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Debating guns: History's dunces

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Seldom has any public policy debate engendered more ignorance and/or purposeful misrepresentation than the one on guns. And usually it centers on terminology.

Think “assault weapons,” used as a catchall epithet to condemn anything but a single-shot weapon. Think “high-capacity ammunition,” something that doesn't exist. Think “gun show loophole,” which smears gun shows in general and grossly overstates the number of private transactions conducted there.

But the debate took on an even more startlingly ignorant tenor last week when, on MSNBC, Tom Brokaw outright dismissed the very basis of the Second Amendment — that it was designed as a deterrence to tyrannical government. Mr. Brokaw dubbed that “pretty outlandish,” adding that it's “the most far-reaching thing you can imagine.”

Perhaps for Brokaw but certainly not for the Framers.

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself,” said George Washington. “They are the American people's liberty teeth and keystone under independence.”

“To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them,” said George Mason, who co-authored the Second Amendment.

And as 19th-century Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story put it: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered the palladium, the safeguard, of liberties of a Republic since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary powers of rulers.”

That Tom Brokaw and like-minded dunces of history can't imagine such a thing and find such thinking “outlandish” is an American tragedy.

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