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Ferguson’s Imaginary Gun Problem

When the police march down Main Street, I don’t think to myself: “Hey, thank goodness those citizens don’t have any way to defend themselves.”

Can you imagine what Ferguson would look like if all these demonstrators were armed?

It’s a question that’s popped up in my Twitter feed in various forms over the past few days. And as my colleague Mollie Hemingway has already done a fine job of pointing out, many in the media revealed they have only a muddled understanding of gun rights.

But let’s go with David Frum’s hypothetical proposition, because it brings to mind a few broader points.

Yes, if all protestors had loaded firearms in their hands, the situation would almost certainly have degenerated into a more violent mess. But the fact is protestors could have armed themselves. Mostly, they didn’t. Though there is no way to precisely calculate the number of Missourians that own guns – one Daily Beast report uses NICS background checks numbers to come up with 14,712  per 100,000 residents, which doesn’t include inherited weapons, shotguns, etc. – there are doubtlessly plenty of firearms to be found in St Louis county. Getting your hands on a weapon in Missouri doesn’t seem to be a particularly challenging endeavor.

In this situation, it was the state that behaved as if it had been deployed for war, not the majority of protestors.  Most civilians don’t use guns recklessly in these situations (or any, for that matter) for reasons of self-preservation and more vitally – and this may surprise some people – because most people have absolutely no desire to shoot at the police. Even protesting civilians. Even angry protesting civilians.

So a more appropriate observation might be: Isn’t it amazing that in a country with over 250 million guns in circulation, violent political protests are almost nonexistent?

Apparently not. Because despite this reality, Frum is far more troubled by the idea of civilians exercising their rights than he is about authorities abusing their power. The entire line of argument has certain authoritarian ring to it. The public – or as Frum sees them, the “policed” – ought to surrender their own right to self-defense lest they compel the police to don excessive military gear to face hypothetical threats.

Well, if our only theoretical concern is to make “things better,” why stop with Second Amendment?

For example:

Wouldn’t things have been better in Ferguson if the authorities could suspend the right of civilians to assemble and protest?

Wouldn’t things have been better in Ferguson if the press weren’t exacerbating the situation with all their pictures and questions?

Wouldn’t things have been better in Ferguson if the police could proactively arrest anyone they assumed was going to be troublemaker?

Surely they would be more peaceful in short run. But, in the long run, probably not any better.

We also shouldn’t forget those Ferguson business and home owners who purchased guns which are discouraging the peripheral criminality that almost always arises during these combustible situations. How many lawless acts are preemptively thwarted by the mere thought of a gun being present in a home or a business? How many more police officers would St Louis county need to outfit in camouflage and combat gear if freelancing troublemakers were on the loose?

Obviously, anti-gun advocates don’t believe such deterrence exists. That’s fine because it’s definitely not the best reason for gun ownership.

In my understanding, owning guns for self-defense or sport are only secondary reasons to support the Second Amendment. Though gun advocates often shy away from making the case, the best and most vital purpose of an armed citizenry is to be a buttress against tyrannical government. Now, I’ve never owned a gun, and I have no reason to believe that the time for aiming muskets at government troops is close or inevitable. And if it needs to be pointed out, those who do are nuts. As tragic as events of Ferguson have been, the situation certainly doesn’t call for any armed rebellion.

And yet. When the police block Main Street with tanks and aim their high-powered rifles at unarmed protestors, I don’t think to myself: “Hey, thank goodness those citizens have no way to defend themselves.” Apparently some people do.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.

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