Today, April 19, marks the 239th anniversary of the beginning of the American Revolution. On this date in 1775 hostilities began at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. And while many in the Colonies hoped for reconciliation with the Mother Country, independence wouldn’t be declared for another 15 months, the battles marked a turning point in the relationship between the American People and their government in London. It’s probably also fair to say that the battles marked a turning point for the British Empire. Britain sparked a war in which they lost valuable colonies; colonies that wouldn’t be the only ones to leave the empire nor would the be replaced by new holdings elsewhere. The Empire had reached its high water mark and the tide began to ebb in the Massachusetts countryside that day.
The single, small thing that lead to the battle that day was an attempt by British forces to seize the Colonists’ weapons being stored at Concord outside Boston. Yes, it was a gun control raid. That phrase might have sounded like gibberish to English ears 239 years ago, but that’s what General Gage’s order was. And like their descendants today, the Colonists refused to obey what they saw as an unconstitutional, and thus illegal, law. As Englishmen, they had a right to be armed. But then again, they had rights to a great many other things that Parliament and the King refused to recognize. So rather than sit idly by and watch as their arms were confiscated, they simply moved them. When British forces finally got to Concord, they found next to nothing. But it was too late by that point. His Majesty’s government had badly overreached in the American Colonies. His army was forced to retreat back to Boston and the day ended with over 15,000 militiamen surrounding the city. Rather than projecting power over his stubborn subjects, King George came out of the affair looking weak. (Sound familiar?) And that weakness invited a increase in violence; the violence Gage had hoped to reduce with his gun control attempt.
But Gage’s attempt to seize Americans’ guns wasn’t something that came like a bolt from the blue. It was the culmination of a series of infringements on the rights of the Colonists. And after each of these assaults on their freedoms, the Americans returned a response that was the polar opposite of what His Majesty’s government expected: Defiance rather than cowering obedience.
Now flash forward from the 18th century to the 21st. The Federal government and many State governments are attempting to ignore the very constitutions that brought them into existence. Once again, they are attempting to disarm the American People. Once again, they are treating the American People with contempt. And as before, the American People are greeting them with defiance. In Connecticut and New York, laws banning “assault weapons” (whatever that means) are being ignored by their citizens. Here in California, where these laws have long been on the books, no one in government talks about the pathetically low rate of compliance.
(One feature of the California law is that the Attorney General can petition to add new gun models to the list if they meet the definition of an “assault weapon”. However, the AG’s office quickly realized that they couldn’t keep up with hundreds of little machine shops across the US making parts for “America’s Gun”, the AR-15. Over the years, hundreds of “off list” lower receivers were produced and sold to Californians who assembled their own guns. Each of these is legally not an “assault weapon” until listed on the State’s roster of banned guns; at which point, the law would require them to be registered. But since the law bans by make and model, each of these would have to be added to the list. And as the AG’s office found out, machinists can move faster than lawyers. New models popped up faster than the whack-a-mole gun detail at the CA DOJ could add them to the list. Eventually, then AG Jerry Brown recognized the futility of this and quietly stopped adding guns to the list. It’s been gathering dust ever since. Brown, a more astute politician than the likes of Andrew Cuomo, knew better than to appear weak before the body politic.)
Today, the Federal government, and several State governments, find themselves at the same crossroads that King George III found himself at 239 years ago. They face a defiant people who’ve decided that they’ve had enough of a government that intrudes into every detail of their lives; a government that treats them like domestic terrorists for exercising their 1st and 2nd Amendment rights. (A clue to the clueless: The Bill of Rights exists outside of an area marked off with a bit of plastic fencing.) Unlike the events of April 19, 1775, shots haven’t been fired nor has blood been spilled (for the most part), but at places like the Bundy Ranch, government forces sent to bring the locals into line found themselves in retreat. And like George III, our government risks being seen as weak and thus inviting more disobedience. The question is: Will Washington DC (or Albany or Hartford or Sacramento) follow London’s example and attempt to force its will upon the people? Or will they sensibly realize that they’ve made a mistake, own up to it, and back down?
The strong can do the latter; the weak cannot.