In the discussion of gun laws that has followed the unfortunate events in Colorado, we once again see a lack of general appreciation for the founders’ reasoning that underlies our second amendment. On the one side, we have folks who think that the second amendment is about hunting deer and maybe having a handgun for personal protection. On the other hand, we have folks who in an attempt to hold true to the founders’ legacy are a bit too quick to envision an asymmetric resistance against a future tyrannical government. Neither side really captures the case that makes the continuation of the second amendment critical to our nation.
The real exemplar is to be found in the 1992 Rodney King riots. The government, i.e. the LAPD made a decision to pull all units from patrol, leaving the Koreatown neighborhood defenseless. The Korean-American community was only able to protect themselves because of their second amendment rights. Here we see the real value of the second amendment. If the government acquires a complete monopoly on the protection of the population, then that same government acquires a new degree of coercive political power; they can simply withhold police or military resources based on discriminatory or political motives.
No, it is not realistic to expect that armed individuals can or should maintain any degree of parity with the military. But is it perfectly reasonable to allow that a business owner may maintain ample defenses against such threats as may be foreseeable. Likewise, it is reasonable to allow that ranchers along our southern border might find it necessary to maintain sufficient defenses to counter Mexican drug gangs in the event that our government is negligent in its responsibilities.
It is much easier for a tyrannical government to exercise its ability to arbitrarily withhold police or military power than it is for it to turn that power directly against the citizenry. That is why we must not lose sight of the importance of allowing and enabling adequate self defense.