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Still a Nation of Cowards

by Dr. Michael S. Brown


"A Nation of Cowards" was first published in 1993 as an essay in a journal called "The Public Interest". In a previous column, I said that I considered it the greatest document of the American gun rights debate.

Now the author, Jeff Snyder, has published a book that will be mandatory reading for those who enjoyed the original essay. It is titled "Nation of Cowards" and is available from Accurate Press (1-800-374-4049). The new book includes the namesake essay and many more that examine the ethical and moral roots of the right to keep and bear arms.

Snyder is a New York attorney who moonlights as a Constitutional Libertarian writer. His numerous articles have appeared in newspapers, gun magazines and policy journals.

Most participants in the gun debate prefer to discuss statistics, practicalities and outcomes of various gun control plans. Snyder rejects this entire line of utilitarian reasoning and makes his stand upon the most basic principles of human rights. He is a master at pointing out the logical and ethical fallacies inherent in the concept of gun control. Here are some of his ideas, as I see them, and greatly condensed for this article.

Let's consider laws that declare schools or churches to be gun-free zones. If one thinks that such pre-emptive laws are effective, then it would be even more effective to simply declare all human bodies to be bullet-free zones. This would be ridiculous of course, yet it would probably appeal to politicians who value symbolism and emotion over logic.

The unspoken objective of pre-emptive laws is to reduce the need for self-restraint and personal responsibility. If people do not have the means to harm each other, it is no longer important for them to control their tempers or act politely. We are asking the government to protect us from ourselves so that we can be freed from that responsibility. This might seem like a logical plan, especially to lazy slackers who aren't willing to assume the basic duties of a free person.

One flaw in the logic is that laws themselves do not prevent crime. Laws work when most individuals choose to respect the law and exercise self-restraint. Unfortunately, the violent people we fear are lacking in those basic virtues. That is why pre-emptive laws are ineffective. They are nothing more than a political tool to satisfy the emotional needs of the electorate, and they have a corrosive effect on personal values.

Snyder addresses the current plague of zero tolerance rules in schools by comparing them to the ancient custom of human sacrifice. Even though it makes no sense to punish a student for a harmless act, they must suffer for the good of the entire group.

Sadly, we are teaching our youth that ethical and moral behavior is secondary to obeying every rule, no matter how silly or onerous. There is also little incentive to teach independent thinking or a sense of personal honor when so many aspects of daily life are prescribed by law.

Many influential groups now say that citizens should not resist criminal attack. People are told that it isn't worth taking a risk to defend their dignity or even their life. Better to beg for humane treatment from violent criminals than to take responsibility for one's own defense. On the other hand, it is acceptable to rely on armed police officers to shoulder our risks and do the dirty work in exchange for the meager salaries we are willing to pay.

Snyder does not spare those on the pro-gun side (like me) who use utilitarian arguments to argue for privileges that the Founders declared to be inalienable human rights independent of government or public approval. If we argue that gun ownership is good for society simply because it inhibits crime, we are implicitly admitting that our right to keep and bear arms is dependent upon provable benefits.

Gun rights activists should also heed Snyder's warning that guns alone do not fight crime or resist tyranny. It takes committed individuals to do that. Some patriotic citizens feel all is well as long as we have our guns, but the electorate is being lulled into a sense of security by economic prosperity and the constant promotion of big government as the means to relieve ourselves of tiresome responsibilities.

As we all know, rights and responsibilities go together. Some day we may awaken to find that many of our basic rights have been given away and it is too late to recover them, even through armed struggle.

"Nation of Cowards" contains far too many good points to list them all here. If you are interested in the gun debate you must read it for yourself. It's possible that the intellectual tone and language may be challenging for some readers. "Nation of Cowards" would really excel as required reading material for college courses in ethics, sociology, criminology or government.

If it were up to me, every college student would be expected to read it and write a lengthy report demonstrating his or her understanding of the material. But considering the current climate of mindless political correctness in higher education, I won't hold my breath.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and board member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws -  Email the author at: Dr. Brown's online archives can be found here:


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