Jefferson’s ‘tree of liberty’ and the blood of schoolchildren

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Like all Americans, I have a Second Amendment right to own a firearm. I may not choose to exercise it, but the Supreme Court, in the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller, is pretty clear on the subject. I don’t even need to be part of a militia, which is good, because I wouldn’t know how to join one. So I accept gun ownership, in principle, as part of my birthright, and acknowledge that the same rights accrue to people who might, for one reason or another, hate me. As journalist Mickey Kaus once wrote, if liberals interpreted the Second Amendment the way they interpret the rest of the Bill of Rights, there would be law professors arguing that gun ownership is mandatory.

Why would I need one, though, except to commit a crime? Why does anyone?

For hunting, obviously. Although I do not hunt, I recognize it as essentially harmless, except to the animals who are killed, and to people who get shot by mistake, including occasionally the hunters themselves. But shotguns and single-shot rifles are rarely used in crimes and I know of no serious proposals to ban them.

For target shooting, as a sport. I have done this, and I enjoyed it. Encouraging better marksmanship is a worthy national goal, and if we keep it up, the U.S. Olympic team might hope to someday win a medal in biathlon.

For personal defense.  I consider myself an expert in this field, having lived in New York City my whole life, including some years in the 1970s when I would go home on the subway after leaving work at 1 a.m. There were occasions when I wished I had a handgun, but with the benefit of reflection, it’s obviously a million times better that I didn’t, for me as well as for all the obnoxious drunks who nearly threw up on my shoes. Having survived to this point, I am content to entrust my safety to the very excellent protection of the NYPD, but I also recognize that other Americans, in different circumstances, might come to a different conclusion. If — hopefully, after weighing the dangers of a handgun being found by a child, or fired by accident, or used to commit suicide or murder a family member during an argument — a  competent adult decides he or she needs one, then by a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, they have that right.

But the subject on everyone’s mind now is not handguns but rifles, in particular assault-style rifles such as the AR-15, which are the weapon of choice in random mass shootings such as the recent ones in Parkland, Fla., Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Las Vegas. Why would a law-abiding American citizen want to own one of those?

To wage war against the government. There are many contenders for the worst ideas to emerge in the wake of the Parkland massacre, but I’d like to nominate this column by National Review writer David French — the same guy whose name was briefly floated as a sane conservative third-party alternative to Donald Trump in 2016. French argued against banning semiautomatic assault-style rifles on the grounds that we might need them to fight a reprise of the American Revolution. After all, you can’t take on the United States military with guns meant to shoot ducks and paper targets. French acknowledges that ordinary citizens wouldn’t stand much of a chance against the 101st Airborne, but, he writes: “For the Second Amendment to remain a meaningful check on state power, citizens must be able to possess the kinds and categories of weapons that can at least deter state overreach, that would make true authoritarianism too costly to attempt.”

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