About a year ago, a mugger just waltzed right up to me on a bridge here in Washington, D.C. It was early evening, and I was a stone's throw from my apartment in what is considered a nice neighborhood, as neighborhoods go in the Murder Capital -- the richly deserved nickname for the nation's capital.
I won't belabor my cunning and completely fortuitous escape, except to say that for the few minutes I was standing there waiting to be mugged, I was fuming. I knew he knew that I didn't have a gun.
It's illegal to carry a handgun here in the Murder Capital. Not merely illegal but a felony that carries up to a five-year maximum sentence.
Just as I could look at my prospective mugger and see that he was not the kind of fellow who would be a fanatic about property rights and bodily integrity, he could see from 50 yards that I was not the type to be committing felonies.
I wanted a gun, but more than that I wanted him to think I might possibly have a gun. I wanted him to at least accord me the respect I get from criminals in other cities, where they have to exercise a little creativity, lying in wait, sneaking up from behind, hiding in bushes and dark alleyways -- that sort of thing. No, in D.C. muggers just walk right up to you on a brightly lit street. As an apparently law-abiding citizen, I am ostentatiously defenseless.
But let's forget about completely defenseless me on the bridge for a moment.
The framers' primary reason for including the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights was to allow people to protect themselves from tyrannical government -- just like the vastly overrated First Amendment. As Alexander Hamilton observed cheerily in Federalist 29, if the government were to "form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens."
Some may be willing to rely on withering editorials in the New York Times to preserve their liberty. I'm counting on a sleek and tasteful SIG-Sauer. If the courts started interpreting the Second Amendment the way they interpret the First, we'd have a right to bear nuclear arms by now.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court is incessantly having to remind Americans of their First Amendment rights, issuing more than 100 decisions in the past half century alone. The Court has ruled on the Second Amendment in only a handful of cases, the last time in 1939.
But still, about half the citizenry deeply, passionately believe that they have a right to bear arms. Give the First Amendment no support from the courts for over half a century and see if anyone remembers why we're supposed to let Nazis march in Skokie.
But the half of the country that intuitively assumes the right to bear arms doesn't live in my neighborhood. That's why I'm getting exasperated with the constitutional argument. Too few people -- girl people in particular -- appreciate the central point: Guns are our friends.
When it comes to the First Amendment, everyone gets warm patriotic feelings, tearing up over John Stuart Mill's marketplace of ideas. They think immediately of our right to engage in political speech, scientific research, avant-garde art, and to burn politicians in effigy (or maybe that's just me). Speech on the fringe, like Aryan Nation propaganda or Hustler magazine is understood to be an unpleasant, if inevitable, by-product of a freedom we cherish.
But with the Second Amendment, it's all Hustler magazine. No upside, just school shootings and all those apocryphal "gun accidents." (In 1945, for every million Americans there were 350,000 firearms and 18 fatal gun accidents. By 1995, there were 850,000 firearms per million, and fatal gun accidents had fallen to six.)
Guns are our friends, because in a world without guns I'm what is known as prey. Almost all females are. Any male -- even the sickliest 98-pound weakling -- could overpower me in a contest of brute force against brute force. For some reason, I'm always asked whether I wouldn't prefer a world without guns. No, I'd prefer a world in which everyone is armed, even the criminals who mean to cause me harm. Then I'd at least have a fighting chance.
What the arms-control faithful really want is a world without violence, not a world without weapons. These are the ideological descendants of the authors of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which purported to outlaw war. But we can't have a world without violence, because the world is half male and testosterone causes homicide. A world with violence -- that is to say, with men -- but without weapons is the worst of all possible worlds for women. As the saying goes, God made man and woman; Colonel Colt made them equal.
Prey like me use guns against predators about a million times a year. Fifteen different studies (including those sponsored by gun control advocates) have arrived at the following estimates: at the low end, several hundred thousand times per year; at the high end, several million.
I especially want potential assailants to have to worry that I might be carrying. In numerous surveys, criminals have confirmed the blindingly obvious point that they are disinclined to attack a victim who might be armed. Countries with those fabulously low crime rates and fabulously fascistic gun control laws -- such as Canada, the Netherlands, and Britain --- have more burglaries of occupied homes per capita than we do. Canada's burglary rate of occupied homes is more than three times that of the armed-to-the-teeth U.S. Although the murder rate is lower in Britain, rape, robbery, burglary, and assault are all substantially higher there than in the U.S.
It must be said, the framers were not insensate to the crime-prevention qualities of firearms. In the late eighteenth century, standing armies had become nothing more than roving bands of criminals. The Second Amendment was, in part, a response to those early cases of police brutality. (Why is it that the same people who have the least confidence in the police and the military are the most willing to allow only the police and the military to have guns?)
Thomas Jefferson, for example, copied into his book of favorite quotes an observation by Cesare Beccaria, the founder of the science of criminology: "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."
That night in Washington, by the way, I was rescued by a man. I'm all for men; I like to have them around all the time. But sometimes they can't be. Sometimes they have to go buy things for us. More pertinently, sometimes they're ex-husbands coming after us with machetes. We live in a world in which men are supposed to freeze when we say no, our bodily integrity is sacrosanct, we are autonomous beings, I am woman, hear me roar -- but we're not allowed to defend ourselves from a physical attack with the only effective means possible. Just stand waiting on the bridge and hope for a nice man to come along.
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