An old joke tells how various newspapers would report the end of the world. The New York Times says: “World ends: Story and analysis on page B11.” The Wall Street Journal’s version: “World ends: Markets take a beating.” USA Today runs with: “World ends: Full color pullout, state-by-state highlights inside.” And the Washington Post? “World ends: Women and minorities hardest hit.”
Despite its promise of destruction, people are strangely attracted to the idea of the apocalypse, because the end of the world as we know it carries with it the possibility of a new, even a perfect world taking its place. Most of us, however, are modest enough to leave such an awesome project in God’s hands, and have limited ourselves to making relatively minor improvements as opportunity allows.
No such restraint is seen with the totalitarian Left. Its drive to “fundamentally transform” the present world, and its confidence in its own ability actually to bring a perfect world into existence, have led it into prodigious campaigns of destruction that brought none of their promised benefits. Instead they left the 20th century drenched in blood.
But even with that sobering record, the Left remains indefatigable. Today, Item One on its target list appears to be the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Bill of Rights, it seems, is no longer sacred to the Left. Instead, they hold dear a faith in the proposition that its enemies are the old white men of organizations like the NRA and the GOP, and its grateful beneficiaries are primarily women and minorities.
When the Left’s drive for gun control comes into conflict with its solicitude for women and minorities, this can bring on something called “cognitive dissonance.” That’s what happened the other day on “The View.” Condoleezza Rice, the remarkably level-headed former Secretary of State, ventured into that left-wing lioness’ den and said this:
Let me tell you why I’m a defender of the Second Amendment. I was a little girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, in the late ’50s, early ’60s. There was no way that Bull Connor and the Birmingham police were going to protect you. And so when white night riders would come through our neighborhood, my father and his friends would take their guns and they’d go to the head of the neighborhood, it’s a little cul-de-sac, and they would fire in the air if anybody came through. I don’t think they actually ever hit anybody, but they protected the neighborhood. And I’m sure if Bull Connor had known where those guns were he would have rounded them up. And so, I don’t favor some things like gun registration.
The panelists and the studio audience at “The View” are known for greeting expressions of left-wing opinion, no matter how ignorant or bigoted, with enthusiastic laughter and applause. But Condi’s challenge to such opinion shut their mouths for a moment. Good work, Madam Secretary.
I can testify from my own experience—as a deteree—that gun ownership has a restraining influence on crime. When I met the woman I would marry, she was living in a bad part of town. Its dangers weren’t imaginary; she showed me the greasy prints left by the nose and forehead of a prowler she found looking in her kitchen window, and she told me how she ran to the bedroom, got her .38-caliber revolver and confronted the man, scaring him off her property.
She kept that pistol, loaded, under her pillow, even though she had kids in the house, and (for a time, at least) even after she moved in with me.
Later, when our marriage was breaking up, we argued frequently and bitterly, telling each other the cruelest things we could think of. But I never, ever struck her. That wasn’t just because I was brought up to believe that any man who hits a woman is a coward. It was also because I knew she had an equalizer in the house: that loaded 38.
My wife and I never made the 10 o’clock news. Our kids weren’t involved in any gun accidents, nor were we involved in any domestic shooting. And at least in part because she had a gun at hand, she was never in the news as a victim of intruder rape or domestic violence, either.
Our experience bears out one of the points Professor John Lott makes in his book More Guns, Less Crime: The vast majority of household firearm use is defensive, effective, nonlethal and unreported. (In my wife’s case, she didn’t even brandish her pistol at the prowler; she had it tucked behind her back as she scared him away.) Because most people defending themselves don’t want to harm anyone needlessly, it’s quite rare for them to actually open fire. When they do, it makes news.
So much for the Left’s factoid that a gun is more likely to harm a family member than an intruder.
What about the other element of Ms. Rice’s women-and-minorities twofer? Her story speaks for itself, and many gun defenders have made similar points about the racial aspect of gun control. I don’t have anything new to add to them. I can, however, offer a couple of older items that tend to underline the value guns may have for women and minorities.
The engraving at the top of this post could well be titled “The Equalizer.” It appeared in the National Police Gazette on Jan. 28, 1882. In their book The American West, historians Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg comment that the Gazette “failed to name the time and place in which the lady editor warded off the ruffian who would have had at her with a bull whip, but that it actually transpired can scarcely be doubted. Wives of frontier editors temporarily incapacitated by minor shootings or other occupational mischance often took their husbands’ places on the copy desk.”
Another vivid image from the Wild West calls to mind the series of magazine ads the National Rifle Association used to run, ads that featured gun-toting celebrities ranging from Charlton Heston to Chuck Yeager to Roy Rogers, who all declared, “I’m the NRA.”
Add Nat Love to that roster. Born in a Tennessee slave cabin in 1854, Love headed west in 1869 and became one of the many black cowboys whose existence Hollywood has largely overlooked. For him, no less than for Chuck Heston, the possession of firearms was a key to freedom. Love received his first weapon along with his first ranching job, for use against rustlers and hostile Indians. In his memoirs, he wrote that it was:
absolutely necessary for a cowboy to understand his gun and know how to place its contents where they would do the most good. Therefore I in common with my other companions never lost an opportunity to practice with my .45 Colts. … In time I became fairly proficient and able in most cases to hit a barn door providing the door was not too far away, and was steadily improving in this as I was in experience and knowledge of the other branches of the business which I had chosen as my life’s work and which I had begun to like so well. … I gloried in the danger, and the wild and free life of the plains.
Even as federal troops enforced emancipation in the South, the cattle culture was changing race relations in the West, with white and black ranch hands sharing duties, dangers, and recreation. In The Black West, historian William Loren Katz notes that as many as 25 percent of the early cowboys were black, and he relates that when Abilene, Kansas—beset by riotous Texas trail hands celebrating their cattle drive paydays—built a stone jail to house the rowdies its marshals brought in, the jail’s first inmate was black. “His trail crew were so infuriated by his arrest,” Katz writes, “that they shot up the town and staged the first jailbreak on Abilene’s new prison to rescue their buddy.”
That incident actually tells more in favor of gun control than against it. Abilene and the other towns at the northern end of the cattle trails found it necessary to forbid the cowboys from bringing their guns into town. The Second Amendment had nothing to say about that, for (as everyone back then understood) the amendment acts only on the federal government, not on the cities and states. The famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place because the Clantons defied Tombstone’s ordinance against going armed in town and the Earps undertook to enforce it.
Cowboys bellying up to the bar with six-guns strapped to their hips—that image comes from the movies, not from history. The idea of people packing heat in their daily lives seemed strange even to the cowboy philosopher himself, Will Rogers:
I see a lot of men are advocating letting everybody carry guns, with the idea that they will be able to protect themselves. In other words, just make civil war out of this crime wave.
The crime wave Rogers spoke of has since been eclipsed, but it was real enough. He experienced the Roaring Twenties and was still living when John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde rose and fell. He personally interviewed Al Capone, but then decided not to write up the interview, lamenting: “What’s the matter with an age when our biggest gangster is our greatest national interest?” My point is that Rogers saw something other than concealed-carry laws as the key to bringing us out of that benighted age:
Of course, the best way out of this crime wave would be to punish the criminals, but, of course, that is out of the question! That’s barbarous, and takes us back, as the hysterics say, to the days before civilization.
What kind of punishment is endlessly condemned by “the hysterics” as barbarous and uncivilized? Why, capital punishment, of course. So let me echo Rogers and finish, once again, with my own version of Carthago delenda est.
Whatever your position may be on gun control, if you want to see fewer Americans murdered, start hanging murderers.