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I was wrong

March 5, 2018

Forgive me if this rambles a bit.

In November, 1983, I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard as, of course, an E-1. On November 1, 2006, I became a civilian, retiring as from the United States Navy as an O-3E. While I like to think of myself as occupying a reasoned position regarding the 2nd Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms, I understand that to some people, my reasoned position seems to be somewhat extreme.

I do not care. One of the reasons I do not care is that I was wrong.

Allow me to explain.

I grew up in a household where firearms were always present. They were seen as tools for very specific tasks, just like the implements we kept in the barn or the garage, or both (depending on where we were living at the time). My dad was a printer for many years, as was my paternal grandfather. My mom was a proofreader and one uncle was a press operator. My first jobs were all in newspapers and print shops. It is fair to say there is a sense in which I grew up in and around newspapers and print shops. The result of all this? Both the First Amendment and the Second were very important to me.

As above, in 1983 I joined the USCG. Then, something happened. We started hearing about “cop killer bullets” and the like. Remember, the push was still on at that time to highly regulate or even ban handguns. I started to hear arguments about why civilians should not have handguns and the dangers they posed to everyone. It was noted that handguns were the primary firearms used in the commission of crimes involving guns (that was and remains the case). So, I was told, only certain people should have access to them. Specifically, “those people” were military and law enforcement personnel. This was of great significance to coasties because we were military people who did law enforcement. Because of our training and expertise we could have handguns when we did our jobs. Even better, depending on the nature of the handgun legislation we were assured would pass, we could own them as private citizens. Because of, you know, our training and expertise.

What complete and utter nonsense.

Since those days long ago, I have seen many, many people with neither law enforcement nor military experience out shoot with one or both. I have seen military and law enforcement personnel, including some whose regular job involved weapons, engage in such sloppy disregard for the “4 Rules” that surely Jeff Cooper will come out of the ground — if he ever stops spinning.

More than nonsense, though, it was dangerous. It was dangerous because it suggested that we, those of us in the military and/or law enforcement, were some sort of special class. It suggested we could be trusted with the exercise of a liberty enumerated in the Constitution in a way that should and could be denied the average or typical citizen. It had an allure, an appeal, too. It reaffirmed what we were tempted to think, anyway, to wit that we were somehow special because we wore a uniform and had taken an oath. Essentially, it suggested we were some sort of super citizens.

I came very close to buying it. The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of our station certainly seemed to buy it. Fortunately, the petty officer in charge of our law enforcement training though otherwise. With the Cold War still in full swing, he frequently asked “why don’t we do things this way (“this way” could be any number of things that might have made the law enforcement portion of our jobs safer and easier)? His answer was always the same: “because this is not the Soviet Union” and “the Constitution guides what we do, not what might work better.” Then, he would talk about First Amendment freedoms. Those resonated with me, so I listened when he branched out into discussing the others. I actually listened.

Thank God.

Recently, a retired general (a three star as I recall) spoke on CNN about modern sporting rifles. You may recall he used the term “full semiautomatic.” The term was unfortunate (it suggests the good General’s knowledge does not live up to its billing) but that is not the issue. The issue, from my perspective, is that he seems to think military (and perhaps law enforcement) experience makes some people special and more entitled to exercise a liberty than other citizens. He bought into the lie. And that is far more than unfortunate. It is appalling. It would be no less appalling had it come from a civilian law enforcement officer.

Perhaps the greatest risk to law enforcement and military personnel is this: that we should not only begin to look upon ourselves as special in ways we are not, but that we should look upon those who are not part of our communities with disdain.

Once, long ago, I had started to think that way. I came so very close to stepping over that line. I came so terribly close to violating my oath — to placing my safety above the Constitution I had sworn to support and defend. Over the intervening years I have spent more hours than I can count examining the Constitution and thinking about liberty and what it means to be free. I have come to a conclusion.

Regardless of what one thinks about the First Amendment, the Second, the Fourth or any of the others, this much is true — there are no special classes of citizens who get to legitimately exercise their liberties in ways denied the common/average/typical citizen. The very idea is repugnant to liberty.

I was so very, very wrong.


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