woody zimmermann 120“...To arms! The British are coming!…”

This – so the story goes – was the cry of Paul Revere and William Dawes, who rode through the Massachusetts countryside on the night of April 18, 1775, to warn citizens that British regulars were marching to seize their stores of arms.

In colonial days, individual farms usually kept a few small arms to hunt game or deal with animal pests, but rarely enough to fend off Indian uprisings or other serious incursions. Many private households, especially in towns, were probably not armed at all. Thus, communities like Concord and Lexington maintained armories for storage of significant quantities of muskets, powder and ball, in case of emergency.

In 1775, however, no one had wolves or red Indians in mind. Everyone knew trouble was brewing in Boston, where thousands of British regulars had been stationed in response to unrest over the much-hated Stamp Act. Demonstrations – sometimes becoming outright riots – protested the tax-stamps affixed to most commodities imported from Britain. These reached a climax in December 1773, when Sons of Liberty activists, thinly disguised as Indian warriors, boarded a British merchant ship in Boston harbor and threw some 340 chests of English tea overboard. (Both the Boston Braves and the Washington Redskins sports teams were later named after those midnight tea-partiers.)

New England politics continued to simmer – with a patriot shadow-government secretly preparing for armed resistance – until British General Thomas Gage, governor of Boston, received instructions from England to seize stores of arms in surrounding towns. Accordingly, a company of troops was dispatched to cross the Charles River on the night of April 18, in order to march on Concord and Lexington.

Patriot spies who knew of the British plans warned Revere and Dawes, via pre-arranged signal-lamps hung in the steeple of Old North Church, of the soldiers’ exact movements. The pair rode out into the countryside to warn militia of the threat. Near dawn on the 19th, British troops intercepted Revere and Dawes near Lexington. Revere was captured; Dawes escaped, but he lost his horse and had to walk back to Lexington. But the pair had managed to alert enough militia members to confront the British force. After skirmishes at Lexington green and Concord bridge, the regulars retreated to Boston under heavy colonist fire, suffering 300+ casualties.

The account of Paul Revere’s historic ride that night to warm colonists of the approaching troops is one of those historic events that used to thrill every American schoolboy. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized it in his famous 1861 poem – see http://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html Either Longfellow didn’t know about William Dawes, or else he thought Dawes’ role a minor one. (Or maybe his name didn’t fit the poem’s meter.)

There must be some schoolboy left in me, for I never tire of reading those stirring lines relating what Revere’s historic ride meant and how our forebears responded to the impending danger.

By 1775, tensions had reached a fever-pitch in Boston because the tone-deaf government of Lord North and King George III had imposed taxes on the colonies without consulting their local governments. Out-of-touch leaders in the far-away mother country didn’t understand that colonists were long past the age of the doffed cap and the tugged forelock. Americans – as they now thought of themselves – expected to be consulted about fiscal matters like taxation, and they didn’t appreciate being nickeled and dimed to death by distant bureaucrats.

The crisis produced by the Stamp Act was thus entirely self-inflicted. The English government had created societal unrest, and its subsequent attempt to disarm the aroused citizens finally pushed the situation over the edge. It was a misstep too far, as many historians have noted since.

Today (as Faulkner famously put it) the past isn’t being relived; the past isn’t even past. Two hundred forty years on, Americans again find their own government intent on disarming them. And once again, the move comes in response to unrest created by that very government.

Since the 1990s, violent crime has declined in many states. Liberal gun-control advocates imagine that stricter state and federal laws have achieved this. But the opposite is actually true. Jurisdictions which have enacted “right-to-carry” laws, allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed arms, have seen declines in gun-crime. Each year, many potential crimes are thwarted by armed citizens.

On the other hand, crime rates continue to rise in cities and states which have the strictest gun-control laws. In some cities, murders are at levels not seen for decades. Schools, businesses and other establishments that proudly proclaim their premises “gun-free zones” are also being struck with alarming frequency by shooters secure in the fact that no one will present an armed defense. Recent shootings in Paris, France, which enforces very strict gun-control laws, remind us how vulnerable citizens can be in “protected” areas where only the bad guys will be armed.

During my growing-up years in the 1940s and ‘50s, every other adult man was a veteran familiar with firearms. Most boys (and some girls) were used to handling weapons. Shootings in schools, theaters, businesses or military posts were unknown. Amusement-park target galleries used real guns and real bullets. (Unthinkable today.)

My own father – a veteran of the European campaign – was not really a gun-enthusiast, but he did instruct my brothers and me on correct attitudes and procedures with weapons. He gave us three basic rules:

  1. Keep every gun loaded, all the time. If it isn’t, it’s useless. Treat any weapon accordingly.

  2. Generally, do not go about armed. It can cause problems that would not arise if you remained unarmed.

  3. If you feel you should be armed in some situation, don’t draw a gun unless you’re ready to shoot. Somebody else may also be armed, and he will be ready.

In recent decades, biased media coverage has managed to instill an irrational fear of firearms in the general public. Far fewer military veterans are around today, so there is little collective experience with weapons. This has given the liberal-slanted media room to shift the blame for crime away from criminals and onto weapons. The media-line now is that firearms cause crime – not that criminals often use guns. Hysterical media have demonized ominous-looking “assault rifles,” but laws banning them have had no effect on crime-rates.

Sensational “vigilante” events – like the 1984 case of Bernard Goetz, who shot four teens when they tried to rob him on a New York subway – get lavish media coverage. The youths Mr. Goetz shot said they merely “asked” him for $5, but he said he fired defensively after one brandished a sharpened screwdriver. No one died, but Darrell Cabey was paralyzed when a bullet severed his spine. (The “panhandlers” claimed Goetz shot Cabey again, after he had wounded all of them.)

Mr. Goetz beat an attempted-murder rap, but he served eight months for illegal possession and use of a weapon. Later, the paralyzed boy’s family won a civil judgment of $43 million against Mr. Goetz, toward which he will pay 10% of his earnings for life. New York doesn’t really approve of self-defense in muggings. If people start resisting, somebody could get hurt. (After all, muggers have to make a living, too.)

The Subway Vigilante case fit the media-template, which predicts the OK Corral at every street corner when citizens are armed. Such cases are the exception, not the rule, but you won’t learn that from news-coverage (or non-coverage, to be precise). Indeed, the worst kind of media misinformation on guns is actually a very serious omission. Experts estimate that some two million crimes are thwarted each year with firearms – in most cases without a shot fired – but one rarely reads or hears this in print- or broadcast-media.

A notable example of this “news-sanitizing” occurred in 2002, when three students “subdued” a Nigerian student after he shot and killed two teachers and a student, and wounded three others, at the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Virginia. A small but telling fact – mentioned by only six of the 100+ newspapers reporting the story – was that two of the three students who “tackled” the gunman (the Washington Post’s vague wording) were armed. Hearing the shots, they ran to their cars for weapons, then returned to disarm the killer. They fired no shots.

Police understood the facts, and Tracy Bridges – one of the students who stopped the gunman – represented the event correctly to scores of newsmen. But most of the public never heard about the armed students. It was a “media conspiracy of silence” to cover up an “inconvenient truth” rarely uttered by news organs: guns can stop crimes. Research shows that criminals fear an “armed mark” far more than police intervention.

The decline of crime rates in many jurisdictions that have enacted sensible “right to carry” laws is good news to most people. But not everyone sees it that way. Liberals generally prefer high levels of crime – almost out of control – to frighten the public and advance their gun-control agenda. Repeal of the Second Amendment, which they consider an outdated relic of pioneer times, is a prime objective.

This cynical strategy appears to be in operation now. Its centerpiece is what looks very much like a “war on the cops.” Relatively rare police shootings – rarer still, of unarmed individuals – are trumpeted on national news, with some police officers being charged even before the full facts of an incident are known, especially if a white-cop/black-victim racial element can be attached. Cases of egregious police-misconduct do occur, of course, but very seldom. Rough treatment of peace-officers trying to do their duty tends to intimidate police into diminished enforcement. Criminals then become emboldened, often producing an upswing in shootings. Calls for stricter gun-control and demands for federal authorities to “do something” are the predictable result.

A second prong of the campaign to spook the public into insisting on stricter gun-control is the Obama administration’s sham-opposition to terrorism abroad. This has produced an elevated domestic threat not seen since right after the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Our “transformative” president obviously hopes citizens afraid for their personal safety will demand more “effective” gun-control – including either outright repeal of the Second Amendment, or radical executive action to evade the amendment’s sweeping guarantee of citizens’ right to keep and bear arms in the militia-tradition of common defense.

Lord North and King George precipitated the Revolutionary War by trying to seize colonists’ arms. Neither the seizure nor the war was their main objective, but the heavy-handed attempt to disarm the colonists was the final straw. It was the spark that blew the whole thing up.

Today, the situation is similar, but the government’s main objective is the abolition of personal arms. Disarming the people is Job #1 in the radical leftist playbook. A disarmed populace is far easier to control. It is clearly what Mr. Obama wants, but he knows he can’t get it by a frontal assault. He has to convince honest people to surrender their guns. Contriving a dangerous, unstable society will be the key to pushing the public to that point. It’s another item drawn directly from the same radical playbook.

Historians like to say, “Forewarned is forearmed.” That was certainly true for the 1775 colonists. Because of Revere and Dawes, citizens were ready to fight when British soldiers appeared. Fortunately, we have thousands of Paul Reveres today – not just a handful – to warn Americans that their government wants their guns. As a result, citizens are buying weapons as never before. I don’t believe the gun-grab will succeed this time, either, but we may have some “Lexington and Concord” dustups before the attempt is put down. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but it’s best to be prepared.

In closing, I include a few memorable lines from Longfellow’s classic poem for my readers’ reflection. (If a tear doesn’t come to your eye, you might want to check if you’re still breathing…)

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet…

… A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.