It has been called the Ukraine Second Amendment. It was a series of laws and measures allowing Ukrainian citizens to more easily own guns, culminating in a State of Emergency resolution that allowed open carry, the use of force by volunteer defense groups, and even a mass issuance of rifles by Ukraine’s government to pretty much anyone who could carry one. Will it be a wake-up call to pro-gun-control people here in the U.S.? What about Ukraine’s smaller, former Soviet neighbors or even the NATO countries?
Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.
Captain John Parker, Lexington Green, 19 April 1775
“You can do more with politeness and weapons than just politeness.”
Prezident Rossiyskoy Federatsii Vladimir Putin, November 2014
We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Kyiv, Ukraine, 24 February 2022
By now, you’re probably aware the people of Ukraine have decided not to roll over in the face of the Russian invasion instigated by strongman Vladimir Putin. They’ve answered the bell in the finest traditions of an armed citizenry and pledged to die rather than surrender their independence.
The problem is, they waited until the bear was clawing at the door to arm up.
Much to the chagrin of gun control advocates, events in Ukraine are incontrovertibly demonstrating the wisdom of our Second Amendment protections.
Ukraine’s gun laws are strict compared to the United States, but rather loose in terms of the rest of Europe. Handguns are banned, but rifles and shotguns may be obtained with a license. February 23, the day before the invasion, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill giving Ukrainian citizens the right to carry arms for their own protection and that of the nation. The media is full of photos and accounts of people doing just that, even though many have only a rudimentary understanding of how to operate and employ those weapons.
[ngg src=”galleries” ids=”7″ display=”basic_slideshow”]How would it be right now if Ukraine had embraced the right of the people to arms from the beginning? First, those people would not have stopped the Russian armored columns in their tracks. It just doesn’t work that way. But the rapid expansion of the Territorial Defense Force and independent militias might have gone smoother and many of those civilians operating mostly on their own would already possess weapons and have at least basic handling skills.
The prospect of partisan warfare is already looming large despite Russian setbacks. A populace already familiar with arms would make that possibility much more daunting for the occupiers. There’s no doubt that civilians facing trained troops will take heavy casualties. We don’t yet know how effective they will be but their willingness to fight is admirable.
“I Don’t Need a Ride, I Need More Ammunition!”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy didn’t really seem the type to stand up to Vladimir Putin. He’s a former comedian who came to power in the aftermath of the corrupt administration of his predecessor. But he read his people’s determination correctly and fueled it by offering training and weapons to all who wanted to fight. Then he led by example by visiting Ukrainian soldiers and fighters and refusing to abandon them, as many politicians might. In response to a NATO offer of a ride out of the country, Zelenskyy famously replied “I don’t need a ride, I need more ammunition!” Now that’s the right guy in the right place at the right time, and the Ukrainians have rallied around him. It’s too early for George Washington or Winston Churchill comparisons, but Zelenskyy appears to have seized his moment.
Thousands of Ukrainian volunteers, men and women, ranging in age from mid-teens to folks in their seventies, have responded and taken up arms. Some 140,000 Ukrainians, working outside the country, have returned to fight. Many are enrolling in the Territorial Defense Force or the army, but those organizations are so overwhelmed with volunteers they are turning people away, citing a weapons shortage. This is likely true, considering the government handed out at least 25,000 automatic rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition to any and all civilians who wanted one in the early days of the invasion. Others are joining private militia companies.
Stocks of guns, ammunition, body armor, and supplies of all sorts are being bought up across Europe by Ukrainian civilians outfitting themselves to fight. Many are armed with their own hunting rifles and shotguns. The months leading up to the invasion saw the government training civilians in weapons handling, marksmanship, and infantry tactics. Photos abound of citizens training with wooden or cardboard replica rifles.
Many citizens, unable to obtain weapons, have surrounded Russian vehicles, risking their lives to immobilize them. Some have lain in the road in front of Russian tanks, an effective, but dangerous, tactic since the tanks and other vehicles struggle on the muddy ground. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are turning out Molotov Cocktails as fast as they can. The government taught them how to do it. And Ukrainian civilians are using them.
But resistance comes at a cost. Direct attacks on Russian soldiers voids civilian protections under the Geneva Convention. Southfront.org reports that, “Until March 1, Russian servicemen had orders to avoid retaliating to provocations in every possible way. Now, the order seems to have changed and Russian units started to act in accordance with the standards of behavior on enemy territory. For example, on March 1, in response to an ambush by units of the Territorial defense near Kherson, who attempted to throw Molotov Cocktails at a Russian convoy, brutal retaliatory fire was opened on the enemy. Video records at least 10 dead.” It remains to be seen how that will affect civilian resistance.
Being what he is, Putin seems appalled that Ukrainians have the gall to stand up to him, saying that “If they continue what they are doing, they are calling into question the future of Ukrainian statehood. And if this happens, it will be entirely on their conscience.” Did I mention that guys like him historically blame the victims for what happens when they refuse to submit? He fails to understand how such threats motivate free people. But dictators gonna dictate.
The Second Amendment: Long Past Time to Cut Through the BS
In the United States, we know the protections afforded by the Second Amendment to the Constitution are unique in the world. Switzerland and Finland have strong gun cultures, but not like the US. That uniqueness is both valued and vilified, depending on one’s point of view. The irony of those who vilify the Second Amendment supporting the arming of Ukrainian citizens is not lost on those of us who value it.
By now, you’ve likely seen the Occupy Democrats Tweet saying that those who believe civilians should own AR-15s are a “…very special breed of stupid.”
You’ve probably also seen the same Twitter account all but swooning over the issuance of thousands of automatic rifles to the citizens of Kyiv. A very special breed of stupid indeed.
The level of mental gymnastics necessary for a contradictive double standard like this is staggering.
The news media has done the same. I don’t have the space to quote them all, but you’ve no doubt seen it: publicizing the brave defenders of Ukraine, while still pushing the gun control narrative in the United States. Even openly left-leaning and pro-gun control outlets like the Huffington Post are all about arming Ukrainian civilians. They apparently see no contradiction.
Of course, some of the true believers haven’t budged, with the head of the Giffords organization saying he thinks that equating armed civilians in Ukraine to the Second Amendment is “deeply irresponsible” and dangerous. I’d say the Russian Army is dangerous too, hence the sudden resort to an armed populace. But these are the same people who tell us to blow whistles if attacked by a criminal and suggest that women urinate on themselves to deter a rapist.
This brings me to President Joe Biden, who never met a gun control law he didn’t like and advises firing all your ammo into the air as warning shots. In his recent State of the Union address, Biden rightly praised the courage and tenacity of the Ukrainian people. A bit later, without a trace of irony, he called on Congress to ban “assault weapons” and “high-capacity magazines,” as well as his usual rhetoric about so-called “universal” background checks, “ghost guns,” and his desire to sue gun manufacturers into oblivion when criminals misuse their products.
“These laws don’t infringe on the Second Amendment,” he droned, “they save lives.” I won’t bore you with the statistics that disprove the latter. Look up Dr. John Lott, who has all that stuff right there for you. And don’t forget Biden’s aspersion of the notion that an armed populace could serve as a deterrent to a tyrannical government, while implying the use of “F-15s and nuclear weapons” against the American people. But he’s all in with the Ukrainian people attempting just that.
I take issue with Biden’s constant assertion that his gun control program does not infringe on the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment was written by James Madison, whose brilliance makes Joe Biden look stunted indeed. A few years before drafting the Bill of Rights, however, Madison defended the right of the people to arms in The Federalist, a series of essays published in support of the Constitution, which was in its ratification phase at the time. He was joined in his defense by the equally sharp Alexander Hamilton.
Those articles were collected and published as The Federalist Papers, one of the most sublime political treatises in the Western tradition. John Jay also contributed to The Federalist, but it was Hamilton, followed by Madison, who produced most of the essays.
The right to arms is discussed by Madison and Hamilton in terms of the militia, which gun control advocates try to exploit, but another brilliant Framer, George Mason, made it clear that the “militia” was made up of everyone, the entire populace. In other words, the people. In Federalist 29, Hamilton wrote about government “regulation” of the militia, in this case, meaning the militia was properly armed and outfitted with at least a minimum of training. Regulation, as understood in this context, did not mean rules or restrictions.
Many gun control advocates scoff right along with Biden at an armed populace defending liberty against a tyrannical government. Yet, Hamilton wrote “[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens.” Sounds to me like Hamilton believed the people should be armed as well as any standing army for the purpose of defending their liberty. He also cited the ability of the people to defend the State, much as Ukrainians are now doing. Not a word about so-called “weapons of war” being prohibited from public ownership.
Some critics of the proposed Constitution claimed an armed populace would endanger liberty, not protect it. Many modern gun control advocates say similar things. Hamilton called such assertions “far-fetched,” “extravagant,” and “a disingenuous artifice to instil (sic) prejudices at any price.” In another affirmation of the militia’s makeup, Hamilton wrote, “Where in the name of common-sense, are our fears to end if we may not trust our sons, our brothers, our neighbors, our fellow-citizens? What shadow of danger can there be from men who are daily mingling with the rest of their countrymen and who participate with them in the same feelings, sentiments, habits, and interests?”
To be clear, Hamilton went on to discuss the militia being controlled by the states, under their own officers. In fact, he advocates for locally formed militia units commanded by locally elected officers, regulated, meaning trained and equipped, if necessary, by their state of residence. But how are such local militias portrayed today? At best, their patriotism (a bad word nowadays but used freely by Hamilton and others) is mocked. At worst, they are branded dangerous extremists. Admittedly, some are, but I wonder if the lack of units like Hamilton describes contributes to that. And before you get started on the National Guard, it’s not the same. Both Hamilton and Madison were clear that the militia is not a Federal institution. It is a safeguard against the Federal government. So, the National Guard, which can and often has been Federalized, doesn’t count.
Madison addresses the idea of an armed populace as a check on an overreaching Federal government more directly. Space prohibits quoting his entire argument. I’ll hit the high points and you can read the whole thing in Federalist 46 if you’re interested. The text is easily found online. Madison makes clear that a primary function of the militia (the people) is to prevent the use of a standing army to take away their liberties. So, gun control advocates who claim that such thoughts are treasonous, as they often do, are just plain wrong. Let them argue with Madison.
He also notes “the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation” and that “in the several kingdoms of Europe…the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Madison then goes on to say that if the people were armed and officered as in America, “the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.”
“Let us not, “he goes on, “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.” In other words, trust the people with safeguarding their own liberty.
The February 20, 1788, edition of the Pennsylvania Gazette, owned by another smart guy named Benjamin Franklin, wrote the following regarding the ongoing debates about the proposed Constitution:
“The power of the sword, say the minority…, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for the powers of the sword are in the hands of the yeomanry of America from sixteen to sixty. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress has no power to disarm the militia. Their swords and every terrible implement of the soldier are the birthright of Americans.”
Sounds like Franklin was on board too. Combined, it seems that Hamilton, Madison, Mason, and Franklin intended the people to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. It’s probably unnecessary, but I’ll quote the text of the Second Amendment here. Read it in the context of what the four men referenced above wrote: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
After all that, does Biden’s claim that his proposals “don’t violate the Second Amendment” seem right? Does it sound like the Framers were thinking about hunting when they decided to protect the right of the people to arms? If you’re honest, the answer to both of those questions is “no.” You might think they were wrong, but their intent is indisputable. How hypocritical does Biden’s praise for Ukrainian civilians seem when coupled with his constant calls to disarm Americans? You’d think the President of the United States would have some understanding of and respect for the nation’s founding principles, but it’s clear to me that he does not. Keep in mind that the opening words from Massachusetts Militia Captain John Parker were uttered as British troops moved to confiscate American guns, powder, and ammunition. The first shots of the American Revolution were fired moments later.
Could All This Fuel a Second Amendment Renaissance in the West?
Not likely, but humor me for a moment. What if Ukraine had something like the Second Amendment already in place? They clearly see the value of an armed populace in time of emergency, but perhaps it didn’t fully crystalize until the last few weeks. As I said before, they wouldn’t have stopped the Russians cold, but they would certainly have been better prepared than they were and their long-term prospects for success would be at least somewhat better. We in the United States can hope that, if Ukraine survives, they will be more inclined toward trusting their people. That may turn out to be another measure of Zelenskyy’s leadership.
The people of Lithuania are certainly taking notice of what’s happening in Ukraine. Gun sales have increased eight-fold since the war began. Unfortunately, Lithuania requires a license to own a gun, but applications for licenses have doubled. The Baltic States, Poland, and Finland are probably most wary of the Russian Bear. Perhaps they will also learn from the Ukrainian experience.
I wish I could say the same about gun controllers here, but since the operative word in “gun control” is “control,” I expect they won’t. The Framers wanted the government to fear the people, but they intended that fear to make those in power respect the rights that make us formidable. People like Joe Biden don’t respect those rights. Rather, they fear what those rights represent.
Biden and his ilk couch their agenda in terms of public safety. The philosopher Albert Camus wrote that “The welfare of the people…has always been the alibi of tyrants…giving the servants of tyranny a good conscience.” We are told that curtailing our rights is necessary. I respond with the words of the great 18th and 19th Century British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, who said that “Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves.” English Common Law heavily influenced the Framers, and Pitt, as a Member of Parliament, condemned Great Britain’s pursuit of the American War of Independence.
As far as repelling foreign invaders goes, I admit that the Continental United States has not seen foreign boots on its soil since 1814, unless you count Pancho Villa’s raids in 1916. Nor has there been a serious threat of invasion since. The Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto famously said that mainland America could not be invaded because “There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.” I think he probably did say that, but it’s not, as frequently cited, the reason Japan never attempted an invasion of the West Coast. Such an operation didn’t fit with Japan’s goals, nor did they ever have the capability to even attempt it. The sentiment, however, is what’s important.
After seeing what’s happening in Ukraine, why would a population which enjoys the right to arms ever give that up? The world changes. Twenty-five years ago, it seemed Russia was finally ready to give up the world domination game. No one foresaw Vladimir Putin and a revival of the Russian Empire. We’ve been told for years that China will never turn aggressive because their economy depends on world trade. How’s that looking now? After the Soviet Union fell, the United States was characterized as the world’s only superpower. Looks like we may have squandered that advantage.
As a for the rise of a tyrannical government, look no further than Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent assumption of emergency powers to forcefully put down a peaceful protest. Trudeau also unironically praises the Ukrainian people after unilaterally enacting draconian gun control in his country. Trudeau isn’t exactly Adolf Hitler, but tyranny dons many guises. Don’t believe for a moment that many American politicians didn’t nod with approval at all of Trudeau’s actions. Those same politicians see the Bill of Rights not as revered document, but as an impediment to their ambitions.
It does, however, look like Putin has grabbed Europe’s attention. This may have been the wakeup call NATO desperately needed, though it sucks that Ukraine is suffering for that to happen. It’s time for the democracies (or republics, or whatever) refocus. That includes the United States. The world is a dangerous place and it’s gonna be that way for some time to come. If these free countries want to walk the walk, they need to trust their people. And Joe Biden and the rest need to trust Americans.
The legacy of Captain John Parker demands no less.