I have a few things to say about the debate over gun control. I probably won’t add much to the conversation, but I am moved to speak because of a conversation I had with a friend that we met while we were on our mission in Paris. My friend has a completely different outlook on society and government, having grown up in New Zealand. In a few discussions with her I have come to realize that there is something unique about the American psyche when compared to the rest of the world. I think for people to understand the American attitude towards gun control, it is necessary to understand why Americans are different than the rest of the world. Before I proceed, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am an American, and that even though I present the following principles somewhat from a third party perspective, I don’t disown them. They do not represent my personal ideal, but I recognize them as being necessitated by the same compromise that inspired the constitution – the compromise between the principles of Zion and the terrestrial principles of this world.
In seeking this understanding of the American psyche as it pertains to gun control, I think we can keep it simple – the case stands largely on 3 legs. We need to start with our history, and I think we really only need focus on two high points in that history – two of the three legs. First, the United States was born of probably the most significant armed revolution in the history or the world. This revolution would not have been possible if not for the arms held by the citizens. Following the revolution, when the U.S. Constitution was adopted, it included many safeguards against the oppression of liberty on the part of the government. Then, when the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, was formed very soon after, the second of these amendments stated the following:
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.
The intent of this amendment is clearly, in my mind, based on the belief that, if the citizenry is armed, the government will be restrained in its tendency toward repression of the people, and that at no time should that right to bear arms – whatever arms they choose – be restricted in any manner whatsoever.
The other point of history – the second leg – that I think is critical to understanding the American attitude toward gun ownership is World War II. There is little debate, especially among Americans (and we are talking about the American attitudes), that, during World War II, the United States saved the world from the totalitarian regimes of Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia. The reason this is so significant is that in each of these countries, the citizenry was disarmed before the offending regime took over (although perhaps less so in Japan – where I don’t think the citizenry was ever “armed” – the armed class was already in existence). The result was that tens of millions of lives were destroyed by these regimes, not only as a result of the war, but also of the genocide that was inflicted on the countries’ own populace. Therefore, from the American point of view, these countries fell subject to their totalitarian regimes at least partly because of gun control measures, and then proceeded to threaten the whole world with their evil designs. The cost in lives and resources was staggering. The world was changed forever.
As the third point, I would introduce a principle that I think most Americans understand based on intuition and experience, even if they reject the confirmation that came through the Prophet of the Restoration, Joseph Smith. In 1838, Joseph Smith received a revelation from Jesus Christ that states this principle with great eloquence:
We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. D&C 121:39
When we combine the two lessons learned from our history with this truth about the nature of men, non-Americans might better understand why Americans believe that gun ownership is the only thing that stands between them and the unrelenting nature of men to seek after power and control over other men. They also have a deeply ingrained memory of and appreciation for the many who have sacrificed and died preserving national and individual liberty from the persistent onslaught of this nature and its destructive result.
Many who argue for gun control say that they only want to control assault weapons – but this same fear of man’s tendency toward control suggests to us that once such controls have been put in place, there will be nothing to stop the gradually increasing encroachments until all gun ownership is illegal. There are already cities within the US where such is the case. According to the text and, I believe, the spirit of the second amendment mentioned above, we have already violated the constitution. In other words, in my mind, “shall not be infringed” means no control at all!
Having stated these basic premises upon which the American attitude concerning gun control is built, I would like to look briefly at the basic arguments for both sides. Gun control advocates claim that in countries where guns are outlawed, gun deaths have gone down and that if guns are outlawed, anyone owning a gun is a criminal. Guns will therefore be more conspicuous and harder to get, and there will be less likelihood that a crazed individual will go “postal” and kill a bunch of people. My friend pleads emotionally that if lives can be saved, we have the moral duty to set aside our “fear of government” and surrender our guns willingly. It is difficult to argue with that. Every life is precious and of infinite value, and it is easy to justify that sacrificing gun ownership is well worth the lives that will be saved. The counter argument, in my mind, goes something like this:
Liberty comes with a price, and sometimes that price is high. Sometimes it even includes horrendous results at the hands of people abusing that liberty. However, surrendering individual liberty to protect ourselves against those who do not use it responsibly is not the answer.
Governmental authority is, by its very nature, based on force.
If guns are denied the common citizen, the result will undeniably be that there are two groups of people – those who have guns (the government), and those who do not (the citizenry); those who can protect themselves and those who cannot; those who use force, and those who cannot.
When this happens, the second group is subject to the benevolence of the first group for their safety – a benevolence that we have already established is not guaranteed (re: D&C 121:39).
Therefore, the only protection that the individual or the citizenry have against the evils of conspiring (or insane) men is either force or divine intervention. This will always be true until Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom on the earth; when the government shall be upon his shoulders. As much as Americans like to talk about being a religious country, they as a whole have nowhere near enough faith to simply allow the Lord to protect them from the unrighteous use of force; from those who would exercise unrighteous dominion in all spheres of human existence. In the absence of faith sufficient to rely totally on the Lord, they put their faith in their guns largely as a symbol – not only of their ability to protect themselves, but of their overall commitment to liberty itself.
It is obvious that handguns, rifles and shotguns, even the evil AR-15 are never going to be effective against tanks, bombs, and jet fighters, should the government choose to exercise their power against its own citizenry. I suggest therefore that, realistically, our protection against any future oppression of government is the honor of the individual soldier in the military. I further suggest that the spirit of independence and self-sufficiency that imbues the American soul, that is so ingrained in those who haven’t yet surrendered to the “take care of me” attitude that seems to be growing every day among people the world over, is the same spirit and honor that would inspire the military, the individual soldier, to stop short of subjugating their fellow citizens – to mutiny before they would so egregiously violate the rights of their fellow citizens. I maintain that, if Americans were to surrender the symbol of that spirit – their firearms – they would eventually lose the spirit entirely, and in doing so they would somehow surrender the last true bastion of protection in the world against tyranny. Liberty would become a gift of the nanny state rather than a God-given right!
Imagine with me a world where the only entity that has the ability to exercise force is the government; a world where the government is run by men who we know have it in their very nature to “exercise unrighteous dominion” as soon as they get a little authority, and where the citizens of this world are totally reliant upon the benevolence of those who are able to exercise this force. This, my friends, is Satan’s world. I therefore propose that gun ownership in America is not so much about countering force with force as it is about countering “the evil designs of conspiring men” with an unconquerable belief that liberty is God-given, and therefore priceless. I have come to realize that this gun control battle is not only an American fight, it is a fight for the whole world. We Americans seem to be standing alone, declaring before the rest of the world that if we surrender our guns, we have surrendered the fight – not only for the liberty of nations, but for individual liberty. I am left to conclude that gun ownership stands somehow as the final deterrent against Satan winning the battle for the agency of man. Tragically, those who have died recently are casualties not only at the hand of citizens gone insane, but of the eternal war for the agency of man. I lay their deaths at Satan’s feet. He is the source of this evil. The answer, however, is not to submit to his insidious plan, but to recognize the evil behind it, and battle the evil itself, whether it be with equal force, with words of education, understanding, and love, or with divine intervention. Increased gun control is a short-term solution that will ultimately cost more lives and souls than all the mass murderers throughout our history.