Sunday, April 14, 2013

Larson, Perry And The Palladium Of Rights

In the Old West if a horse thief stole your mount, you either took matters into your own hands and shot him, or you petitioned the law and had him hanged, both swift and certain options.

Connecticut’s 1st District U.S. Representative John Larson did not have available to him either option when Governor Rick Perry of Texas sent out a tweet inviting Bristol gunmaker PTR Industries to remove to Texas: “Hey PTR … Texas is still wide open for business!! Come on down!” And so when the naked attempt to steal PTR, a maker of a long rifle banned by Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the General Assembly, was brought to Mr. Larson’s attention, he did the best he could, offering a stinging rebuke in the Bristol Press: “a typical Rick Perry move, void of substance but high on politically charged verbiage.”

The possibility that “Still Revolutionary Connecticut” might lose some of its gunmakers as a result of having recently passed the most aggressive anti-gun legislation in the nation also was addressed by Mr. Malloy. Following passage of Bill 1160 on April 4, PRT Industries owner Josh Fiorini felt wings sprouting on his feet. Mr. Fiorini told Channel 8 Eyewitness news, “We knew right after reading the text that if it passed, we wouldn't have a choice” but to move out of “Still Revolutionary Connecticut,” once called the “Provision State” because it had supplied George Washington’s army with war material. Mr. Malloy was concerned, he said, with the well-being of all Connecticut businesses and ventured a willingness “to work with Connecticut gunmakers to help them remain in the state and understand the new laws.”

In the meantime, the museumization of gun manufacturing in “Still Revolutionary” Connecticut” was well underway. Asked in an earlier interview whether he did not consider it ironic that members of Connecticut’s all Democratic U.S. Congressional delegation were approving stiff laws affecting the production of guns at the same time they were agitating in Congress for funds to make the Colt armory complex a national park, Mr. Larson, with great agility, danced around the question by pointing out that Colt industry was primarily responsible for modern modes of production – the so called “armory system” or the “American system of manufacturing” -- failing to mention that Colt also was responsible for manufacturing “the gun that won the West.” Actually, there were two guns that won the far West in the latter half of the 19th century: the Colt Frontier Six Shooter Revolver and the Winchester Model 1873, both of which carried the same caliber of ammunition; and the “armory system,” the manufacture of weapons that contained interchangeable parts, predates Connecticut native Eli Whitney, who began to produce weapons for the military after his cotton gin factory was destroyed in a fire.

In an editorial defending Mr. Larson and U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal, joint sponsors of National Park recognition for the Colt complex museum, the Hartford Courant rushed to the defense of the two members of Connecticut’s all Democratic Congressional delegation. The two Congressmen, along with anti-NRA U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, have been battling in Washington for a pallid version of Connecticut’s much stronger gun legislation, which prohibits the sale in Connecticut of the AR15, possibly the most popular long gun since Colt – not the museum, the industry – manufactured “the gun that won the West.” And yet, here were Mr. Larson and Mr. Blumenthal writing legislation beseeching the Congress to cough up money for a national park that would celebrate the production of a whole arsenal of weaponry thought to be at the time they were produced the most advanced guns of the day.

Was this not ironic? No, the Courant editorial decreed. It was merely an “unfortunate coincidence — but nothing more than that.” The world turns, things evolve, “the present is not the past.”

At the time the Bill of Rights was adopted, the most highly regarded lawyer of the day, Judge St. George Tucker, then the Judge of the General Court of Virginia and later appointed by President James Madison as U.S. District Judge for Virginia, proclaimed the Second Amendment to be “the palladium of liberty”  -- a right of defense upon which all the other imprescriptible rights in the Bill of Rights depend.

This is what “the American Blackstone” said about the Second Amendment at the time it was proposed:

“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty. . . . The right of self-defense is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

In England at the time prior to the adoption of the Second Amendment in the United States, St. George noted, the right to bear arms was reserved to the moneyed interests through provisions in the law that kept the lower orders in their proper places, unarmed and defenseless against their tyrannical betters. The deprivation of the right of all to bear arms for the purpose of thwarting the tyranny of aristocrats or home bread potentates was achieved through hunting laws. Put on a bumper sticker, St. George’s view on the palladium of rights might read” “Live armed or lose life and liberty.”

But times change, things evolve. Following passage of the new gun restriction laws in Connecticut, some gun makers will leave the state; others, the true heirs and assigns of Eli Whitney and Sam Colt, regard the Connecticut’s version of England’s hunting laws – which leaves all the high tech weaponry to criminals -- as a bar to be overcome by savvy gun designers, not all of whom will move to Texas as the Second Amendment is put in its proper place by social utopianists.

In the muck of all the political blather, one longs for a St. George or -- better still – a fully armed Pallas Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war-craft from whom the word “palladium” is derived.
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