The New York State Senate approved a new gun-control bill yesterday. Outside, Tom Maerling of Ellenville, Ulster County held up his protest sign for a picture that made the front page of one of the local papers. Maerling's sign reads: "Our kids are in greater danger from tyranny than they are from school shootings." By appearing in Albany, Maerling had lived up to his vow, posted on a gun-rights website, to carry just such a sign, even at the risk of looking "like a jackass" if he stood alone. As it was, the photo shows at least one man standing beside him.
Maerling's web post clarifies the nature of "tyranny" as he sees it. Anyone in Congress who proposes tighter regulations on gun ownership is a "tyrant" who is "spitting all over the Constitution." He amplifies the point later: "If the words “gun confiscation” coming from our politicians mouths isn’t tyranny than I don’t know what it is." On his Wordpress blog he's as clear as possible: "We are now being ruled by tyrants in a communist government." Maerling has come to believe that mere "social networking" and griping isn't enough to stop the tide of "tyranny." But he doesn't think the time has come yet for armed resistance. "For those of you talking crap about let them come and try it [i.e., confiscate guns]. Well that
is asinine," he writes, "Because when they send a dozen troops to knock in your door
you are beat." He at least believes in giving peaceful protest a chance. "If you want to win this then let’s get together en masse and show the
politicians what the 2nd Amendment voting bloc looks like," he continues, "Let’s show up
like the Communist/Liberals in bus loads and see if we can put some
constitutional spine back in our politicians." However, he does not rule out the ultimate necessity of more forceful resistance: "If in the end we need to take another path to replace the tyrants with a
new guard, as the Declaration of Independence says is our right and our
DUTY, then so be it; I will be there for that too." Give him a little credit for waiting.
Maerling's proposition -- that tyranny presents a greater danger to children than school shooters -- should be interpreted in light of his apparent belief that tyrants already exist in America, they being those who would confiscate guns. Is the danger from tyranny quantitatively or qualitatively greater? That is, does Maerling dismiss the relative danger from school shooters because such incidents remain relatively infrequent, or because he feels that tyranny -- to the extent that it consists of anything beside gun confiscation -- can do different but more profound damage to children. The most literal-minded reading of Maerling's sign would echo the opinion expressed at the Saratoga Springs gun show last weekend that "genocide by tyranny" is a greater threat than the occasional amoklaufer. Does Maerling believe that "tyrannical" congressmen are more likely to kill children than the random madman who strolls into a school. For that matter, do people like Marling believe, on the basis of 20th century evidence, that tyranny is innately genocidal -- that what tyrants do, definitively and above all, is kill their own people? Does he consider that a more imminent threat than someone going off his meds, or simply deciding that he has a right to defend himself from not just criminals but enemies, with an assault rifle in his hands? Such questions may strike Maerling as sophistry, but his protest begs them.
In his most extensive statement on the subject, Maerling challenges the "gun-grab tyrants" to amend the Constitution as that document requires, on the premise that any infringement of gun rights is unconstitutional. " If you do this," he promises, "then the citizenry of this country must comply by the words of the new Amendment to the Constitution." Should his sincerity be questioned? Perhaps not; Maerling doesn't appear to claim a "natural" right to own guns. But if tyranny means confiscating people's guns, not merely doing so unconstitutionally, wouldn't the amendment he imagines make the country a tyranny? Is Maerling a free man today only by virtue of his guns, or by virtue of the Constitution? Does the Constitution become less of a safeguard against tyranny if it no longer guarantees unlimited individual gun ownership? I'd expect Maerling at least to oppose such a theoretical amendment, but what if it's ratified? If I can't guess from his online statements, it's because the rhetoric of tyranny across the board remains maddeningly vague, some crying tyranny at the drop of a hat, others stubbornly ignoring all warnings. It'd be easy to say we know tyranny when we see it, but consensus forms, if ever, only at an advanced stage of development. Until then, we continue to argue over early warning signs. Vigilance against tyranny is an inheritance from the Founders, and Maerling is at least right to remember that guns were never meant as our first line of defense. Beyond that is when the problems start.