Rep. Seth Moulton published a heartfelt essay in the New York Daily News Tuesday, bearing the long headline “Civilians have no reason for owning assault weapons, but Congress lacks the courage to stop them.”
Moulton is a Marine, a former officer having served two tours in Iraq, earning a Bronze Star for bravery. Instead of attacking him, I think it best to directly respond in a reasoning tone. As a general rule, I despise open letters, but I am writing one here.
Dear Rep. Moulton,
First, thank you for your service. There is no greater love than he who lays down his life for his friends. Second, we have much commonality, you and I.
I was born in Lynn, Massachusetts, although quite a few years before you. I lived on the corner of Eastern Ave. and Ocean Street, in the big captain’s house with the widow’s walk and huge picture windows facing the beach. When my parents split up, my mom moved us around the North Shore, a bit in Marblehead, some years in Swampscott–where I learned to sail in an O’Day Widgeon out to Egg Rock–and some in West Lynn.
By the time you were born, I was living in New Hampshire, where I say I’m “from” and graduated high school before heading off to UNH. Until recently, you represented my brother in Congress.
You are quite obviously a very smart man. Andover, Harvard is quite a pedigree. And I don’t chalk that up to “privilege.” The valedictorian of my high school class got his Ph.D. in physics at Harvard. It’s no cake walk and I’d say that achievement probably required as much personal willpower as Parris Island and Quantico. In a physical or mental fight, I would want you on my side.
So come, let us reason together.
We have chosen this reality. We have decided as a country that it is easier to periodically bury the innocent than to make tough decisions to address the actual cause of this modern, and uniquely American, scourge.
Before the killer’s gun even stopped smoking, some rushed to blame “radical Islam.”
I realize you are writing from a liberal worldview. I grew up with that worldview. My mother probably never pulled the lever for anything other than a straight, blue ticket her whole life. I understand the great temptation to put “radical Islam” in scare quotes as if it’s not a real thing.
I think you know the truth about the Islamic State, about their efforts to recruit American citizens–Muslims–to their cause. Regardless of the reason these individuals fall into that hateful and destructive doctrine, I don’t think we are rushing to judgment when ISIS encouraged its followers to commit these kinds of acts during Ramadan. Your own colleague Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee noted this fact.
I don’t think it’s rushing to judgment when ISIS claimed responsibility for the terror attack, and Mateen himself told a 911 operator he had pledged allegiance to ISIS. I think we are all well in our rights to blame them.
As for “this reality,” it has existed since before the Revolutionary War. In fact, in the very district you represent, the British found it necessary to ban guns and ammunition stockpiles. This act had a very direct consequence, leading inevitably to the “shot heard around the world” at Lexington and Concord. Good subjects don’t need military weapons, the British reasoned. Trust the redcoats, they are here to protect.
The Second Amendment is not some “gun nut paradise.” It’s not in place so people can show off their gun bling. I will agree that it’s not in place so gangsters, drug dealers, and killers can have ready and easy access to deadly weapons. But that’s a different discussion.
After qualifying your opinion as a Marine officer, you wrote:
So believe me when I tell you: There’s simply no reason for a civilian to own a military-style assault weapon. It’s no different than why we outlaw civilian ownership of rockets and landmines.
May I break that down? First, I’ll agree with you on rockets and landmines. But I believe the prohibition on those is not because they are particularly “military” in nature, but because by themselves they are inherently dangerous in usage. A landmine’s purpose is exclusively military, to maim and stop a faceless enemy. I could build my own Claymore device and it would be just as illegal, because “dead-hand” weapons and booby traps are not part of the Second Amendment’s intent.
As for rockets, they are just dangerous, period, but in fact as a civilian I can own a quite powerful rocket, legally. It’s the warhead that’s a problem.
I agree that we don’t want just anyone walking into Walmart and buying C-4 and det cord to throw them on a rocket body. But that didn’t stop Timothy McVeigh from blowing up half the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City using a truck full of fertilizer. It didn’t stop Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev from exploding backpack bombs at the Boston Marathon.
Now we’re talking about sidearms and personal rifles. The Second Amendment has a long legal tradition, and has generally been interpreted to allow personal arms in keeping with the military standards of the day, for the purpose of personal protection. Protection from whom? The framers struggled with this, but James Madison described it well in Federalist 46.
Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. … Let us not insult the free and gallant citizens of America with the suspicion, that they would be less able to defend the rights of which they would be in actual possession, than the debased subjects of arbitrary power would be to rescue theirs from the hands of their oppressors. Let us rather no longer insult them with the supposition that they can ever reduce themselves to the necessity of making the experiment, by a blind and tame submission to the long train of insidious measures which must precede and produce it.
The right to bear a rifle that shoots the same ammunition as the one a Marine uses is the same protection we have in the ban against posse comitatus. Just as we don’t want a national tyrant or despot (despite being elected) using our military to enforce martial, dictatorial law, we must do more than just offer words to give that effect. The framers understood that, and nothing has changed.
But let’s be reasonable. Should every specification, feature, and requirement of military-grade weapons be available to every citizen in the general public? Of course not. But where would you say Congress, in its courage, should draw the line?
Would you ban rifles that fire 5.56mm NATO rounds? Would you base it on barrel length? Would you base it on magazine capacity? Maximum effective range? Muzzle velocity? Because none of those parameters would have saved a single life in Orlando. Mateen could have gone in with a MAC-10, or a modified .22LR and killed 49 people.
Would you ban all semi-automatic weapons? Would you require civilians to only use bolt-action rifles? What about pistols? Where do you draw the line? Typically, liberals tend to draw this line not by any technical definition–we’ve tried that, by the way in the 1990’s with the “assault weapons ban”–but by how “scary” a rifle looks to them.
New York banned AR-15’s with certain grips and stocks, because they look “military.” So I can go out and buy a variety of “compliant” rifles from Vayser Arms. As a Marine, I think you know they are just as deadly if used by a terrorist.
I challenge you to be honest. If you want to repeal the Second Amendment, and offer a counterargument to James Madison, you and your colleagues in congress are free to try. Please be sure to tell us why we should trust every soldier, sailor, Marine and airman who wears a uniform and inherits the “right” to use these arms when you make that effort. I’d like to know the difference between your former boss Gen. David Petraeus (who was strung up on inflated and spurious charges while Hillary Clinton walks free–I added that one as a freebee) and Major Nidal Hassan.
I’d like to know how an unarmed civilian polity should ensure our constitutional federal republic’s permanence in a world where the President of the United States has the capability to order his underlings to track, locate, and surveil anyone inside or outside our shores in real-time, and our military has the ability to conduct a faceless drone strike to eliminate them without warning.
The bulwark of our liberty is not in our ability to trust our leaders won’t use this kind of modern technology (which could never be envisioned by the founders) against the populace, but in the citizenry’s ability to stand against that, by force of arms if necessary. Instead of offering “trust me” platitudes and then going back to the “scary guns” straw man, honestly evaluate your position in light of human nature.
I know they taught you how to measure things properly as a Harvard-trained physicist. I know the Marines taught you how to take the measure of a man or woman. Let’s not use discredited junk-science when dealing with problems of national import. Those scary-looking, military-style rifles have just as much a place in my gun case as in the hands of a Marine, and for the very same reason.
Thank you for your time and attention to this and God bless.