http://www.fff.org/explore-freedom/arti ... ve-part-1/
Gun Control: A Historical Perspective, Part 1
by Benedict D. LaRosa
June 1, 1994
Gun control is an issue which never stands on its own. By this I mean that the motives behind it are rarely those expressed by its advocates. There is almost always a hidden agenda.
On rare occasion, those proposing the confiscation of weapons are candid about their motives. Such was the case in Japan in 1588 when the Shogun Hideyoshi disarmed the populace during what came to be called the Great Sword Hunt. He decreed: “The possession of unnecessary implements [of war] makes difficult the collection of taxes and dues, and tends to foment uprisings.”
The motivation behind gun control is much the same today; it’s just that our politicians are not as candid as Hideyoshi.
The Japanese populace has been disarmed ever since.
The Anglo-American tradition is much different. But before I discuss our own heritage, I’d like to tell you a little-known but tragic story of a people who disarmed for the sake of peace.
The story is that of the Roman destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. At the time, Carthage, though defeated and forced to pay tribute to Rome, was not completely disarmed and was still a prosperous city-state. Too prosperous, in fact, for Rome.
Cato, who presided over the Roman Senate, ended every speech, no matter what the subject, with the words: “Besides, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.”
The pretext came when Carthage attempted to defend itself against raids by the Numidians. By treaty, Carthage could not make war without Rome’s consent. The Romans were deaf to pleas from Carthaginian envoys.
When Carthage declared war on Numidia in 151 B.C., Rome in turn declared war on Carthage. Carthage attempted to negotiate her way out of this dilemma. Rome promised to preserve the freedom and integrity of Carthage in exchange for 300 children of the noblest families as hostages, and a promise to obey whatever order the consuls gave. The Carthaginians reluctantly agreed.
Despite this assurance, Rome secretly sent an army and fleet to Utica, a neighbor of Carthage, and then demanded the surrender of all weapons, ships, and a huge amount of grain. When these conditions had been met, and the people and nation of Carthage had been disarmed, the Romans next demanded the populace move 10 miles from the city so that they could then burn it to the ground without hindrance.
The Carthaginan ambassadors argued in vain before the Roman consuls at the betrayal. They had exchanged the means to defend themselves for a promise from their most likely oppressors. Without striking a blow, the Romans had reduced a mighty nation against which they were unable to compete commercially to a defenseless mass of humanity.
When the people of Carthage realized what had happened, they went mad. They dragged their leaders through the streets, stoned and tore them limb from limb. They killed without hesitation those who had advised surrendering their arms. Some wept in the empty arsenals.
With a resolution they should have shown when the crisis began, the Carthaginians reformed their army and attempted to rearm themselves. They demolished public buildings and melted down statues to make the implements of war. In two months of frenzied work, they produced 8,000 shields, 18,000 swords, 30,000 spears, 60,000 catapult missiles and 120 ships!
Carthage resisted the Roman siege for three years. In the end, her preparations were too little, too late. She could not make up for the damage done in surrendering her means to resist years earlier. Once the walls of the city had been scaled, the fighting was street by street without quarter, and the snipers so intense that the Roman commander, Scipio Aemilianus, ordered captured streets to be set on fire and leveled, thereby killing thousands of Carthaginians hiding in the ruins. The slaughter lasted six days.
The city’s population had been reduced from 500,000 to 55,000 during its siege and capture. The survivors were sold as slaves, the city pillaged and then burned to the ground, its soil plowed and sown with salt. All Carthage’s dependencies who had stood by her were destroyed. The city burned for 17 days.
The Romans wanted to teach the world a lesson. They did. Our Anglo-Saxon forefathers learned it well, which is why we still have the tradition of a well-armed citizenry mistrustful of government as a potential oppressor or betrayer.
Armed individuals organized into voluntary home-defense units called militias are not unique to the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Assyria depended on such militias as long ago as 1,000 B.C.
The backbone of the early Greek and Roman armies consisted of highly patriotic, sturdy peasants organized into citizen militias.
In 4th-century India, men in various trades and crafts armed themselves and trained as soldiers. Although kings hired and levied these guild militias, they were treated with suspicion because they tended to usurp the ruler’s power.
The Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages depended heavily upon the guerrilla tactics of home-guard units to assist in repelling invaders.
In Europe, it was local militias which first confronted the Viking raiders. And it was the English militiamen at the Battle of Hastings who initially broke William the Conqueror’s left wing, though the battle was eventually lost.
In 11th-century China, the expense of maintaining a large standing army against constant threats of invasion drove the emperor to rely instead on conscript militias for border and local security. This allowed him to reduce his standing army by half while increasing the men under arms seven times.
It is, however, the 13th-century English longbowmen, many of whom were yeomen militia, to whom we trace the modern concept of a well-regulated militia. At a time when the rest of Europe was moving from feudal levies to mercenary forces, England and, a little later, France relied heavily upon yeomen militias.
During the 15th century, the French used militia forces to neutralize marauding bands of mercenaries between wars.
It was masses of popular militias which saved Muscovy in 1612 from Polish and Swedish invaders.
Militia forces were used throughout Europe during the Middle Ages as primary defense forces, to complement regular or mercenary troops, and in law-and-order roles. In fact, the rank of private comes from the 16th century, when individuals who provided their own arms and equipment contracted to serve as private soldiers amongst feudal levies.
The early British colonists, imbued with the English distrust for standing military establishments as a threat to civil liberties, incorporated the tradition of the citizen-soldier. In 1636, the first militia unit, the North Regiment of Boston, was formed, followed two years later by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, the oldest American military unit in existence.
One of the first acts of Parliament following the accession of William and Mary to the throne of England as a result of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 was to restore the old constitution with its provision that every man may arm for self-defense.
In 1760, Britain began adopting mercantilist policies toward her American colonies. By 1768, these had produced such hardships and a reversal of the previous prosperity that British troops had to be sent to suppress riots and collect taxes.
Between 1768-1777, the British policy was to disarm the American colonists by whatever means possible, from entrapment, false promises of safekeeping, banning imports, seizure, and eventually shooting persons bearing arms.
By 1774, the British had embargoed shipments of arms to America, and the Americans responded by arming themselves and forming independent militia companies.
On the night of 18 April 1775, General Gage, Governor of Massachusetts, dispatched several hundred soldiers of the Boston garrison under the command of Major Pitcairn to seize the arms and munitions stored by the illegal colonial militias in Concord.
When Pitcairn encountered the Minutemen on the Lexington common blocking his way, he demanded that they throw down their arms and disperse. Although willing to disperse, the Minutemen were not willing to surrender their arms. The rest is history.
Three days after the British retreat from Concord, General Gage refused to allow Bostonians to leave the city without depositing their arms and ammunition with a Selectman at Faneuil Hall, to be returned at a suitable time after their return. When the citizens of Boston foolishly complied, Gage seized the arms and refused to permit their owners to leave the city. (“Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms,” July 6, 1775.)
The news of Gage’s seizure of the arms of Bostonians not engaged in hostilities and rumors of British troops sailing from England to seize the arms of the colonists swept the colonies.
The colonists considered these actions a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed right to have and use arms for self-preservation and defense, as indeed they were.
In 1777, William Knox, Under Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs, advocated for the American colonies the creation of a ruling aristocracy loyal to the Crown, the establishment of the Church of England, and an unlimited power to tax. To prevent resistance to these measures, Knox proposed disarming all the people:
The Militia Laws should be repealed and none suffered to be re-enacted & the Arms of all the People should be taken away, & every piece of Ordnance removed into the King’s Stores, nor should any Foundry or manufacture of Arms, Gun-powder, or Warlike Stores, be ever suffered in America, nor should any Gunpowder, Lead, Arms or Ordnance be imported into it without License; they will have but little need of such things for the future, as the King’s Troops, Ships & Forts will be sufficient to protect them from danger.
We hear the same argument today. You don’t need arms for your own protection. The police and military will protect you. The question is, who will protect us from the protectors?
This is part one of a two-part essay and is based on a speech Mr. LaRosa gave at the Texas Libertarian Party Convention in San Antonio, Texas, on June 9, 1990. Reprinted by permission. For a reprint of this essay in pamphlet form, send $2.00 to Benedict D. LaRosa, 13423 Blanco Road, #181, San Antonio, TX 78216.
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Gun Control: A Historical Perspective, Part 2
by Benedict D. LaRosa
July 1, 1994
Let’s look at a few recent examples in history of armed and disarmed populaces.
A shining example of the former is Switzerland. Like America, Switzerland won its independence in a war fought by armed citizenry. Since independence in the 14th century, the Swiss have been required to keep and bear arms, and since 1515, have had a policy of armed neutrality. Its form of government is similar to the one set up by our founders — a weak central government exercising few, defined powers having to do mostly with external affairs and limited authority over internal matters at the canton (state) and local levels.
The Swiss boast that they have the weakest central government in the West. They feel a strong central government weakens citizen initiative and individual responsibility. I wonder where they got that idea!
A Swiss publication states, “The Swiss do not have an army, they are the army.” The eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith considered Switzerland the only place where the whole body of the people were successfully drilled in militia skills. As far back as 1532, Machiavelli commented in his book The Prince , “The Swiss are well armed and enjoy great freedom.”
Gun ownership is a matter of community duty, for the Swiss consider national defense too important to be left to professional soldiers or those who join the army to learn civilian job skills.
Every able-bodied male from about age 21 receives 17 weeks of military training, and for the next thirty years engages in decreasing increments of mandatory training amounting to about one year of direct military service. He then serves on reserve status until age 50 or 55. Enlisted men take home automatic-assault rifles and officers their pistols, ammunition, and necessary equipment and supplies. Voluntary marksmanship training is common. Almost anyone can purchase surplus machine guns, antiaircraft and antitank weapons, howitzers, and artillery pieces, as Americans could at one time. Yet the crime rate is so low, statistics aren’t even kept.
In 1978, the Swiss refused to ratify a Council of Europe Convention on Control of Firearms. Switzerland was then pressured by other European governments to adopt a law barring foreigners from purchasing guns in Switzerland which they could not purchase in their own countries, and requiring a license for Swiss citizens. Outraged citizens forced the central government to abandon any idea of such a law, and the one canton which had enacted similar legislation had it overturned the following year in a referendum.
A popular story at the turn of the century concerned an earlier visit by the Crown Prince and later Kaiser of Germany, Wilhelm Hohenzollern, to view the Swiss militia in training. He supposedly asked the Swiss commander how many men he had under arms. When the commander answered one million, Wilhelm asked what would happen if five million of his men crossed the Swiss border tomorrow. The Swiss commander replied that each of his men would fire five shots and go home.
No one knows whether this had anything to do with the scrapping of the German plan to flank France at the onset of World War I by passing through the northern Swiss lowlands, or of the French plan to attack the German flank through Switzerland, but most Swiss and many historians think it did.
During World War II, Hitler coveted the Swiss gold reserves and needed lines of supply and communications through Switzerland to supply Axis forces in the Mediterranean. An analysis of Switzerland’s well-armed citizenry, mountainous terrain, fortifications, and civil-defense preparations convinced German military planners to forgo an invasion.
The Afghans are a recent example of an armed populace who, though backward and using mostly outdated weapons, drove the Soviet invaders from the country and overthrew a puppet government. You can bet the Afghans don’t believe in gun control.
The U.S. Army troops who perpetrated the Wounded Knee massacre in 1890 first convinced their intended victims to disarm. The villagers at My Lai were unarmed. Throughout history, the greatest atrocities have been inflicted upon the unarmed.
In 1920, the British government disarmed its populace on the pretext of reducing crime. The real reason was the ruling class’ fear of a popular revolution, for the bankruptcy of the British nation which had occurred in 1916 and the staggering casualties suffered in the war had been kept from the British people. By 1919, in the face of massive unemployment and starvation, and expected loved ones not returning, the truth could no longer be hidden.
In retrospect, the fear of a violent revolution was exaggerated. But the crime rate has done nothing but increase since the gun grab.
Since ancient times, the well-armed individual organized into militia units was not only the best method of preventing one noble or chief from gaining too much power, but also the least costly way of using limited manpower to defend the community or tribe.
In today’s technological society, it is still true that the well-armed and trained individual, especially when organized into locally led militia units, is a threat to centralized control.
When a nation’s policy is defensive, militias are generally adequate and successful, as in the case of Switzerland. But our forefathers knew that every nation that disarmed its citizens, and who ceased to depend upon militias for its defense, relying instead upon standing armies, inevitably embarked upon an imperialistic policy abroad and authoritarian rule at home, and eventually destroyed itself.
Machiavelli understood this lesson of history, for he wrote in the early 16th century that it is a “legally armed” citizenry which has kept governments “free and incorrupt. . . . Rome remained free for four hundred years and Sparta eight hundred although their citizens were well armed at the time; but many other states that have been disarmed have lost their liberties in less than forty years.”
Our Constitution is eloquent testimony to the distrust of our forefathers for government and its monopoly on force. Article I, Section 8 of that document authorizes Congress “To raise and support Armies,” limiting appropriations to two years. Yet, the very next clause authorizes Congress “[t]o provide and maintain a Navy,” without restrictions on appropriations. In giving authority to raise and support in one case with funding limitations, but to provide and maintain in the other without funding limitations, shows their distrust for standing armies, navies by themselves not being a threat to liberty. Further in that article, Congress is given authority not to raise and maintain a Militia, but to call it forth to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions as well as to organize, arm, and discipline it. The federal government only has authority to govern that part of the Militia which may be employed in the Service of the United States, leaving to the States the authority to appoint its officers and train its members.
We should take alarm at the 20,000-odd laws across this country restricting the right to keep and bear arms and the recent attempts by public officials and private organizations to further encroach upon this right, for as George Mason observed, over two hundred years ago, “To disarm the people. . . was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
Or as Noah Webster, his contemporary, remarked, “Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed.”
Richard Henry Lee, who first proposed independence at the Continental Congress of 1776, warned that “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
To which we may add the comments of Eldridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence: “Whenever Governments mean to invade the Rights and Liberties of the People, They always attempt to destroy the Militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.”
Since ancient times, weapon control and game laws have been used by ruling elites to dominate populations, prevent effective resistance to their arbitrary rule, and to maintain a subservient labor force. Only those with a license were allowed to hunt, these eventually being restricted to the gentry and those in political favor. Even Blackstone in his Commentaries remarked, “Prevention of popular insurrections and resistance to the government by disarming the bulk of the people . . . is a reason oftener meant, than avowed, by the makers of the forest and game laws.” By mere coincidence, only licensed hunting is legal today even on private property, and hunters are under increasing attack. Could the motivation be the same?
Let’s face it, the only reason for gun registration is eventual gun confiscation. And the only reason behind gun confiscation, is eventual tyranny.
Josh Sugarmann, former communications director of the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, wrote recently in The Washington Monthly : “. . . handgun controls do little to stop criminals from obtaining handguns.” Then why the recent hysterical campaign for gun control? Sugarmann answers this question by stating that he and his associates favor gun control not to disarm criminals, but because they believe Americans cannot be trusted with guns.
The question remains, trusted to do what?
Just as with the British ruling elite following World War I, they have kept from the American people the knowledge of the catastrophic effects of their political and economic policies which are coming home to roost, and of the impending authoritarian measures they intend to implement to maintain their rule. They rightfully deduce that enough of us will realize who is at fault as the scarcity of food and work become more acute, and crime more plentiful, and will no longer fall for their divide-and-conquer tactic of shifting the blame for our woes to foreigners making better goods, to illegal aliens taking away our jobs, to drug pushers threatening our national security, and will instead hold them accountable.
This is why the campaign to disarm Americans is so spontaneous, coordinated, and unrelenting. They know that our other rights are unenforceable without the means to secure them. And that Americans who have sought and continue to seek every peaceful means of redressing grievances are about to run out of patience in the face of economic collapse, social upheaval, and increasingly venal and arbitrary legislation and law enforcement.
Just as the British policy banning the importation of arms and ammunition in 1774 alerted our forefathers to the government’s true motives and led them to form militias throughout the colonies, so President Bush’s ban on the importation of certain firearms in March 1989 and other gun-control measures have awakened quite a few patriotic Americans and moved them to join our political ranks.
Ultimately, it was the possession and expert use of firearms which made American independence attainable. Patrick Henry admonished future generations to “Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined.”
Only time will tell whether enough Americans have learned the lessons of history or whether we will suffer the consequences of apathy and unpreparedness.
This is part two of a two-part essay and is based on a speech Mr. LaRosa gave at the Texas Libertarian Party Convention in San Antonio, Texas, on June 9, 1990. Reprinted by permission. For a reprint of this essay in pamphlet form, send $2.00 to Benedict D. LaRosa, 13423 Blanco Road, #181, San Antonio, TX 78216.