“To arms! The regulars are coming!”
This, so the story goes, was the cry of Paul Revere and William Dawes, as they rode through the Massachusetts countryside on the night of April 18, 1775 – 243 years ago – to warn citizens that British soldiers were marching to seize their stores of arms.
In colonial days, people in farms and towns kept some small arms to hunt game or deal with animal pests, but rarely enough to fend off hostile Indians. Thus, communities like Concord and Lexington maintained armories where quantities of muskets, powder and ball were stored, in case of a real emergency.
In 1775, however, wolves or hostile Indians were not the concern. Everyone knew trouble was brewing in Boston, where thousands of British regulars had been stationed to control unrest over the much-hated Stamp Act. Demonstrations – sometimes becoming outright riots – protested the tax-stamps affixed to most commodities imported from Britain. Things escalated in December 1773, when Sons of Liberty activists, thinly disguised as Indian warriors, boarded a British ship in Boston harbor and threw some 340 chests of English tea overboard. (Both the Boston Braves and the Washington Redskins sports teams were later named after those midnight tea-partiers.)
Boston Tea Party
New England politics continued to simmer – with a patriot shadow-government secretly preparing for armed resistance. Finally, British General Thomas Gage, governor of Boston, received instructions from England to seize stores of arms in surrounding towns. On the night of April 18 he dispatched a company of troops to cross the Charles River, and march on Concord and Lexington.
Patriot spies who knew of the British plans signaled Revere and Dawes about the soldiers’ exact movements, via pre-arranged signal-lamps in the steeple of Old North Church. The pair rode out into the countryside to warn militia of the threat. Near dawn on the 19th, British troops intercepted Revere and Dawes near Lexington. Revere was captured; Dawes escaped, but lost his horse and had to walk back to Lexington. But the pair had alerted enough militiamen to confront the British force. After skirmishes at Lexington green and Concord Bridge, the regulars retreated to Boston under heavy colonist-fire, suffering 300+ casualties. The stores of arms were saved.
The account of Paul Revere’s ride that night to warm colonists of the approaching troops is one of those historic events that used to thrill every American schoolboy. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized it in his famous 1861 poem (see http://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html ). Either Longfellow didn’t know about William Dawes, or else he thought Dawes’ role a minor one. (Or maybe his name didn’t fit the poem’s meter.) There must be some schoolboy left in me, for I never tire of reading those stirring lines recounting what Revere’s historic ride meant and how our forebears responded to the impending danger.
Boston finally boiled over because the tone-deaf government of Lord North and King George III had imposed taxes on the colonies without consulting their local governments. Out-of-touch leaders in the far-away mother country didn’t understand that colonists were long past the doffed cap and the tugged forelock. Americans – as they now thought of themselves – expected to be consulted about fiscal matters like taxation, and they didn’t appreciate being nickeled and dimed to death by distant bureaucrats.
The Stamp Act crisis was thus entirely self-inflicted. The English government had created societal unrest, and its attempt to disarm the aroused citizens finally blew the whole thing up. It was a misstep too far, as many historians have noted since.
Today (as Faulkner famously put it) the past isn’t being relived; the past isn’t even past. Two hundred forty years on, Americans again find elements of their government trying to disarm them. And once again the attempt comes in response to unrest created by that government.
Since the 1990s, violent crime has declined in many states. Liberal gun-control advocates imagine that stricter state and federal laws have achieved this, but the opposite is actually true. Jurisdictions which have enacted “right-to-carry” laws, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed arms, have seen declines in gun-crime. Each year, many potential crimes are thwarted by armed citizens.
But crime rates continue to rise in cities and states which have the strictest gun-control laws. In some cities, murder-rates have increased to levels not seen for decades. Schools, businesses and other establishments that proudly proclaim their premises “gun-free zones” are being struck with alarming frequency by shooters who expect no armed defense. Horrible mass-shootings in Paris, France, which enforces very strict gun-control laws, showed how vulnerable citizens are in areas where only the bad guys are armed.
During my growing-up years, in the 1940s and ‘50s, most men were veterans familiar with firearms. Boys (and some girls) were used to handling weapons. Shootings in schools, theaters, businesses or military posts were unknown. Amusement-park shooting galleries used real guns and real bullets. (Unthinkable today.)
My own father – a veteran of the 1944 European campaign – was not a gun-enthusiast, but he instructed my brothers and me on correct attitudes and procedures with weapons. Pop gave us three basic rules:
- Keep every gun loaded, all the time. Unloaded, it’s useless. Never assume a gun is unloaded. Treat every weapon accordingly.
- Don’t go about armed. It can cause problems that wouldn’t arise if you were unarmed.
- If you believe you should be armed in some situation, don’t draw a gun unless you’re ready to shoot. Somebody else may also be armed, and he will be ready to shoot.
In recent decades, biased media have infected the general public with an irrational fear of firearms. Fewer military veterans are around today, so our collective experience with weapons is diminished. This has allowed politicians and liberal-slanted media to shift the blame for crime away from criminals and onto weapons. The media-line now is that firearms cause crime – not that armed criminals commit crimes. Hysterical media demonize ominous-looking “assault rifles,” but laws banning them have not lowered crime-rates.
Sensational “vigilante” events – like the 1984 case of Bernard Goetz, who shot four teens when they tried to rob him on a New York subway – get lavish media coverage. The young toughs Mr. Goetz shot said they “asked” him for $5, but he said he fired defensively after one brandished a sharpened screwdriver. No one died, but Darrell Cabey was paralyzed when a bullet severed his spine. (The “panhandlers” claimed Goetz shot Cabey again, after he had wounded all of them.)
Mr. Goetz beat an attempted-murder rap, but he served eight months for illegal possession and use of a weapon. Later, the paralyzed boy’s family won a civil judgment of $43 million against Mr. Goetz. New York doesn’t really approve of self-defense in muggings. If people start resisting, somebody could get hurt. (After all, muggers have to make a living, too.)
The Subway Vigilante fit the media-template, which predicts the OK Corral at every street corner when citizens are armed. Such cases are the exception, not the rule, but you won’t learn that from news-coverage (or non-coverage, to be precise). Experts estimate that some two million crimes are thwarted each year with firearms – in most cases without a shot fired – but one rarely learns this from print- or broadcast-media.
A notable example of this “news-sanitizing” occurred in 2002, when three students “subdued” a Nigerian student after he shot and killed two teachers and a student, and wounded three others, at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. A small but telling fact – mentioned by only six of the 100+ newspapers reporting the story – was that two of the three students who “tackled” the gunman (the Washington Post’s vague wording) were armed. Hearing the shots, they ran to their cars for weapons, then returned to disarm the killer. They fired no shots.
Police understood the facts, and one of the students who stopped the gunman related the details correctly to scores of newsmen. But most of the public never heard about the armed students. It was a media “conspiracy of silence” to cover up an “inconvenient truth” rarely uttered by news organs: guns can stop crimes. Research shows that criminals fear an “armed mark” far more than police intervention.
Less crime in jurisdictions that have enacted “right to carry” laws is good news to most people, but not to everyone. Liberals generally prefer high levels of crime to frighten the public and advance their gun-control agenda. Repealing the Second Amendment, which they consider an outdated relic of pioneer times, is a prime objective.
The centerpiece of this cynical strategy is a “war on the cops.” Rare police shootings of unarmed individuals are trumpeted on national news. Some police officers are charged even before the full facts of an incident are known, especially if a white-cop-shoots-black-victim racial element can be attached.
Cases of egregious police-misconduct do occur, of course, but very seldom. Persecuting officers trying to do their duty intimidates police into diminished enforcement. This emboldens criminals and produces more shootings. Calls for stricter controls and demands that federal authorities “do something” are the predictable result.
A more nefarious aspect of the campaign to spook the public into demanding stricter gun-control was the Obama administration’s limp-wristed opposition to terrorism. It produced an elevated domestic threat not seen since right after the 9-11 attacks of 2001. Our “transformative” president appeared to hope that citizens afraid for their personal safety would demand more gun-control, including: outright repeal of the Second Amendment; or radical executive action to evade the amendment’s sweeping guarantee of citizens’ right to keep and bear arms in the militia-tradition of common defense.
Lord North and King George sparked the Revolutionary War by going after colonists’ arms. (Do any students learn that today?) Their heavy-handed attempt to disarm the colonists tipped the boat over. Today, the situation is similar: left-leaning politicians and activists hope to abolish personal arms, as prescribed in the radical leftist playbook. But leftists know they can’t disarm the populace by frontal assault. They hope that contriving a dangerous, unstable society will convince honest people to surrender their guns.
Historians like to say, “Forewarned is forearmed.” That was certainly true for the 1775 colonists. Revere and Dawes rode to warn citizens so they could prepare to face the danger. Today we have thousands of Paul Reveres – not just a handful – to warn Americans that their government wants their arms. As a result, citizens are buying weapons as never before. I don’t believe the gun-grab will succeed this time, either, but we may have some Lexington/Concord-style dustups before the attempt is put down. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s best to be prepared.
Finally, here are some memorable lines from Longfellow’s classic poem for readers’ reflection. (If they don’t bring a tear to your eye, you might want to check if you’re still breathing…)
A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet…
… A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.
Battle of Concord Bridge