One of the core principles underlying America’s representative system of government is the idea that ordinary citizens can be trusted to exercise our inalienable, God-given rights.
For thousands of years, princes, potentates, and evil dictators of all stripes have asserted a “divine right” or the “mandate of heaven” to rule. They demanded that their subjects entrust them with absolute authority to do what they thought best, supposedly guided by God, and insisted that the people should just shut up and obey.
We’ve changed the titles, but there are countless politicians in America today who act as though they think they’ve been divinely set above us.
At the center of the idea of democracy — of self-rule — is rejection of the idea that those in power must be accorded unbridled trust. With democracy comes a healthy lack of trust for those in public office. History is packed with examples of authority figures, from emperors and kings all the way down to petty functionaries, abusing their power at the expense of ordinary citizens.
In the United States, we select a citizen for president based significantly on trust — but that trust is inherently limited, based largely on shared principles or ideals. Moreover, those who vote against the winning candidate will state with at least equal fervor that they do not trust the person who occupies the Oval Office.
This lack of trust is clearly reflected in the country’s founding documents. The Declaration of Independence states that our rights precede government — indeed, that they come directly from “our Creator” — and that government only derives its legitimate powers from consent of “the governed.” Thus the Constitution begins with the assertion that “We the People … ordain and establish” the government, and is riddled with mechanisms designed to limit the concentration of power in any given individual or group.
Yet, at the center of the contemporary debate over firearms ownership is an unspoken assumption by those opposed to private firearms that only the government is to be trusted with full access to weaponry, plus the means to surveil (and hence target) the citizenry, and that only their authorized representatives — police officers, federal agents, and soldiers — can keep us safe. Meanwhile, private citizens — the ones for whom the government ostensibly works — are not to be trusted with weapons even though we are the ones on the spot when things go bad.
It’s practically a truism that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” as Wayne LaPierre has famously stated. After all, the police are good guys with guns (and of course they are a lot more). But they cannot be everywhere all the time, and in fact they are typically not present when a bad guy with a gun appears.
This fact gets to the heart of the biggest issue in gun control versus gun rights and even the issue of the limits of government itself: whom to trust? Those who prefer not to trust individual Americans seem to believe that law enforcement officers are the only ones who can be allowed to carry guns in public — despite factual evidence demonstrating, for example, the minuscule number of felony crimes committed by concealed carry permit holders (at about 1/6 the rate of law enforcement).
But in many parts of the country, corrupt elitists remain determined to disarm ordinary citizens, despite the Second Amendment guarantee of an individual right to bear arms. Hence we have a patchwork of rules across the nation that makes it almost impossible for some citizens to exercise one of their fundamental God-given rights. This has proven downright dangerous in places where violent rioters have effectively taken control of the streets, yet would-be first-time gun buyers are effectively prohibited from acquiring weapons to protect their families and businesses.
It can sensibly be argued that the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment precisely because they trusted the citizens of these United States far more than they trusted any future government. This topic was specifically discussed by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers.
Perhaps most compelling are Madison’s writings in Federalist #46, (January 1788): “Americans possess [the advantage of being armed] over the people of almost every other nation,” observing that in Europe, outside the context of large standing armies commanded by the sovereign, “the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Today, we find that the average citizen trusts public officials with firearms. But when a policeman, a federal agent, or a soldier takes off his or her uniform, underneath we find simply another citizen. So is our trust based on assumptions about training in the use of weapons? Do we really trust the police and other officials with firearms solely because of their training? That can’t be the case, because there are plenty of military veterans who are highly trained in handling weapons, but are still severely restricted from carrying in many public places including on their own bases.
Some may ask who are the “Good Guys” — who are the people we can trust? Alexander Hamilton posed the same question in Federalist #29, all the way back in January, 1788: “Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens?”
It should be obvious that American citizens can be trusted to exercise our inalienable rights: we are the good guys; we are the ones who select the government; indeed, we are the government. We the People…
(Tony Shaffer is a retired senior intelligence operations officer and President of the London Center for Policy Research.
Ted Nugent is an award-winning musician and writer, with numerous best-selling books including “Ted, White and Blue: The Nugent Manifesto,” “God, Guns & Rock ‘n Roll,” and “Kill It & Grill It.” )