"Dumb" guns won America's freedom

By Mitchell McConnell
web posted April 17, 2000

Each year around this time, the citizens of Massachusetts and Maine are treated to a unique holiday, Patriot's Day, celebrated on April 19 in honor of the battle against the British on Lexington Green in 1775. For those of you who have forgotten your history, the British General and Military Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Gage, was ordered to destroy weapons and gunpowder which were being stored in Concord. At midnight on April 19, hundreds of British troops left Boston for Concord to fulfill this mission. It was also at this time that Paul Revere made his famous "midnight ride" to warn the colonists of the British approach.

By dawn, the British troops had arrived at Lexington Green, where they were met by armed citizens (otherwise known as militiamen) led by their Captain, John Parker. Despite many clashes with the colonists, up to this time the British had not suffered any loss of life from armed confrontations. This morning, however, a shot was fired (no one can be sure from which side) and the British fired into the militiamen, killing 8 and wounding 10 more. At this point, the militia retreated and avoided open conflict, but the first battle of the American Revolutionary war had been fought.

The British then continued their march to Concord. When they arrived at the North Bridge, they were met by a larger group of armed citizens who were more prepared to fight. The time, the shot that was fired was "heard 'round the world", and the British regulars were routed by the Concord farmers as they quickly tried to retreat to Boston.

Now, what does this have to do with the current victim-disarmament debates going on almost daily in the media?

Imagine a world in which, when the Concord farmer's Kentucky rifle malfunctioned, he could not pick up and use a fallen colleagues' rifle because it had "personalized" technology to prevent anyone else from using it.

If such technology had existed back then, and had been pushed by the British, do you think that the patriots who fought so bravely would have adopted it and enshrined it into law when they wrote the U.S. Constitution? Although James Madison was a proponent of a strong central government, even he understood (writing in the Federalist Papers, No. 46) that an armed citizenry was the only hedge against a tyrannical one:

To these [the army of a federal government which encroached the peoples liberty] would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.

If the "half a million" citizens hands were tied by being able to use only their own, personalized guns, it is highly doubtful whether any central government would have much cause to fear their organized resistance.

Some of the proposed "smart" gun proposals involve the use of high-tech devices such as short-range radio frequency. Given the relative ease with which government entities could block such frequencies, why shouldn't citizens regard mandated "smart" technology as a potential threat to their Constitutionally-guaranteed rights?

Much of the impetus behind the development of "smart" gun technology is due to cases where law enforcement officers have been killed with their own gun after it was wrested away from them. Backers hope that these deaths could be avoided if no one but the officer could fire his weapon. However much police officers would like to have a way to guarantee their safety in this way, they also need to have 100% reliable, lethal force available when they need it. At the present rate of development, this reliability could take a long time.

So the answer to the question of "smart guns" finally comes down to consumer choice. For law enforcement purposes, or for those with children at home, "smart" gun technology may have a legitimate place. Forcing people to use "smart" gun technology, however, reeks of coercion that borders on the tyrannical. Certainly no group of armed citizens who wished to present a united, armed resistance against government usurpation as described by Madison would choose weapons that bore such a disadvantage. Even police, when faced with a shootout such as the North Hollywood bank robbery in 1997, might choose re-usability over safety.

So, this coming April 19, take a moment to reflect on what the victory at North Bridge in Concord has meant to the entire world, and carefully consider whether Captain John Parker would choose a "smart" gun, or just a working gun.

(c) M. J. McConnell, All rights reserved.

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