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Standing Armies, Gun Control, and Middle East Tyranny

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Gun Controlby Jacob G. Hornberger

America’s Founding Fathers would not be surprised by what is happening in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, and Iran. They understood that the real value of a standing army, from the standpoint of dictatorial regimes, is that the military can usually be relied upon to do its duty and protect the regime by killing protestors or rounding them up, torturing them, detaining them indefinitely, and even executing them.

In Egypt the military decided to give up the 80-year old dictator Hosni Mubarak rather than kill protestors en masse, but the military did participate in arrests, round-ups, and torture before doing so. Moreover, the jury is still out on how the military will react to any sign that democracy could end up dismantling the military’s privileged position in Egyptian society.

In other Middle East countries where people are demonstrating against their respective dictatorships, the military is proving its loyalty to its commander in chief, protecting “national security” by shooting defenseless demonstrators, sometimes in the back or even while they are sleeping.

Here is what James Madison said about standing armies:

A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty. The means of defence agst. foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.

Here is how Henry St. George Tucker put it in Blackstone’s 1768 Commentaries on the Laws of England:

Wherever standing armies are kept up, and when the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.

Virginian Patrick Henry pointed out the difficulty associated with violent resistance to tyranny when a standing army is enforcing the orders of the government:

A standing army we shall have, also, to execute the execrable commands of tyranny; and how are you to punish them? Will you order them to be punished? Who shall obey these orders? Will your mace-bearer be a match for a disciplined regiment?

The U.S. State Department’s own website describes the convictions of the Founding Fathers regarding standing armies:

Wrenching memories of the Old World lingered in the 13 original English colonies along the eastern seaboard of North America, giving rise to deep opposition to the maintenance of a standing army in time of peace. All too often the standing armies of Europe were regarded as, at best, a rationale for imposing high taxes, and, at worst, a means to control the civilian population and extort its wealth.

Over the years, I have had occasion to travel to Europe, where I have engaged in conversations about gun control with Europeans. They always bring up the standard leftist arguments in favor of gun control. My response has always been the following: When a European country is taken over by a dictatorship, Europeans must either submit or be killed. At least in the United States, the American people, being armed, have another option: the ability to defend themselves from military murderers by shooting back at them.

Events in the Middle East are confirming my point. The dictators’ military goons are able and willing to shoot peaceful people with impunity under the guise of protecting “national security.” The citizenry must either submit or continue subjecting themselves to being murdered with the hope that the military goons will finally suffer a crisis of conscience that precludes them from loyally following the orders of their commander in chief. In Libya, it seems that some of the troops are changing sides and taking their weaponry with them, giving the citizens the chance to defend themselves from the government’s murderers.

Federal Judge Alex Konzinski expressed the benefit of gun ownership in the case of Silveira v. Lockyer:

The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

I would be remiss if I failed to point out that the U.S. and British governments have been among the biggest suppliers of weaponry to the Middle East dictatorships whose militaries are now murdering their own people. In fact, when it comes to arms sales the U.S. government has long been Number 1 in the world. Not surprisingly, U.S. officials have always maintained that the weaponry provided U.S.-supported dictators was for “defense” when in fact it was to ensure “order and stability” by providing the military means for the dictators to suppress any and all resistance among the citizenry to their dictatorships.

Americans are outraged over what the Middle East dictators are doing to maintain their hold on power. Too bad Americans are not outraged over their own government’s decades-long support of the dictatorial tyranny that led up to the protests.

Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.


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