Self-Defense and the Lesson from the Battles of Lexington and Concord

By Lawrence Samuels

We all want to see the killing of innocent people by gun violence stopped. The fatal shooting of 17 high school students in Parkland, Florida was a real tragedy. But although there are many possible solutions to prevent such horrific acts, we must bear in mind the historical significance of gun ownership in America. The reason for the Founders’ emphasis on the right of citizens to possess guns heralds back to the battles at Lexington and Concord. A large contingent of British troops marched into the Massachusetts countryside to confiscate guns, ammunition and even some cannons from the people. The colonists refused to back down, believing that the confiscation of their weapons meant tyranny. This incident provoked the colonists to take up arms against Britain, their own country of origin, motivating them to establish a free nation.

Such liberal concepts are embedded into the American DNA. Many American states still have long-standing laws calling for every able-bodied man to own a gun to defend the country from domestic or foreign threats. This attitude epitomized the view that the people are the army. This anti-militarist concept was a popular American tradition, which prevented our government from establishing a standing army during most of its history. Americans vehemently opposed a standing army under the classical liberal concept that a big state and military was anathema to liberty.

Our nation was conceived in liberty, but unfortunately only 20-30 percent of the world’s population are now considered free. Most nations are plagued with dictators, kings, madmen or pseudo-democracies with rigged elections. Freedom of choice has become a rare commodity under authoritarian and abusive regimes that oppress and slay their own citizenry. Political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel estimated that up to 272 million citizens were killed by their own government (“democide”) during the twentieth century, mostly through state-sponsored famines, genocides, concentration camps, gulags, and extrajudicial executions.

There can be no excuse for killing innocent civilians, but the really horrific numbers for such atrocities are found exclusively in authoritarian nations that disallow people the democratic right to defend themselves with weapons. One of the best examples occurred in Switzerland during World War II.

In 1940 a large German army camped at Switzerland’s doorstep, preparing to invade. The Swiss had no standing army, only a people’s army of reservists. But under their “porcupine approach” to self-defense, millions of citizens in reserve units stiffened to deter foreign invaders. When the National Socialists realized that almost every man in Switzerland was armed and a marksman, they backed off and invaded France, which had a much larger army than the Third Reich. Switzerland is about the only nation in Europe which allows their citizens the right of self-defense.

A determined and self-armed citizenry of 4 million halted the invasion of a Nazi army of more than 4 million soldiers. This is why the second Amendment was put into the Bill of Rights. The right to self-defense, even against your own government, should it become despotic, is why America still retains much of her freedom and prosperity.