Editor's Note: Today we feature an essay written by Frank Miniter. Our publisher challenged Miniter to suggest things every American gun owner could do to help defend our rights. Miniter answers the question and offers an insight into the challenge we all face when trying to explain this essential issue to others.
Jim Shepherd challenged me by saying, "As the author of The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide (http://www.amazon.com/The-Ultimate-Mans-Survival-Guide/dp/1596988045/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1302664767&sr=8-1)-my favorite book on how to be a man-I'd like you to write an essay on what America's gun owners should be doing now to defend freedom." Then he told me about MyTime2Stand.com and his road trip for freedom.
I thought on all this a while and wondered when a person has a moral obligation to stand up. Even harder, in a civil society, what can a person do besides voting, joining gun-rights organizations and calling and writing their legislators?
For answers I reread Henry David Thoreau's essay "Civil Disobedience." Though many on the political left like to cherry pick quotes from Thoreau's Walden to buttress their statist philosophy, Thoreau was hardly a proponent of top-down government control; after all, Civil Disobedience's first line is: "I HEARTILY ACCEPT the motto, 'That government is best which governs least.'"
I thought on all this as I interviewed executives at Connecticut's major gun makers-Colt, Mossberg and Stag Arms-for Forbes and wondered if they should leave, as many think they should, or stay and fight a law that uses the word "felony" 43 times, mostly as a threat to gun owners.
I recalled Ronald Reagan's quote, "The beauty of the American system is that you can vote with your feet." There is a lot of soundness in that reasoning; after all, staying will give tax money to a state that has made some of these company's products off limits to non-government entities.
However, isn't staying, at least long enough to fight it out in court, also a manly and America-loving option for gun makers?
I'm not saying it wasn't right for Magpul Industries and HiViz Shooting Systems to leave Colorado, just that there are two sides to the point.
Retreating, after all, is both a tactic that can dissuade other states from attacking their businesses and it's giving up ground. Meanwhile, these gun makers are also loyal to employees who have worked in their facilities for decades and to those in their states who support them.
So I kept thinking and only decided to write this after I found the answer that follows. The answer didn't come as an epiphany shining through all the hard questions about when and how a free people can stand up for their constitutional rights, but like many deep decisions, it came in many small steps that led to a simple but profound answer.
Along the way I interviewed Sarah Merkle. She's a 15-year-old Maryland resident who became a YouTube sensation after she gave a three-minute speech opposing a gun-control package the state subsequently passed.
I interviewed Evan Todd. He had a Tech-9 held to his head by one of the Columbine killers. Since then he has become a gun-rights advocate and has spoken at hundreds of schools across the country arguing that that we need "good guys with guns to save us from bad guys."
I interviewed and wrote articles on Kim Rhode, who has won medals with her shotgun in five Olympics, and was impressed with all that she's doing to speak out about our rights and loved that she'd already bought an NRA life membership for her unborn child. And I talked with Corey Cogdell, another Olympian, and found that she teaches youth to shoot and isn't afraid to tell the media we need the individual right to bear arms to stay free.
I spoke to Chris Walsh, a software writer who founded FriendorFoe.us to help gun owners take their business to places that don't restrict their rights. And I spoke to Tom Gresham, the host of Gun Talk Radio, about his stand, and to John Annoni, a middle-school teacher who runs Camp Compass, a program that teaches inner-city kids to be good adults through hunting and responsible gun handling.
I found they all have something in common.
They all realize America might have a press that is mostly hostile to our Second Amendment rights, but when we speak clearly, morally and loudly in the end we can win. What they're sometimes lacking, or perhaps only attain for a moment before the media ignores them away, is a breakthrough message that can be told anecdotally. As this is important, allow me to show what I mean first with an historical example.
When President John Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 he did so to cheers from his party. This first real attack on the First Amendment was designed to silence his adversaries, but many didn't understand that it was an attack on freedom safeguarded in the Bill of Rights. But then people began to learn through personal anecdotes.
For example, after its passage Matthew Lyon, a Vermont congressman and the editor of the newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy, was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in prison for criticizing the Adams administration.
A lot of other people soon began to resist the Alien and Sedition Acts but the opposition didn't coalesce until President Adams was en route from Philadelphia to Quincy, Mass., and stopped in Newark, New Jersey. In Newark he was greeted by a crowd and by a committee that saluted him by firing a cannon. After the canon went off a bystander hollered, "There goes the President and they are firing at his ass." Then another bystander, Luther Baldwin, loudly replied that he did not care "if they fired through his ass." Baldwin was quickly indicted and convicted in federal court for speaking "sedicious words tending to defame the President and Government of the United States."
This episode would have faded away as a local joke if the government hadn't prosecuted Baldwin. Because they did, the anecdote was repeated in newspapers all over the young United States and the Alien and Sedition Acts became a major political issue in the next presidential election.
President Adams then lost his reelection bid to Thomas Jefferson, partly because of this opposition, and Jefferson allowed the Alien and Sedition Acts to expire.
I relate this bit of history after referring to Jim's MyTime2Stand.com and to just a few of the people who are standing for our right to bear arms to make a simple but critical point about standing for what you believe in: Too many Americans today don't know what gun owners are all worked up about.
They're not completely engaged in the issue and don't understand its ramifications to their freedom or they believe the spin from the anti-gun groups.
Politicians on the left know this ignorance is an opportunity for them. What they fear most are examples of people using and standing up for their freedom that are comprehensible even to those who don't understand the issue.
When 15-year-old Sarah Merkle clearly and publicly stated why she competes with an AR-15 her message frightened the anti-gun left.
Evan Todd's horrifying story resonates for this reason, as do other explainable examples that showcase why the Second Amendment is a cornerstone of a free people.
The only way for such moving examples, important stories of freedom, to reach an apathetic or uneducated public is by standing up and standing together.
The still anonymous individual who stood before that tank column in Tiananmen Square in 1989 didn't know he would be a symbol of freedom.
Sarah Merkle never expected a speech she wrote after midnight the morning before that Maryland hearing to be viewed by more than three million people.
Right now some woman alone with her children doesn't know and she doesn't want to be a symbol of freedom when she protects her life with a gun.
But such examples need to be understood for what they are and repeated on social media and to anyone you'll listen because these human examples resonate; they boil a complex issue down to the simple and fundamental right it is.
So don't punish a gun company for not leaving this state or that.
Don't give up hope if legislation that infringes on your rights passes.
Instead, stand up positively and peacefully and look for those human and comprehensible ways we can show America why we hold this freedom so dear.
In addition to The Ultimate Man's Survival Guide, Frank Miniter is the author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Hunting and an award-winning outdoor writer. Miniter is also the ultimate man. He has run with the bulls of Pamplona, snowshoed the Klondike, hunted Russian bear in Kaleria, and has survived everywhere from the Amazon to the streets of Manhattan. He lives in New York.
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