Monday, March 21, 2011

Horace sense

I hope that third clip from Outing yesterday provoked some thought about guarding our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. In the 1920s, as now, many elected officials and even our fellow citizens are bent on disarming law-abiding Americans, seeking ultimately to prevent us from acting effectively in our own defense.

Today I'm going to introduce another voice of reason from 90 years ago, that of a man whose words appeared regularly in Outing. His name: Horace Kephart.

Known to most of us as a
founding father of the American out-of-doors movement or, perhaps, only as the proponent of a knife pattern that still carries his name, Kephart was extraordinarily knowledgeable about small arms. He published a book on the subject, Sporting Firearms, and he wrote a regular firearms feature for Outing. He also contributed to The American Rifleman and similar magazines. He designed the first lead bullet successful in high-powered .30 rifles.

Kephart not only knew a lot about guns, he understood the importance of bearing arms beyond the edge of woods. In September of 1921, Outing published his impassioned and (typically) eloquent case for preserving Americans' constitutional right -- "Arms for Defense of Honest Citizens."

His rhetorical target was restaurant baron
John R. Thompson, chief of a Chicago-based chain of whites-only lunch counters. Thompson, seizing on public fear that big-city gangland violence could infect communities nationwide, was spearheading a campaign to outlaw the manufacture, sale and possession of handguns.

The millionaire's Utopian arguments were predictably naive. Kephart knew a slippery slope when he saw it, however, and he delivered an effective rebuttal of Thompson's "propaganda" -- beginning with the practical, closing with the constitutional. One especially quotable line:

"The citizen must be his own warrior, his own policeman, his own defender of his life and home."
I've included the full text of the article, including the editors' preface, at the end of this post; to see it as it appeared in Outing, click
here (Google Books) or here (graphic). Thompson's threat is eerily familiar, and Kephart's response rings as true today as it did in 1921.

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[Do you believe in your right as a citizen to bear arms in your own defense? Do you believe that the Constitution of the United States means what it says? Do you intend to sit with folded hands while the rights that have been yours for a century and a half are wrenched from your grasp? Read this article by Horace Kephart and keep an eye on your Congressman and your State Legislator.]

Arms for Defense of Honest Citizens
An Answer to Mr. Thompson of Chicago and All Others Who Agree With Him

By Horace Kephart

In the New York Times of June 9, 1921, I noticed the following display advertisement:

I will pay $1,000 to anyone who will give one good reason why the revolver manufacturing industry should be allowed to exist in America and enjoy the facilities of the mails.

John R. Thompson, Chicago, Ill.

Mr. Thompson is president of a chain of one hundred and forty-four restaurants and stores located in thirty-six cities of the Union, covering the country from New York to Kansas City and from Chicago to New Orleans. No doubt he can well afford to spend money on propaganda against anything he dislikes.

But who would waste breath trying to convince the man who issues such a challenge and makes himself the sole judge of merit? Is it likely that such a person, so ostentatiously cocksure, would listen to any facts that confute his opinions?

One of my friends wrote to Mr. Thompson, not to argue the matter with him, but merely asking him to explain the process of reasoning by which he arrived at the conclusion that prohibition of pistols would eliminate or even restrict crime. In reply he received the following ready-prepared circular:

Chicago, June 20, 1921.

Dear Sir:

Many letters have been received in answer to my advertisement, and this letter is written as a reply.

The revolver is made to be concealed. No honest citizen nor honest purpose requires a concealed weapon. Therefore, no good reason exists for its manufacture or sale.

The rifle and shotgun have good uses and they meet all legitimate requirements for firearms. The public disarmed, our police can have no use for the revolver.

Had the assassins of our three martyred Presidents carried rifles their murderous intent would have been discovered -- the crimes prevented.

The revolver creates the professional criminal, the thug, the footpad, the burglar, the murderer. And yet the manufacturers of revolvers enjoy the facilities of the United States mails and every protection given to honest business.

I have challenged the manufacturers, who have made tremendous fortunes out of the manufacture and sale of revolvers, to give one good reason for their use. They have not done so, and they cannot, and this branch of their industry should not be permitted to continue.

The definite purpose of this publicity is to stop by legislative enactment the manufacture, importation, sale and use of the revolver; is to arouse a tremendous public sentiment that will back up our legislative bodies in putting through the necessary legislation. National disarmament would be a great blessing. The disarmament of our citizens would be a blessing to the home, and would bring safety and security into our everyday life.

Very truly yours,

Evidently this writer had settled the case to his own satisfaction before presenting it to the bar of public opinion, and he would have our state and national legislatures do likewise, in the good new way.

There are, however, more than seven million sportsmen in this country who own and use firearms for hunting and target practice. Most of these citizens own revolvers or other pistols, as well as their larger weapons. Many other millions of Americans possess pistols for personal and home defence. Criminals form only a small percentage of this reserve army of the nation. The honest men and women in this multitude deserve a hearing.

We all deplore the wave of crime that has followed in the wake of war and social upheaval. We detest hold-ups, burglaries, and butcheries with firearms as much as we do those committed with knives, hatchets, blackjacks, poisons, and bombs. But let us use common sense in our methods of combating crime, not confusing the instrument with the deed, nor means with motive.

One thing is certain: criminals never attack until they are sure the police are out of the way. Then they strike quickly. The victim finds himself almost or quite at hands' grip with his assailant. There is no time to go after a shotgun, much less to call and wait for help. The citizen must be his own warrior, his own policeman, his own defender of his life and home. And if he is not a match for the thug, he will go under.

Another thing is certain: more crimes of violence were committed, proportionally, in the days of sword and dirk than now. Such arms gave every advantage to the athletic thug over honest citizens weakened by indoor labor or muscle-bound by outdoor toil. No untrained man had a chance against the robber or assassin who was always practicing and perfecting his skill with rapier and knife.

But things changed when the revolver came in. Even a delicate woman, having a pistol, was now made dangerous for any brute to attack.

The best protection we have against robbery and arson, murder and rape, is the fact that, so far, a majority of our honest citizens have arms and know how to use them. Without these minute-men, ready and on the spot, our police and army would have to be increased tenfold.

Mr. Thompson and his ilk are certainly naive. Do they really believe that prohibition of the manufacture and ownership of pistols, instead of proper regulation, would do anything more than disarm good citizens -- do they believe it would keep men of criminal intent from carrying concealed weapons? Surely they have more sense than that.

Deprive a crook of his pistol, and how long will it take him to saw off most of the barrel and stock of a shotgun and carry it under his coat? Such a weapon is far more deadly than any revolver or automatic pistol, because it knocks down and kills at the first shot. Any military man will tell you so.

The next step, then, would be to prohibit the manufacture and sale of all firearms whatever. Well, suppose you did: what then is to hinder the making of bombs? Stop the sale of explosives? Why, that is childish. Anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of chemistry (and that includes many of the criminal class) can make high explosives out of raw materials that he can buy anywhere. He can even make a serviceable gunpowder out of sugar and throat lozenges. And anybody who does not know how to do such things can soon learn for himself in the public library. So let us amend the Constitution to destroy all libraries and to stop teaching chemistry in the schools!

We have mentioned that little-read document, the Constitution of the United States. Its Fifth [sic] Amendment, which is part of what we call our Bill of Rights, reads: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

Authorities on constitutional law agree that the term "arms" in this passage means "any arms suitable for military purposes." Revolvers and pistols of adequate killing power are such weapons, and they can easily be carried concealed.

The long and the short of it is that Mr. Thompson's propaganda seeks to make criminals out of millions of honest Americans if they continue to exercise what is now, and always has been, their legal right guaranteed to them in perpetuity by the Constitution of the United States.