Pro Oratore

This morning I’m going to begin by appealing to the gold standard of pontification, viz. Ciceronian praeteritio: Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns and Ammo who was quoted in the Sunday Times observing that ‘We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment’ and that ‘The time for ceding some rational points is gone,’ claimed self-defense after fatally shooting his Arizona neighbor in an argument. I won’t mention such blatant evidence of gun enthusiasts’ existential volatility, as our ignorance regarding the circumstances of the event renders us unfit to register condemnation.

That being said, I think it is worth our while to consider how much damage we do to the First Amendment by repelling chimerical attacks upon the Second. The following article dwells upon a purported correlation between the embattled mindset epitomized by Venola’s comments and gun manufacturers’ profits. Surely it exists. But this is simply one instantiation of the human propensity to manipulate the body politic for one’s own benefit. Witness Halliburton’s role in constructing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. I doubt we’ll overcome profiteering until we’ve discovered the cure to original sin.

No, what has me concerned is the explicit disavowal of rational conversation. The framers of the Constitution may have conceived of a well-armed militia as a pillar of civil liberty. Their codification of that conception may invest their progeny with an individual right to bear arms. Much more essential to the functioning of a representative democracy, however, is the cultivation of a public sphere that craves consensus through measured dialogue. The federal government possesses an arsenal that far surpasses the pugilistic capacity of the private citizen. But reason and speech are not subject to arithmetical domination. I wager a well-read citizen is a greater check upon abusive power than a well-armed one.

The beleaguered psychosis that leads readers, advertisers, and editors to demand the termination (and in some cases the execution) of a professor of History for his willingness to brook the circumscription of civilian weaponry is not an atavistic manifestation of the Founders’ love for liberty. It is a species of what Churchill identified as the primitive preference for ‘war-war’ over ‘jar-jar.’ It harkens back to the Caning of Charles Sumner more than the Battle of Lexington and Concord. It afflicts extremists of all stripes, particularly during times of great social and political turmoil. Its mitigation becomes imperative upon all loyal republicans.


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