L. Neil Smith's

Number 19, December 1, 1996

No, No, They're Not 'Individual' Rights ...

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Richard Slotkin is a popular professor of American Studies at Wesleyan University, in Middletown Connecticut. He has written many books, including Gunfighter Nation, which trace not so much the history of American firearms -- I would not call Prof. Slotkin an historian of engineering -- as the way guns are viewed as talismans in our popular culture.
         At the drop of a hat, he will quote Shane: "A gun is just a tool, Marian, like an axe or a plow. It's only as good as the man who uses it."
         But Prof. Slotkin does not buy into the myth of the Equalizer, of which he says the most popular expression is: "God may have made men, but Samuel Colt made them equal."
         Speaking to a receptive crowd of 50 doyens of the Wadsworth Atheneum ($14 admission for those not certified patrons of the arts) of an early autumn evening this Oct. 22, Prof. Slotkin was quick to assert that this resilient myth "has little to do with the real utility of the handgun. The long gun really won the West"
         Prof. Slotkin at least acknowledges that such esteemed historians as Daniel Boorstin of the Smithsonian Institution praise the affordable, reliable handgun for giving "men of all classes equal access to the use of armed force of compulsion." But he clearly rejects such notions.
         The Second Amendment "does not vest the right to bear arms in individuals, but only in the people as a social collectivity," Prof. Slotkin said, on the occasion of being asked to address the museum's donors in connection with the ongoing exhibit memorializing the legacy of one of the founders of Hartford's industrial prosperity, revolver-maker Samuel Colt.
         Modern vigilantism, Prof. Slotkin asserted, "has two forms, ethnic gangs, and the so-called 'right-wing militias'."
         But these "are not the true militias, which can only be formed by the whole citizenry through legal channels," asserts the good professor, who I am assured is frequently called upon as an "expert" on firearms and the Second Amendment by virtually every TV network you can name.
         Instead, these modern "right-wing militias" only seek to "terrorize people with their automatic weapons," seeking little more than special personal "exemptions to laws requiring school integration, and banning spouse abuse."
         The ample ladies of Hartford nodded in eager agreement with these undocumented calumnies.
         Imagine for the moment that the good professor had asserted the First Amendment "does not vest the right to freedom of religion in individuals, but only in the people as a social collectivity," that pastors of dissident churches and synagogues not chartered by the government are therefore only seeking personal "exemptions to laws forbidding sodomy, devil-worship and infanticide."
         One suspects at least one timid questioner might have asked if the professor had any evidence that members of competing religious denominations not licensed by the government in fact practice ritual child sacrifice and systematic buggery of the altar boys, perhaps even getting around to inquiring what in the name of God he means by a "right of the people" that can only be exercised "by the whole citizenry through legal channels."
         How would the public respond if this character said that we are free to take a majority vote on which newspaper shall be the official state organ, but thereafter the presses of any other broadsheets can be safely smashed by the police without infringing in any way on the First Amendment, since that document "does not vest the right of press freedom in individual writers or publishers, but only in the people as a social collectivity"?
         When George Washington and George Mason formed their Fairfax County Militia to oppose the edicts of both the crown and his agent, the governor of Virginia, through what "proper legal channels" did they gain permission?
          The tone of the Colt exhibit in Hartford, throughout, was one of shamefacedness and unctuous attempts to placate anyone who might take offense, at the nature of Sam Colt's products and even at his gaudy financial success.
         "A system which encourages the unlimited accumulation of wealth ... cannot be expected to produce social or economic equality," said Prof. Slotkin, in disparagement of the unregulated capitalism practiced by Colt and the other founders of American industrialism -- the very engine that made ours the wealthiest and freest nation in the world.
         This constitutes a problem, of course, only if you believe that armed government should enforce "social and economic equality" of outcome, instead of allowing the free market to produce liberty and equality of opportunity -- a different thing entirely.
         My sojourn home to Connecticut was bittersweet. I saw skilled defense-industry artisans keeping busy doing furniture refinishing and working part-time at auction houses. The solution would be to set these skilled machinists to work churning out M-14s for export to Chechnya, there to help the insurgents win their freedom while (as a useful side-effect) keeping the Russian bear distracted from setting its hungry gaze again upon the Baltics, and freedom-loving Poland.
         But no, the citizens of Connecticut are today instructed that their heritage as the Arsenal of Freedom is a shameful thing, that guns are best melted down into manhole covers, and that it is no longer true (if it ever was) that -- a well practiced Militia being necessary to the security of a free state -- the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/ The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

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