jews, he reported, remained in the burning buildings until the last possible moment before jumping from the upper stories to the street. ‘With their bones broken, they still tried to crawl across the street into buildings that had not yet been set on fire…. Despite the danger of being burned alive the Jews and bandits often preferred to return into the flames rather than risk being caught by us.’ … For exactly four weeks the little Jewish army had held off superior, well-armed forces until almost the last man was killed or wounded.”

In the end the Germans had to commit thousands of military personnel and in fact destroy an entire part of Warsaw to bring the Jewish ghetto resistance to an end.

What if not only the Jewish population but the majority of all the “undesirable” individuals and groups in Germany and the occupied countries of Europe had been armed, with the Nazi government unable to know who had weapons, what types, and with what quantity of ammunition? It would be an interesting study in World War II history to compare private gun ownership in various parts of Europe and the degree and intensity of resistance by the local people to German occupation.

Revolts Against Tyranny

In the early years of the Bolshevik takeover in Russia there were numerous revolts by the peasantry against Communist