NRA News Commentators Episode 39

“Disarming” with Billy Johnson

Our government isn’t going to disarm us. It can’t. Let me explain why.


We currently live in a constitutional republic. Because of that, our elected and appointed leaders are legally obligated to defend and uphold the Constitution.


Our Constitution currently protects our citizens’ right to keep and bear arms.


There are really only two ways our government could disarm us: They could abandon the Republican principles upon which this country was founded, or the people themselves could willfully disarm.


One way our government could disarm us would be to label us all enemies of the state. Historically, governments have disarmed people because they perceive them to be a threat.


Certainly, our nation has a rich history of disarming its enemies. After World War II we disarmed Japan and Germany. We used this same logic to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003; they were our enemies and we believed they were armed. This is not unique to the U.S. All people justify disarming anyone whom they believe is a threat.


However, our government can never convincingly justify disarming its own people. Our elected officials do not have the power nor the right to label their constituents, as a whole, as a threat. That’s why they can never justify disarming us.


We live in a country with an elected representative government. If our elected representatives argue that we are a threat to them, then they are no longer fit to represent us. Because in that moment, they have taken away the power of our vote and replaced it with the power of their own ambitions. If they believe they must protect themselves from us, they now perceive themselves separate from us. No representative government can ever be separate from the people it represents.


While our government leaders can’t justify forcibly disarming us, they could make the case to the people that we no longer need an armed citizenry. That would require amending the Constitution and eliminating the Second Amendment. For that to happen, we need a serious and comprehensive national discussion about the modern case for, or against, an armed citizenry.


But right now, our elected officials aren’t openly inviting debate about eliminating the Second Amendment. Instead, they are increasingly enacting overly restrictive legislation that effectively makes it impossible to fully enact our rights.


We have a historical precedent for this type of active infringement on constitutional rights via legislation. The late 19th-century Jim Crow laws enacted poll taxes and literacy tests as pre-conditions for voting. Many southern states enacted these rules to specifically disenfranchise African-Americans and freed slaves. At that time, the Constitution gave all men the right to vote. Then the state laws made it prohibitively difficult for blacks, immigrants and poor whites to do so.


We see similar actions today in regards to the Second Amendment. Excessive gun permit fees, may-issue and no-issue concealed carry laws, magazine and gun feature bans and overly burdensome application processes all deter law-abiding citizens from owning and using firearms.


This stifles national debate about the Second Amendment and allows our leaders to hide behind a haze of regulatory and legislative power. It also circumvents the will of the people and subverts the supremacy of the Constitution.


I started the video by saying the government is not going to disarm us, but that’s not entirely true. It would cease to be our representative government if it forcibly disarmed us. Politicians in Washington refuse to engage in fair and honest debate about an armed citizenry and therefore preclude the citizenry from willfully disarming itself. And so, they exploit the powers we’ve entrusted them with by legislating our citizens out of arming themselves.


For all its flaws, for all its troubles, for all its disappointments, we still live in the United States of America. It may not be a perfect representative government, but the ideals upon which it was founded are the most perfect we’ve ever known. It’s our responsibility to uphold those ideals. The burden falls upon those who represent us to protect those ideals—to enact those ideals. But when they don’t, the burden falls on us to demand accountability and public debate.


Billy Johnson: Declining Gun Ownership


Last spring, the New York Times published an article that touted a fou-decade-long decline in gun ownership. This article is often used by gun control advocates to argue that reasonable gun control is being blocked by a small, but vocal minority. It’s based on data from the 2012 General Social Survey that shows gun ownership in the U.S. has declined from 49 percent of households owning a gun in 1973 to 34 percent in 2012.


This argument absolutely baffles me. First, the data is flawed at best, and blatantly misleading at worst. It’s based on self-reported gun ownership, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of smart, law-abiding gun owners aren’t all that inclined to answer “yes” to a survey when asked if they have guns in their homes. Additionally, there are other surveys that contradict the GSS survey. For example, a 2012 Gallup poll reported gun ownership at 43 percent.


Regardless of the problems with the data, there is, I think, a much deeper problem with the argument. We are essentially being asked to agree to limitations on our constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights because less than 35 percent of Americans choose to exercise that right.


What? When did we set usage requirements on our rights?


I’d be willing to bet that a pretty high percentage of Americans have never engaged in a protest. Does that mean we should consider striking the right to peaceably protest from the First Amendment? I mean, people are hardly using it, right?


I don’t think we should ever link debates about the Second Amendment to stats about gun ownership. The Constitution protects the choice of citizens to arm themselves; it does not mandate it. If there is any shockingly low stat that we should include in the debate over violence and gun ownership, it’s this: Let’s talk about how many people in the U.S. actually commit violent crimes each year.


Again, the data is difficult to pin down. Many violent crimes are never reported. And conversely, the same perpetrator could commit several violent crimes, and each get counted as a separate incident. Still, according to the 2012 FBI Crime Stats, there were an estimated 386.9 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2012. Even if we make the unrealistic assumption that each crime was committed by a unique perpetrator, that means that less than 0.4 percent of the population committed a violent crime.


So, less than one-half of a percent of the people in the U.S. perpetrate violent crimes. Certainly, many of those don’t involve a firearm. But even if they did, it still means that less than one-half of a percent of the population is using a gun to commit a violent crime. And yet, we are being asked to agree to more limitations on legal gun ownership – a constitutional right – because less than half a percent of Americans abuse that right.


Let me just summarize this for you. Gun control advocates argue that we should limit one of our rights because less than half the population exercises it, in order to stop the half a percent of the population who might be abusing it. Well, if they call that reasonable, I’m proud to be considered an unflinching, unreasonable gun rights advocate.