Details matter. There’s Castle Doctrine – “castle law” or “defense of habitation” law. In English common law the term is derived from the aphorism that “an Englishman’s home is his castle” – a concept established as English law by the 17th century jurist Sir Edward Coke, in his The Institutes of the Laws of England, 1628 – “For a man’s house is his castle, et domus sua cuique est tutissimum refugium [and each man’s home is his safest refuge].”
That’s one reason we have the Second Amendment. People should be allowed to keep a gun at home to protect their home and family. That’s their right, and the police are always late anyway. But don’t take your gun outside the house – outside your “castle” so to speak. There the public has rights too. There’s the right to not get shot over disagreements in public places – except that’s no longer so in Florida and other states that have passed “stand your ground” laws. There the idea is that you carry your castle with you. If you feel threatened, even slightly threatened, by a stranger in a public place, far from home, you have the right to blow his (or her) brains out right there on the spot.
This has led to endless litigation. That’s a distortion of castle doctrine. There’s no castle there – but yes, the courts have found that arms for self-defense, at home or in special defined circumstance, are just fine. That’s probably what the Founding Fathers had in mind.
The current view on the American right is not that at all. The current argument there is that because Thomas Jefferson once said that we’d probably need another revolution now and then, the Founding Fathers added the Second Amendment so citizens, when outvoted by their fellow citizens on this issue or that, could overthrow the duly and legally elected government to make things right, because the people are sometimes stupid, and democracy is sometimes stupid. Sometimes, to preserve freedom, the will of the people must be abrogated. That’s why Michelle Bachmann and others said that if Congress, elected by the people, passed Obamacare, true patriots had their guaranteed Second Amendment Remedy. They could fix that – with armed revolution to overthrow the mistaken-majority’s government – or at least assassinate a few stupid politicians. The Founding Fathers knew voters could be stupid. Patriots with guns could fix that – thus that amendment.
That’s rather dramatic, and odd. That makes democracy, government by the agreement of the majority, by the vote of the elected representatives of the majority, the evil enemy of freedom. That has people talking about “the tyranny of the majority” and taking up arms to fight that. The formula is simple. Hate democracy with all your soul, and love freedom instead. The majority has taken away freedoms. Seatbelts are mandatory now, and so are helmets for motorcyclists. And that’s where it starts. Soon no one has any freedom to do anything. Majority rule must be stopped!
The Founding Fathers cannot have had that in mind, but the third view of the Second Amendment is just boring. “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
What? There was an argument behind that:
While both James Monroe and John Adams supported the Constitution being ratified, its most influential framer was James Madison. In Federalist No. 46, Madison wrote how a federal army could be kept in check by state militias, “a standing army would be opposed by a militia.” He argued that state militias “would be able to repel the danger” of a federal army, “It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.” He contrasted the federal government of the United States to the European kingdoms, which he described as “afraid to trust the people with arms,” and assured that “the existence of subordinate governments forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition.”
In short, a big federal army, a big standing army, was asking for trouble. A standing army would be too tempting to any president. He’d become a tyrant in a day or two, with his very own big army. State militias would fix that. Those wouldn’t be his.
The Second Amendment established those. Those are the words. That’s all it did.
And then the whole issue became moot. Except for each state’s National Guard – with tanks and planes and artillery and whatnot – we have a giant standing federal Army, and Navy, and Marine Corps, and Air Force, and Coast Guard – and that’s the president’s very own. James Madison would not be impressed. That’s not what he had in mind. He worried about those enterprises of ambition. The president is not a king.
But all those details are forgotten now, with the Washington Post reporting on the day’s big event:
Thousands of gun rights advocates packed the streets around the Virginia Capitol on Monday, bristling with weapons, flags and threats of insurrection but never erupting into the violence authorities had feared.
Armed militias carrying assault-style weapons marched in formation until the crowds grew too thick. Protesters without firearms filed through 17 metal detectors at a single entrance to Capitol Square, where Gov. Ralph Northam had temporarily banned weapons, and cheered fiery speeches about the Second Amendment.
But nothing nasty happened, just disagreement, which was not what anyone expected:
This was the aftershock of last fall’s elections, when Virginia voters gave majorities in the General Assembly to Democrats who promised to enact gun-control laws. The losing side of that equation thundered through this city’s streets Monday. They were joined by self-styled patriots from all over the country, whipped into a near-frenzy by social media calls – including from President Trump – to make Virginia the bulwark against any retreat on gun rights.
When the president tweeted, over and over, that “they” are going to take your guns, so show up locked and loaded in Richmond, people did worry:
Intelligence from law enforcement about outside threats had put Virginia officials on edge and led to a massive police presence. The crackdown also made Northam a symbol of the country’s cultural and political divide – as evidenced by harsh signs Monday depicting him as a “tyrant,” “radical Ralph” and Photoshopped into a Nazi uniform.
“Democrats in the state are demonstrating unadulterated power without authority,” Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, thundered in Capitol Square. “No one listening to my voice should ever vote for the party of gun control, the party of Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer,” he said, interrupted by boos at the names of the Democratic leaders.
But those were just images and words, and there was the other side to this:
Democrats who had met with pro-gun lobbyists Monday morning said they, too, were responding to thousands of fired-up constituents – the voters who put them into office on the promise of stricter gun laws. “You will see sensible gun-violence-prevention legislation pass this year,” Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington) said before heading into a party caucus.
And that was that:
Authorities reported no major incidents and only a single arrest – of a 21-year-old woman charged with wearing a mask in public – despite the presence of numerous out-of-state militia and extremist groups that had threatened violence online and in social media…
One man was turned away at the metal detectors for having screws in his pockets. A pink smoke bomb went off near the entrance to Capitol Square, but police were unable to find out who detonated it. Officers did remove a homemade guillotine that had been set up on the street, inscribed with the words: “The penalty for treason is death.”
Northam praised law enforcement and said he was thankful there was no violence. “Today showed that when people disagree, they can do so peacefully,” he said in a written statement. “The issues before us evoke strong emotions, and progress is often difficult. I will continue to listen to the voices of Virginians, and I will continue to do everything in my power to keep our Commonwealth safe.”
But it was still quite a scene:
On Monday, before full light, thousands of people were converging on the Capitol, bundled against temperatures that didn’t get above freezing until afternoon. By midmorning, the streets were packed like Times Square on New Year’s Eve. A militia’s fife-and-drum corps mixed with the sounds of police helicopters whirring overhead.
On Ninth Street, the sea of gun-toting, camouflage-wearing humanity was too thick to move. A group of burly men formed a chain, each holding the backpack of the one in front, to try to make headway down the hill. Flags sprouted like flares – American flags, Gadsden (“Don’t Tread on Me”) flags, militia flags. Squadrons of militias formed lines and executed marches, then sat along the curb and warmed their hands and rested their weapons.
A reporter felt his bag snag on something, turned and saw that it had caught the edge of a long assault-style rifle. “Sorry, you’re good,” said the man carrying it, his face concealed behind a scarf and dark glasses.
Another man carried a gigantic .50-caliber Barrett M82A1 rifle, probably five feet long, and wore a helmet and body armor.
“This sends a strong visual message,” said Brandon Lewis, patting the rifle. He had driven from Bergen, NY, where he owns a shooting range.
But the message was only about this:
Much of the crowd’s ire was focused on Northam, who vowed to pass gun control after a shooter killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building last year. He has touted measures such as universal background checks, a limit on handgun purchases of one per month and a “red flag” law allowing authorities to temporarily seize weapons from those deemed a threat. Democrats seem to be backing away from plans to ban assault weapons.
This is standard stuff that the public overwhelmingly approves, but that’s the tyranny of the majority:
“Sign here to recall Radical Ralph,” called out Chris Anders, 48, of Loudoun County, who was gathering signatures for Northam’s removal on behalf of a group called Virginia Constitutional Conservatives. “People are tired of someone trying to roll over them,” he said.
He was suddenly drowned out by cheers. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones was nearby, shouting angrily. “If you try to take our firearms it’s another 1776!” Jones roared, calling Northam a “piece of trash.”
That was a call to end the United States of America because, as a democracy, majority rule has become tyranny. Jones thinks it’s time to start over. He’s never said what he prefers to majority rule. Perhaps competing armed militias are the answer to everything.
Who knows? But the Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak saw this:
Scores of men – plus a handful of women – dressed up in battle-rattle and draped themselves with assault weapons, long guns and handguns on Monday. They strapped hunting knives to their thighs and wore body armor and body cameras on their chests, shoulders and helmets.
To a rally. A peaceful rally. On city streets in a quiet state capital on a holiday weekend.
That’s a uniform of fear, right there.
Fear of having to pass a background check if they want to buy a gun from a private individual?
Fear of not being able to buy more than one handgun every month?
Fear of not being able to carry an AR-15 across your chest to a county fair that doesn’t want your weapon aboard the Tilt-a-Whirl?
Fear of getting help taking a gun away from your suicidal son?
Those are all of the restrictions on guns that the Virginia House of Delegates passed. There are no more than those, so Dvorak argues that the fear here is actually about a loss of power:
“It happened like that,” a man dressed in full camo with a handgun strapped to his hip told his friend, snapping his finger. “We were good for years, then the left took over and they’re going to take our guns away. Virginia is the home of the NRA. They want to run them out, too.”
Be honest, people. Most law-abiding, regular old Virginians could still have a weapon – many weapons, even – under the common-sense legislation that the new Democratic majority in Richmond is passing.
But that doesn’t matter:
Besides thousands of people who went through security to adhere to the emergency order banning weapons on Capitol grounds, thousands more who decided they couldn’t be without their weapons encircled the Capitol.
Huge assault weapons strapped across chests and backs knocked against each other in the port-a-potty lines. Some walked in a masked phalanx, bookended by German shepherds.
One group pushed through crowds in a conga line of camo and Carhartt, holding on to each other as they muscled through a crush of people. “Racist, white supremacists coming through,” one line leader bellowed, laughing, like everyone should know he really isn’t racist.
And on the other side there was this:
Counterprotesters were urged by their leaders to avoid the rally. The Moms (who) Demand Action – the group that worked hard to help flip the state’s legislature from red to blue – didn’t show up with their shirts and signs. The families of people killed in massacres avoided the scene. The rowdies who like to clash with everyone Netflixed and chilled.
That helped keep the peace.
But it also meant there were no counterprotesters there to explain that requiring safety checks that still make owning a gun easier than driving a car are not a wholesale assault on the Second Amendment.
But there was no one there who would listen to that, much less actually consider that, so these people shouted and marched and then everyone went home, which left the Chicago Tribune’s Rex Huppke saying this:
The Monday protest seemed to highlight my many failings as a white man in his late 40s. For example, I have spent most of my adult life thinking it would be, at the very least, rude for a civilian to carry an assault rifle around in public, even if that civilian had the right to do so.
Apparently I was mistaken. Monday’s rally showed that a large adult male holding a high-powered weapon in public while demanding something most people oppose is the purest expression of freedom and patriotism and not, as I previously suspected, a selfish display aimed at making others feel threatened and uncomfortable.
How I could be so wrong is beyond me.
Jeff Hulbert, of a Maryland group called Patriot Picket, which describes itself as “Defenders of Liberty and the 2nd Amendment,” described Monday’s protest to the Washington Post: “This is the Woodstock of the 2nd Amendment.”
Now I’ve missed Woodstock twice.
And then there’s this:
The other fundamental error I made was not realizing that the views of a small number of predominantly white, male gun worshippers should take precedent over everyone else’s view.
Democrats took control of the state legislature and the governor’s office on a platform of tougher gun laws.
A September Washington Post-Schar School poll found 88% of Virginians support expanding background checks and 82% support “red flag” legislation. The poll also showed that more than 80% of Republicans, Democrats and independents support universal background checks.
Some of that thinking might have been spurred by actual data. The gun-control advocacy group Gun Violence Archive reported Monday that in the first 20 days of the new year, there have been: 763 gun deaths; 1,427 gun injuries; 28 children ages 11 and younger shot; 150 kids and teenagers ages 12 to 17 shot; 15 police officers shot; and 14 mass shootings.
Just Sunday night, two people were killed and 15 wounded when a gunman fired at a line of people waiting outside a bar in Kansas City, Missouri, to celebrate the Super-Bowl-bound Kansas City Chiefs’ victory.
But in the face of overwhelming evidence that America has a violence problem exacerbated by readily available firearms, and that the clear desire of most Americans is to see tighter restrictions on firearms, Monday’s Virginia rally showed that neither of those things should matter to white men who like guns.
And then there’s this:
To better fall in line with the examples set by these pro-gun protesters, I put together a to-do list:
Stop being a liberal weenie and recognize that, as a white man in America, I am the victim. (This can be applied to anything that isn’t handled in the exact way I want it to be handled, be it gun control, impeachment, the #MeToo movement, political correctness…)
Begin to fear everything EXCEPT gatherings of thousands of predominantly white men carrying large and intimidating firearms in public spaces.
Purchase an unnecessarily large and intimidating firearm and then get mad that I can’t purchase more unnecessarily large firearms faster.
Wear camouflage in places where it makes me stick out rather than blend in, like on the streets of a state’s capital city on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Equate my right to protest while carrying an unnecessarily large, intimidating firearm to all other forms of protest in which people don’t carry large firearms, and refuse to acknowledge the difference.
Speak endlessly about my love of freedom and democracy while ignoring any outcomes arrived at freely and democratically that get in the way of me purchasing more firearms and carrying them wherever I want.
Respect the strength and patriotism of thousands of white men carrying firearms through the streets while not admitting that I might have a wholly different opinion if those firearm-carrying men were predominantly nonwhite.
Hopefully this list will get me more “in sync” with the Virginia protesters.
That might do the trick:
If I read Monday’s rally right, I’m entitled to be well-armed and unreasonable.
Aren’t we all?