Soon after I came to America, I bought my first firearm on these shores. I came from a country, and from a background, where a firearm could literally be the difference between life and death. I'd been well armed there, and I wanted to be equally well armed here. It was a real comfort to know that those approved for permanent residence here - the so-called "green card" - are treated the same way as citizens when it comes to firearms ownership. We were presumed to be "good guys" unless and until proven otherwise. As such, most Second Amendment rights and privileges were extended to us. The same applied to the state in which I lived at the time. I was allowed to apply for and receive a concealed carry permit in the same way as any citizen.
That came in very handy within a year of getting my permit. One of my jobs at the time, as a pastor, was to act as visiting chaplain to two prisons. In that capacity, I also tried to visit the families of those incarcerated there, particularly if there were marital difficulties. I was doing just that one morning with the family of an incarcerated drug dealer when a "homie" (i.e. fellow gang member) of the inmate barged into the house without so much as a "by your leave". The woman and children living there shrank back, clearly intimidated by him. He threw an envelope on the table, and told me that I was to take it to his "homie" in prison next time I went there. I was not to report it to the guards at the entrance, or tell anyone else about it. Picking up the envelope, I could feel what appeared to be pills inside it.
Of course, I refused - as neutrally as possible - to do as he'd told me. He swelled up in anger and threatened to "beat me ugly, you (expletive deleted). I got a black belt!"
As calmly as possible, I produced my Glock pistol from its holster and informed him that no, he wasn't going to do that, because I had a black gun.
His face was a picture. I wish I'd had a video camera running to record the wordless expressions that chased each other across his features. First, "Pastors don't carry guns!" Then, "This one does." Finally - as he whirled around and left head-first through the screen door without bothering to open it - "Oh, s***!!!"
If I hadn't had a gun that day, things might have gotten nasty. The man concerned had a reputation for indiscriminate violence, which he could unleash at the drop of a hat without any warning. The local Sheriff's Office confirmed that when I reported the incident, and sent me on my way with a flea in my ear about not going to places where I might encounter such people. Sadly, pastors don't have the luxury of deciding whether or not to answer the call of duty. It goes with the territory.
I describe that incident to illustrate a point. I was trusted by my new country, and by my new state, and by my local law enforcement agencies, to be a responsible citizen. That trust included, as a natural extension, the right to keep and bear arms. It went with the territory of committing myself to be a good resident here (and, in due course, to becoming a good citizen). If I failed to keep that trust, the right would be removed. Fortunately, I've never failed that trust, and the right has remained as valid for me as for any other citizen in good standing.
L. Neil Smith wrote about that right as a cornerstone of our constitutional republic. With grateful thanks to him for his permission to reprint it, here's his essay in full. I think, in this election season, it's very important.
Over the past 30 years, I've been paid to write almost two million words, every one of which, sooner or later, came back to the issue of guns and gun-ownership. Naturally, I've thought about the issue a lot, and it has always determined the way I vote.
People accuse me of being a single-issue writer, a single-issue thinker, and a single-issue voter, but it isn't true. What I've chosen, in a world where there's never enough time and energy, is to focus on the one political issue which most clearly and unmistakably demonstrates what any politician -- or political philosophy -- is made of, right down to the creamy liquid center.
Make no mistake: all politicians -- even those ostensibly on the side of guns and gun ownership -- hate the issue and anyone, like me, who insists on bringing it up. They hate it because it's an X-ray machine. It's a Vulcan mind-meld. It's the ultimate test to which any politician -- or political philosophy -- can be put.
If a politician isn't perfectly comfortable with the idea of his average constituent, any man, woman, or responsible child, walking into a hardware store and paying cash -- for any rifle, shotgun, handgun, machinegun, anything -- without producing ID or signing one scrap of paper, he isn't your friend no matter what he tells you.
If he isn't genuinely enthusiastic about his average constituent stuffing that weapon into a purse or pocket or tucking it under a coat and walking home without asking anybody's permission, he's a four-flusher, no matter what he claims.
What his attitude -- toward your ownership and use of weapons -- conveys is his real attitude about you. And if he doesn't trust you, then why in the name of John Moses Browning should you trust him?
If he doesn't want you to have the means of defending your life, do you want him in a position to control it?
If he makes excuses about obeying a law he's sworn to uphold and defend -- the highest law of the land, the Bill of Rights -- do you want to entrust him with anything?
If he ignores you, sneers at you, complains about you, or defames you, if he calls you names only he thinks are evil -- like "Constitutionalist" -- when you insist that he account for himself, hasn't he betrayed his oath, isn't he unfit to hold office, and doesn't he really belong in jail?
Sure, these are all leading questions. They're the questions that led me to the issue of guns and gun ownership as the clearest and most unmistakable demonstration of what any given politician -- or political philosophy -- is really made of.
He may lecture you about the dangerous weirdos out there who shouldn't have a gun -- but what does that have to do with you? Why in the name of John Moses Browning should you be made to suffer for the misdeeds of others? Didn't you lay aside the infantile notion of group punishment when you left public school -- or the military? Isn't it an essentially European notion, anyway -- Prussian, maybe -- and certainly not what America was supposed to be all about?
And if there are dangerous weirdos out there, does it make sense to deprive you of the means of protecting yourself from them? Forget about those other people, those dangerous weirdos, this is about you, and it has been, all along.
Try it yourself: if a politician won't trust you, why should you trust him? If he's a man -- and you're not -- what does his lack of trust tell you about his real attitude toward women? If "he" happens to be a woman, what makes her so perverse that she's eager to render her fellow women helpless on the mean and seedy streets her policies helped create? Should you believe her when she says she wants to help you by imposing some infantile group health care program on you at the point of the kind of gun she doesn't want you to have?
On the other hand -- or the other party -- should you believe anything politicians say who claim they stand for freedom, but drag their feet and make excuses about repealing limits on your right to own and carry weapons? What does this tell you about their real motives for ignoring voters and ramming through one infantile group trade agreement after another with other countries?
Makes voting simpler, doesn't it? You don't have to study every issue -- health care, international trade -- all you have to do is use this X-ray machine, this Vulcan mind-meld, to get beyond their empty words and find out how politicians really feel. About you. And that, of course, is why they hate it.
And that's why I'm accused of being a single-issue writer, thinker, and voter.
But it isn't true, is it?
I think Dr. Smith is exactly right. This great country, of which I'm now (very proudly) a citizen, checked me out before allowing me to reside here. Once I'd passed that basic scrutiny, it told me - in actions as much as in words - that it trusted me; that it was prepared to extend to me many of the same rights and privileges that its citizens enjoyed, provided that I proved myself worthy of them by exercising them honorably, honestly and uprightly. If I kept my side of the bargain, in due course I, too, could become a citizen; but I didn't have to wait for that in order to be trusted. America extended trust to me, in the confident hope that I would justify and return the nation's trust. I hope and pray that I've done so.
This country expressed that trust by allowing me to keep and bear arms. It was, and still is, the clearest expression of confidence I can think of. "We trust you to carry on your person the means to take a human life, because we presume you're a responsible, honest adult who won't abuse that right. Some others have, but despite that, we give every newcomer to our shores the chance to live up to the rights we extend to them. It's up to you whether or not you fail in that responsibility."
As one who had to earn the right to my US citizenship, I value the Constitution and the Bill of Rights even more highly than many who were born here. In particular, I think Dr. Smith's assessment - of the right to keep and bear arms as a litmus test for any and every politician - is absolutely correct. If he or she is not prepared to trust me with the means of self-defense, why should I trust them with legislative control over how I must live my life?
Seems like a very logical question to me. I suggest to all my readers that we ask that question about any and all candidates for political office this November, and vote accordingly.