The history of the gun control debate has been marked by several truly great
documents that are eternally enshrined in cyberspace and will be treasured by
historians of the future. When these memorable documents are examined in future
centuries, which treatise will stand above the rest as being the best, the most
important, or the most representative of the entire debate?
One candidate for greatest document of the gun control debate is a 1989 essay
titled, "The Embarrassing
Second Amendment" by highly respected legal scholar Sanford Levinson. A
liberal himself, he served notice to liberal opponents of gun ownership that
they could not simply ignore the Second Amendment. This single law review
article started an avalanche of research into the meaning of the long neglected
Second Amendment. The overwhelming majority of the researchers say that it does
indeed guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms, just as ordinary
folks have believed for two hundred years.
Another possibility is John Lott's exhaustive scholarly study of the
relationship between guns and crime in America. To make this complex study more
accessible, he distilled it into quite a readable book, "More
Guns, Less Crime", published in 1998 and currently offered in an
updated second edition. The chapter on how Lott has been the victim of personal
attacks, since his work is unassailable, is worth the price of the book.
Some might vote for Olsen and Kopel's 1999 law review article, "All
the Way Down the Slippery Slope", a well written and well researched
description of the history of gun prohibition in England. It elegantly
demonstrates the historical relationship between increased gun control and
STILL A NATION OF COWARDS?
These are all great documents that will be treasured by history, but my
favorite is a 1993 article by Jeffrey R. Snyder: "A
Nation of Cowards". Snyder distilled the arguments for private gun
ownership, disposed of the arguments against it, and claimed the moral high
ground in this landmark 5,800 word essay.
I first read "A Nation of Cowards" sometime in 1994 when I was just
beginning to realize the danger that America faced from the gun prohibition
lobby. Snyder's writing helped me to focus the random thoughts that I had
already developed and added a few that had not occurred to me yet.
He pointed out how the movement to ban guns was related to the change in the
way Americans are taught to think of themselves. A few decades ago, before the
gun hating really got started, young people were encouraged to develop
self-respect, dignity and a sense of personal responsibility. This was built
through their accomplishments, by assuming responsibility, and honoring
This traditional value system gradually changed to one where self-esteem is
now paramount. A young person is taught that they are a precious and important
member of society regardless of their own efforts or accomplishments. Many
observers have noted the way in which this leads to a poor sense of
responsibility and a higher risk of criminal involvement, but Snyder takes the
logical chain a step further.
He demonstrates how our entire approach to fighting crime has changed. Rather
than accept the slightest risk to our precious skins, we are taught that we must
give in to criminals whenever the basic precautions like locked doors and alarm
systems fail to protect us. Almost every American now believes that it is not
worth hurting someone, or being hurt, over stolen property. Even potential rape
victims are taught not to fight back. Recent articles in women's magazines
suggest trying to chat with a rapist or even asking him to use a condom.
In short, we are all to blame for our current crime problem, because we have
decided that fighting back is not appropriate. Crime increased largely because
we made it easier and safer. This is a direct result of the changing value
system that teaches us to value life above pride and self-respect.
Anti-self-defense groups have tried to blame the crime problem on law abiding
gun owners for allowing their guns to fall into the hands of young people who
then turn to a life of crime. Snyder compared this with a television commercial
that urged people to lock their cars with the slogan, "Don't help a good
boy go bad". At the time, the ad was considered offensive (and racist, I
believe) by enough people that it was soon dropped, but that same logic is still
used today by the gun haters.
"A Nation of Cowards" lays out the arguments for civilian gun
ownership that have only grown stronger in the last seven years. It mentions the
inability of the police to protect us from crime by any means other than locking
up criminals after the fact. It asks us to consider what will happen if we are
prevented from dialing 911 or how we can protect ourselves if an attack is
imminent and the police response is less than instantaneous.
It was also the first article I recall that pointed out an interesting
paradox in the way that anti-gun individuals view the police. They believe that
the ability to dial 911 absolves them of all responsibility for their personal
defense. Although they consider it immoral and dangerous to use a gun to defend
themselves, they are perfectly happy to allow underpaid police officers to bring
guns into their neighborhoods and do the dirty work for them. The fact that this
is a glitch in their moral system never seems to trouble the true gun haters.
The elitist nature of the gun prohibitionists was obvious even in 1993. The
politicians and elite journalists who spoke out against gun ownership were
either people who were protected by bodyguards, or thought that gun prohibition
would never apply to them because of their exalted status. They demonized gun
owners with coldly calculated misleading statements similar to those they use
Some of their worst and most dishonest diatribes were directed at laws
allowing concealed carry. The idea of ordinary citizens carrying guns
responsibly drives them crazy. The success of these laws in the last two decades
proves their whole view of guns is incorrect. Even before John Lott's famous
study, it was becoming obvious that something was seriously wrong with the old
theory that guns cause crime.
Every point made by Jeffrey Snyder in "A Nation of Cowards" is
still valid today. I believe it will stand the test of time and deserves to be
called the greatest document of the modern American gun debate.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist in Vancouver, Washington, who can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.