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Gun control: A Contrast

Major Gun Rights Rally Held In Salt Lake City
Major Gun Rights Rally Held In Salt Lake City
Photo by George Frey/Getty Images

The BBC World News was reporting on the conflict in Syria. Citizens in that country are watching the skies, against the possibility that their own government might bomb their towns.

Syria is half a world away, and it is easy to tell ourselves that it could not happen here. Yet the question that should be asked is what makes it possible in Syria but not in these United States. It happens that there is a plausible explanation also in the news recently. The Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was confiscating the cattle of the Bundy ranch in Nevada, over a dispute concerning land on which the Bundy cattle have grazed for a century. Armed federal officers moved to enforce the government's claim--and they were met by armed citizens, the Bundys themselves and supporters from near and far forming an impromptu militia in defense of the rights of the ranchers.

Whether the government or the ranchers were in the right in this case is not the point. We have in Nevada a situation in which the government sent armed enforcers to impose its claim, and citizens who believed that claim was invalid were able to answer threat of force with threat of force, and the government withdrew. We are not like Syria for a number of reasons, but one of them is that our citizens are able to bring force to bear against our own government if it seems necessary.

This, not incidentally, was the main motivation for the Second Amendment: that the people of these United States would be able to defend themselves, not merely against criminals, not solely against alien invasion, but also against their own government gone rogue. The founders had been through gun control under the British, who were determined to deprive the colonists of any means of opposing the force of the occupying army. Quite a bit of the Bill of Rights is reactionary against the treatment by the government of its citizens at that time, and the determination that citizens would be able to defend against government was a key element in that.

So whatever you think of the Bundys and their supporters, at least recognize that their ability to defend themselves against the incursions of federal agents is one of the reasons America is not like Syria.