Charles C. Cook writes [via ammoland.com]

In the middle of June, a self-described radical Islamist ruthlessly gunned down a room full of Americans in the worst terrorist attack on United States soil since 9/11. In response, the Obama administration joined the usual suspects within the media and inveighed relentlessly against the perpetrator of the crime. It was time, the president said, to get serious in fighting terrorism, and that meant “making it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on assault weapons.” Once again, the AR-15 was under the microscope.

If it seemed a touch peculiar that the president would reserve his most vehement words of condemnation for a firearm, rest assured that it was. But, alas, it was also par for the course. In the eyes of America’s ever-zealous gun-controllers, the AR-15 represents all that is wrong with the right of the people to keep and bear arms, and, indeed, with the country’s culture at large.

In consequence, banning it is imperative not only in the fight against “gun violence,” but as a means by which individualism itself can be checked. Time and time again, those who own AR-15s—or similar—are cast as reactionaries, or bitter clingers, or, worst of all, as full-on terrorists.

Why,” the critics invariably inquire, “are we allowing this supergun and its unbalanced owners to destroy the public peace?”

In pushing back against this rather ignorant way of thinking, I could marshal an almost endless supply of inconvenient facts. I could point out, for example, that despite all of the propaganda to the contrary, the AR-15 is not a “supergun,” a “machine gun,” an “automatic weapon” or an “assault rifle”; that it does not “spray bullets” indiscriminately, as one sees in the movies; that it is owned by a fascinating cross-section of American citizens; that it is not especially powerful, especially when compared to rifles that are primarily used for hunting; and that it is used so infrequently in crimes that the FBI doesn’t even bother to keep statistics.

Speak to any gun store owner and he will tell you that the AR-15 is so wildly popular in large part because it is so versatile. Moreover, I could explain that there are a host of reasons why the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the country.

Among them, that its ergonomic design makes it universally easy to use; that its modular structure renders it simple to repair or to customize; and that its pinpoint accuracy makes it the ideal choice for those who are weaker or lacking in training. But I won’t. For now, at least, I shall leave those arguments to those who are more technically qualified than am I, and focus instead on the principle that is at stake in the debate over the AR-15.

That principle? That Americans are in charge of their representatives, and not the other way around.

In most countries, the regnant political presumption is that the government enjoys unchecked power unless otherwise stated. In America, mercifully, the opposite doctrine applies.

To review the debates that raged both before and after the revolution of 1776 is to learn not only that our forebears thought of government as a means primarily of protecting liberty, but that they did not believe they were obliged to surrender their pre-existing rights when they entered into the compact. It is for this reason that the federal government was given only certain, carefully delineated powers.

It is for this reason that the framers of the Constitution were so keen to impose hard checks on authority. And it is for this reason that, even today, civil society takes on a much greater role in the United States than it does elsewhere.

Ar15 Gun Magazines

All told, there are few better illustrations of this than the Second Amendment—the meaning of which is not at all confusing if one understands the era in which it was written. As the English system of juries was born from a sensible unwillingness to hand full judicial control over to a clique of professional judges, so the right to bear arms came from a general reluctance to put unalloyed trust in the power of the state.

Grudgingly, Americans consented to be guarded by a standing army. But, as a check upon the ambitions of their government and its staff, there would be the militia, which, per George Mason, would be composed of “the whole people, except for a few public officials.”

This arrangement was intended to achieve two crucial ends. The first, Tench Coxe wrote in 1791, was to ensure that there would be a means by which the people could resist should “the military forces which must be occasionally raised” seek to “pervert their power.” The second, as John Locke had confirmed in his Two Treatises, was to affirm that self-defense was an unalienable individual right that “could not be denied the community,” and that to delegate it entirely to Leviathan was a foolish idea indeed.

To the founding generation it did not matter whether the question at hand was the protection of the home or the best insurance against would-be tyrants, the answer was invariably the same. “Who will defend me if things go wrong?” came the inquiry. “You will,” came the answer.

This idea has been cherished throughout American history. In Europe, ostensibly free people are routinely denied the opportunity to take charge of their own defenses on the grounds that the police and the security services can do a better job. In America, by contrast, these organizations have been seen as an addition to—rather than a replacement of—the status quo.

Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently confirmed that the police have “no specific legal duty” to protect individuals from threats. Now, as in the 18th century, the prevailing assumption is clear: At all levels, Americans are responsible for their own security—and if the government can help, that’s a bonus.

All of which, ultimately, brings us back to the AR-15. In my view, there is nothing that better symbolizes the proper relationship between the citizen and the state than a robust right to keep and bear arms.

When one stops to think about it, it makes no logical or constitutional sense for the people’s employees (our politicians) to be permitted to disarm their employers (the voters).

And yet Americans fight constantly to prevent their representatives from doing just that. During heated debates, owners of common rifles such as the AR-15 are asked by those in positions of power, “Why do you need one of those?”—to which the appropriate response, in a voice dripping with suspicion, is first, “Why don’t you want me to have one?”

And second, “If the IRS and the Department of Veterans Affairs need $20 million worth of firearms; and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service needs shotguns, propane cannons and drones; I think I’m on solid ground with my AR, thank you very much.”

Bluntly put, it is impossible to separate out the structure of the American settlement from the scope of the right to keep and bear arms.

If, as many desire, the federal government were to rid the people of the United States of their most commonly owned rifle, it would be ushering in not just a change in the legal status quo, but a profound shift in the balance of power. Crises, as Edmund Burke observed, are perilous for the free.

Those who wish to avoid such a change must thus ensure that their rifles are cast in the correct light. Day in and day out, the gun control movement attempts to represent the AR-15 as being in some way extravagant or outré—as the unlovely corruption of a worthwhile principle. “Sure,” one hears it said, “I believe in the Second Amendment, but that gun just takes it too far.”This, of course, is nonsense. In truth, the AR-15 is the contemporary equivalent of the musket—an everyday gun for everyday citizens. Fundamentally, the AR-15 is democratic. It is the yeoman’s gun; the people’s gun; the Brown Bess of our era.

It is what William Blackstone was referring to when he praised private arms; what George Orwell had in mind when he sought to keep the “rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage;” what Ida B. Wells imagined when she recommended that endangered blacks give a rifle “a place of honor” in their homes. As the standard firearm of its day, the AR-15 does not represent some bizarre over-extension of the right to keep and bear arms. It is the very core of that right.

This being so, it is unsurprising that the AR-15 has played a valuable role in ensuring that the Second Amendment can be enjoyed by everybody. The old line that “God created men, Sam Colt made them equal” hit on a key truth: Namely, that the right to self-defense remains largely theoretical absent the widespread availability of easy-to-use methods to provide for that self-defense, like firearms.

On paper, both a diminutive woman and a 230-pound criminal have precisely the same opportunities to defend themselves. But unless she can find a way of overcoming the natural disparities in strength, that fight will not be a fair one. The AR-15 provides that way.

Black Rifles, Ar15 Assault Weapons

Speak to any gun store owner and he will tell you that the AR-15 is so wildly popular in large part because it is so versatile. Thanks to its smart design, it can be handled without trouble by men and by women, by children and by the elderly, by the able-bodied and by those with disabilities.

Moreover, it can be easily and inexpensively customized to fit any body shape or size, and because its parts are interchangeable, they can be found by the inexpert and fitted without the need for costly tools. Because the media is proudly ignorant on all matters related to the Second Amendment, many members of the general public have come to believe that the AR-15 is unusually “high powered” or that its shooting system functions differently than other commonly used firearms.

That, though, is wholly false. The AR-15 is unusual only insofar as it is usefully protean. Want a gun, but have special needs? There’s an app for that.

Which is to say that our present political contretemps is the product less of the fallout from a specific event, and more of a deep-seated and longstanding philosophical disagreement as to how modern Americans should relate to their government and to each other.

In our cynical, distracted age it can be tempting to perceive the icons of the past as untouchable heroes, or to regard their grand deeds as one might a tall tale in a fading book of fables. But to elevate those who have stepped into the breach is often to do ourselves a disservice—indeed, if indulged too readily, it is to separate us cleanly from our history.

The United States has always been home to people who filled those roles that the government could not, and who proudly took responsibility for themselves and their security. To deprive them of the most effective, most democratic, most popular tool with which they choose to play that role would be a dangerous departure indeed.

Charles C. W. Cooke is the editor of National Review Online.

 

65 Responses to Charles C. W. Cooke: The AR-15 Is The “Musket of Our Time”

    • Agreed, Rusty. Mr. Cooke’s editorial has an appreciated mix of civility, purpose, eloquence and researched attribution I wish I could duplicate when “evangelizing” the non-gunner / disbeliever in individual rights. Definitely a script I’ll study and repeat.

  1. I am not going to pussy foot around the weapon of war attribute any longer. We are at war with the enemies of civilization be they inner city criminal gangs or Muslims. You’re dann right the people need a weapon of war to protect themselves and civilization from enemies forgeign or domestic.

    • We’re also nearly at war with our own government, unfortunately.

      The Second Amendment is intended to protect weapons of war.

    • How can we and the media keep calling a semi – automatic a weapon of war. A full auto M – 16 or full auto AK – 47 would be a weapon of war. The Remington 760 semi – automatic hunting rifle back in the 60’s a weapon of war, think not. The media is getting away with the word assault weapon, calling out the AR – 15. In stead of telling the truth, it stands for Armolite rifle who sold the rights to the rifle to Colt Firearms.

  2. It’s simple, our elected officials want all the power. Remove them from office and warn those who replace them. Do it now.

    • Exactly! Be sure to write your representatives and remind them that they are the employee and WE are their boss.

      • This CAN be done tactfully and diplomatically without pissing them off so they dig-in even deeper; you simply sign your letter/email: “Thank you for your service.”

        • Yes, I agree. In most cases tactfully.
          However, I do think there are situations where tact can be abandoned.

  3. Moreover, it can be easily and inexpensively customized to fit any body shape or size,

    I remember explaining to an anti back in a slave state that I had to buy two rifles instead of one because my wife is 2 feet shorter and 100 pounds lighter than myself and since I couldnt have a collapsible stock to fit us both I had to get two rifles.

    I asked “would you, as an anti, rather put one rifle on the street or two rifles on the street?”
    The response was colorful and unfit for childrens ears. Needless to say I was the monster and needed to be taken out by their “good guys” with guns.

    • If you really want to watch an anti’s head explode, call them evil. Tell them that they want tens of millions of non violent people to be incarcerated for peacefully owning an object they don’t like and they are cowards for sending other people to do their bidding.

      They are rarely told that they (or their position) is evil and they think they own that line of attack. I did this last month with some of my wife’s co-workers. It was incredibly effective as this particular group of clucking hens tried to explain why they were “good people” while I continually pointed out why their beliefs proved otherwise.

      • “Tell them that they want tens of millions of non violent people to be incarcerated for peacefully owning an object they don’t like and they are cowards for sending other people to do their bidding.”

        It’s far more nuanced than that.

        They *hate* gun owners with a passion. They can’t possibly jail all gun owners, but by convicting them of a felony gun charge and taking their right to vote and own a gun, it eliminates the competition in elections.

        By having a felony conviction, it greatly decreases your employability, further dis-empowering you.

        That is the goal, to legally eliminate *you*.

        Cooke has a bunch of other equally powerful articles over at The National Review…

      • “…they want tens of millions of non violent people to be incarcerated for peacefully owning an object they don’t like…”

        Uh, no. That’s never the end-game of disarmerment. The end-game of disarmament is always genocide. The useful idiots of the left may not understand this, but their puppet masters do.

        • I’m engaging with the debbie do-gooders, not with the overlords of a specific party platform.

  4. On my best day luggin an issued M16, in the 80’s & early 90’s, would I think the AR platform would be successful in the civilian market and claimed the common rifle for its citizens.

    • Sometimes certain inventions just end up finding tremendous practical application and widespread appeal. For example the General Purpose military vehicle, aka GP or “Jeep,” the small block Chevrolet which has found application in all sorts of cars, trucks, small airplanes, and boats, etc…

  5. “If the IRS and the Department of Veterans Affairs need $20 million worth of firearms;”

    To add to this… These are paid for by The People. And at least some are likely to be fully automatic. So it’s ok for the Government to spend taxpayer money to purchase firearms for ‘government officials’ (who, at the end of the day, are simply part of ‘The People’ – non-elected persons, actually, technically mercenaries since they are both armed and paid), and not allow ‘The People’ the same opportunities.

  6. IRS – “government officials” I was under the impression this IS not a government agency??? Why are my tax dollars arming a “private” force????? WTF?

  7. Propane cannons? Sign me up! I also hear there is an accessories dealer out there in Arlington.

    • Sadly, a propane cannon is not as cool as it sounds. It’s just a noisemaker to scare birds.

      Personally, I would prefer a device that launched 20-lb propane cylinders. THAT would be a propane cannon worthy of the name.

      • Measure the diameter of your propane tank, go to the closest marine salvage company, and obtain 10 feet of old steam pressure pipe from an old ship. Try to bargain for a piece with a solenoid valve attached already. If not, just weld a mild steel 1/4 inch plate on one end to seal it as a cylinder. Drill three holes in the pipe lengthwise 6 inches apart. Two big 1 small for a spark plug. Measure the interior dia. of these larger holes so they can be threaded and fitted with 1 way valves capable of the highest pressure rating you can afford. Once built, use a grease soaked towel to use as a wad behind your perfectly prepared propane bottle with percussion caps arrayed on nipples fixed to the valve rim on a charge of about a pound of FFF. at the top of the bottle valve that would reliably ignite the powder to achieve bottle destruction and appropriate damage to surroundings upon contact with the target. Load wad around the base of the bottle and lodge it in the barrel leaving about six feet from the breach, forming a propellant cavity. Charge the cavity with acetylene gas til you can detect its emergence from the bore. At that point, inject a small amount of Oxygen into the cavity. Stand well away, and activate the spark to the charge of C2 H2 O2. If the weapon survives and the projectile didn’t explode in the bore, and flew out at least 100m and blew up, then you’ve got a tactical weapon!

  8. So Robert, given Charles C.W. Cooke’s impressive body of work on firearms and the Second Amendment, why do you suppose he and his cohorts at NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE are doing everything in their power to get Hillary elected?

    My theory? They know that if Hillary is elected, she comes after us, the People of the Gun, first — she will need to throw red meat to her supporters, and for her, guns are personal. As you, I believe we’ll come through, but we’re going to take some damage and it’s going to cost us a fortune.

    The shambles of Bill Buckley’s old coalition are betting that in 2020 they can pull themselves back together over the wreckage of the Second Amendment, “See what those crazy Democrats did? You poor misguided gun peckerheads have to support us now!”

    Of course, I’m paranoid…

    Michael B

  9. (1) “Those who own AR-15s are cast as reactionaries, or bitter clingers, or, worst of all, as full-on terrorists.”
    (2) They are thus cast by those who are ignorant about firearms and those who own them and why.
    (3) They are blamed and punished for the acts of madmen, criminals, and terrorists.
    And they are sick and tired of it.

  10. “Grudgingly, Americans consented to be guarded by a standing army. But, as a check upon the ambitions of their government and its staff, there would be the militia,”

    That’s not true. Militia’s were to give the individual States power to deal rapidly with insurrections. The largest impetus for the maintenance of militias came from the Southern states who required local means to deal with slave revolts.

    This was the reason that the 2A is worded as it is. This is also the reason why it perfectly clear that the 2A was written to preserve the individual citizen’s right to keep arms. So while anti-gun people may gleefully point out that the 2A was rooted in slavery, the conclusion that it was guaranteeing the right of everyone of us is unavoidable.

    • Militias served many purposes. Armed response to insurrections was one, but the first militias in the colonies were organized to defend against attacks from Indians and other Europeans.

      In Federalist 46, Madison lays out an argument that can reasonably be summarized with Mr. Cooke’s interpretation that “…as a check upon the ambitions of their government and its staff, there would be the militia.”

      The militia is supposed to serve all of these purposes and more, but of course in the modern day, we’ve abdicated nearly all those roles to “professionals”, and happily allowed our government to claim for itself most of the power and responsibilities that formerly resided with the people.

    • That’s not quite true. The Second has nothing to do with state militias. The “militia” was well-understood at the time as being all able-bodied freemen capable of bearing arms. That is why in writings of the time you will find distinctions made between “the militia” and “select militia.” For example, in the Virginia Ratification debates, you see a distinction between “select militia” and “the militia at large.” That is also why Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper #29, makes very clear that “the militia” is all able-bodied freemen capable of bearing arms and talks about how it is impossible to actually train up and discipline the militia to have the skill level of professional soldiers, because it’s too big. It would require the average working man to do the equivalent of work his daily job and maintain the skill level of a professional soldier.

      So as a proposed solution, he suggests the creation of select corps of militia, that would be able to supplement the militia. He writes that many will disagree with such a suggestion as select militias were highly distrusted by many at the time. They were seen as a way for princes and kings to maintain the equivalent of a standing army on the cheap.

      “Free state” in the Second has to do with the word “state” as a general term referring to a political body. The Founders were well-versed in the studies of various states throughout history that had utilized militia, such as city-states ranging from ancient Greece to Renaissance times to the more modern nation-state. It did not refer to the individual states only.

      • The words “Free State” really, in my view, do not refer to any political body at any level. They refer rather to the state of being free. This is the primary and most important part of the second amendment. We bear arms ti ensure our personal freedom.

      • Which all sounds well and good however the 2nd Amendment specifically amended the Militia Clause in the Constitution. The discussion and debate at the time was about what would happen if the federal Government decided to not supply the militia of a certain state as it was the governments job to so. The Constitution says in Article 1, Section 8, calling for the Congress to:
        “Provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.
        Also to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia, and for governing such Part of them as may
        be employed in the Service of the United States reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers,
        and the Authority for training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”
        If for example New Hampshire refuse to vote for supplies requested by the Virginia militia, Virginia would be left weakened against the militia of another state. Patrick Henry made it very clear in his many speeches about the subject was, it was his fear of states rights being eroded by the Federal Government and not some abstract “state of mind”. The two and closely connected but it is not a true read on what was on peoples minds at the time in forming that amendment to thenstittion.

    • Yep, let’s not fall short of the goal line here. That’s what our soldiers use, and is therefore the most appropriately analogous weapon.

      • Thanks for that!
        ‘Cuz I was just thinking, if only my 10/22 had a flash hider and a place to mount a laser, it would be perfect!

        Seriously, I think the grandkids would love something like that.

        • It’s not a flash hider it’s a slide on piece that you heat up in the oven and slide over the regular end of the gun until it’s flush with the end of the barrel and then it’s nearly impossible to remove. It also doesn’t line up with the rest of the rail system for shit so it can’t be used for BUIS.

          The rest of system is OK but don’t install that useless piece of junk on the end. It’s worth literally NOTHING but weight and will be a huge bitch to remove. I had to remove the barrel, heat the whole thing up in the oven and then still use a Dremel cutoff wheel to take that fucker off.

  11. The Constitution does not say “Right to bear Muskets”, it says “Right to bear Arms” because the framers knew their would be advances in weapons technologies and didn’t want a tyrannical government to have that advantage over its citizens.

  12. The M16/M4 platform should should be it, but that’s to the NRA endorsed National Firearms Act that’s already banned.

  13. Great article! Put this on my FB page. Good job!

    The propaganda the media puts out about guns is sickening. They don’t even know what an “assault rifle” is but use that term every time they talk about an AR-15.

  14. My wife and I have three ARs in 5.56 and one in .45ACP compatible with Glock mags for home defense. In my opinion, one of the greatest rifles ever designed. Yeah, we have an AK too, but I love our ARs.

    • That’s a good technical analogy, but I think the point of the article is more cultural. Back in the day every citizen had a musket that they used regularly for hunting , self defense and if necessary, oppression by their own government. When looked at in those terms, the analogy clearly points to the AR.

  15. Charles C. W. Cooke is, hands down, the best advocate for 2A rights on the internet right now. His columns always nail it, backed up with great reasoning, tons of facts and presented in a very calm, rational manner. His work should be plastered everywhere.

    Not sure how many people know, but he’s a Brit who is now a naturalized American citizen!

  16. Pump Shotgun? Check. Huge supply 2 3/4″ 00? Check. Beer coolers full? Check. Pickup serviced? Check. I’m ready.

  17. When instructing new shooters to service rifle I always start them on my AR (civilian competitive shooting version bought after a background check)… After they demonstrate safe handling and responsible shooting habits I introduce them to a few rounds out of my 30-06 Garand or 1903 Springfield ( which also serves as my hunting rifle) so they appreciate the differences. My 1903 & Garand are former US army inventory. Then I ask:

    So, which rifle is the “weapon of war”?

    My answer is: every rifle ever made, it just depends on the time frame you choose

  18. AR 15 Scary Terrorist Weapon That Kills Millions due to it’s awesome power! Well, come on, its a heavy 22 with the speed of the best varmint guns and can drive a tack at 100m. I myself prefer a .30 weapon of many types. The point here is that the free colonial citizens joining in on the frays of the rebellion, led by Washington himself were in some cases bearing superior weapons than those held by the Continentals and the Brits. Simple rifling done to the barrels of many a colonial muzzle loader, increased accuracy in a dramatic fashion. Tho of lesser caliber, some of the .45, .36’s etc. were remarkably accurate and would occasionally score kill shots out to 600m. Look it up! Not long after, the Continentals wised up and followed suit. So…The Continentals and the Brits were out shot by a bunch of crazy mountain folks that could shoot a tick off a pig’s nose at 50yds. without waking the pig up, then reload and shoot a General from the Redcoat Army from >500 yds. with iron sights!!! Take away my firearms, and that signals a complete submission to the powers of whatever group is in place. It confirms the HUGE point, that you have no recourse than to bend over the stump and take it. Y’all want that?

  19. I am a retired career US Army infantry officer who saw service with the 82nd Airborne Division (The All-American Division) and the 1st Infantry Division (The Big Red One). My military sources, both on active duty and retired, tell me that the US Govt is stockpiling small arms ammo in many locations throughout the country. I’m also aware that many oaths taken by officers and NCOs on active duty today often have the phrase, “Against all enemies, foreign AND DOMESTIC” removed from the swearing-in. The removal of AND DOMESTIC is to create an officer corps that believes it cannot speak out against domestic terrorism perpetrated by its own government. I have contacts in both the Air Force and Army who have told me you cannot talk of gun ownership while at work, cannot give your opinion of the goings-on of our government, and all are required to attend monthly classes where they’re indoctrinated with the latest politically correct position of the government (trans-gender acceptance is now the big deal and classes are being taught on it). Worst of all, the buzz around the military is that our government is purposefully stirring up race-relation problems in order to be able to call marshal-law in order to shut down the polls- ie. if Trump wins). I do not own a privately owned weapon of any sort; an antique revolver from 1908 being my only piece. I am, however, due to all of the above, considering purchasing a handgun and a long-arm of some sort. I’m well trained on the AR-15, so might go that route. I fear for my own welfare, the safety of my wife, and most of all my God-given liberties. I really don’t have any other choice but to get armed and to be prepared when the government I swore allegiance to considers coming after me and my fellow patriots. I swore allegiance to only one thing in my oath taken as a young 2LT- “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. Notice I did not swear allegiance to any specific government of anti-Constitutionalists; which is what is running this country today. Sic Semper Tyrannis !!

  20. Enjoyed the article. Thank you. My concern though is that at the time the second amendment was written, the gov’t had muskets as did the citizen; equal fire power. But, now, if the citizen still only has a “musket” in the semi-auto AR-15, we are seriously out gunned by the government with automatics, tanks and planes ……

    Long live the patriot; liberty for all !

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