Still a Nation of Cowards
by Dr. Michael S. Brown
"A Nation of
Cowards" was first published in 1993 as an essay in a journal called
"The Public Interest". In a previous
column, I said that I considered it the greatest document of the American
gun rights debate.
Now the author, Jeff Snyder, has published a book that will be mandatory
reading for those who enjoyed the original essay. It is titled "Nation of
Cowards" and is available from Accurate Press (1-800-374-4049). The new
book includes the namesake essay and many more that examine the ethical and
moral roots of the right to keep and bear arms.
Snyder is a New York attorney who moonlights as a Constitutional Libertarian
writer. His numerous articles have appeared in newspapers, gun magazines and
Most participants in the gun debate prefer to discuss statistics,
practicalities and outcomes of various gun control plans. Snyder rejects this
entire line of utilitarian reasoning and makes his stand upon the most basic
principles of human rights. He is a master at pointing out the logical and
ethical fallacies inherent in the concept of gun control. Here are some of his
ideas, as I see them, and greatly condensed for this article.
Let's consider laws that declare schools or churches to be gun-free zones. If
one thinks that such pre-emptive laws are effective, then it would be even more
effective to simply declare all human bodies to be bullet-free zones. This would
be ridiculous of course, yet it would probably appeal to politicians who value
symbolism and emotion over logic.
The unspoken objective of pre-emptive laws is to reduce the need for
self-restraint and personal responsibility. If people do not have the means to
harm each other, it is no longer important for them to control their tempers or
act politely. We are asking the government to protect us from ourselves so that
we can be freed from that responsibility. This might seem like a logical plan,
especially to lazy slackers who aren't willing to assume the basic duties of a
One flaw in the logic is that laws themselves do not prevent crime. Laws work
when most individuals choose to respect the law and exercise self-restraint.
Unfortunately, the violent people we fear are lacking in those basic virtues.
That is why pre-emptive laws are ineffective. They are nothing more than a
political tool to satisfy the emotional needs of the electorate, and they have a
corrosive effect on personal values.
Snyder addresses the current plague of zero tolerance rules in schools by
comparing them to the ancient custom of human sacrifice. Even though it makes no
sense to punish a student for a harmless act, they must suffer for the good of
the entire group.
Sadly, we are teaching our youth that ethical and moral behavior is secondary
to obeying every rule, no matter how silly or onerous. There is also little
incentive to teach independent thinking or a sense of personal honor when so
many aspects of daily life are prescribed by law.
Many influential groups now say that citizens should not resist criminal
attack. People are told that it isn't worth taking a risk to defend their
dignity or even their life. Better to beg for humane treatment from violent
criminals than to take responsibility for one's own defense. On the other hand,
it is acceptable to rely on armed police officers to shoulder our risks and do
the dirty work in exchange for the meager salaries we are willing to pay.
Snyder does not spare those on the pro-gun side (like me) who use utilitarian
arguments to argue for privileges that the Founders declared to be inalienable
human rights independent of government or public approval. If we argue that gun
ownership is good for society simply because it inhibits crime, we are
implicitly admitting that our right to keep and bear arms is dependent upon
Gun rights activists should also heed Snyder's warning that guns alone do not
fight crime or resist tyranny. It takes committed individuals to do that. Some
patriotic citizens feel all is well as long as we have our guns, but the
electorate is being lulled into a sense of security by economic prosperity and
the constant promotion of big government as the means to relieve ourselves of
As we all know, rights and responsibilities go together. Some day we may
awaken to find that many of our basic rights have been given away and it is too
late to recover them, even through armed struggle.
"Nation of Cowards" contains far too many good points to list them
all here. If you are interested in the gun debate you must read it for yourself.
It's possible that the intellectual tone and language may be challenging for
some readers. "Nation of Cowards" would really excel as required
reading material for college courses in ethics, sociology, criminology or
If it were up to me, every college student would be expected to read it and
write a lengthy report demonstrating his or her understanding of the material.
But considering the current climate of mindless political correctness in higher
education, I won't hold my breath.
Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and board member of Doctors for
Sensible Gun Laws - www.dsgl.org. Email
the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr.
Brown's online archives can be found here: http://www.KeepAndBearArms.com/Brown.