Sandy Hook and the triumph of fear


Sandy Hook brings us again to the divide between freedom and fear.

I grew up on a cattle ranch in the Snake River Breaks of eastern Oregon, where purple mountains split the high desert from the state’s rugged alpine corner. From my youth until I left for college, I rarely mounted a horse or drove a pickup truck unarmed.

Once when I was building a fence alone on a forbidding escarpment we called Camelback Mountain, I came across bear tracks so fresh that the lines and veins in the bear’s pads were visible in the dirt. I was glad for the gun on my hip. I was good enough with it to shoot rattlesnakes from the saddle.

That was in 1985. In 1885, 25 years after John Durbin homesteaded the ranch my father bought (from the man who bought it from Durbin), people carried guns for freedom from fear. Same for me 100 years later. On a horse before sunup bound for Mud Springs on the rim of Hells Canyon, a rifle in a scabbard was freedom from fear.

Now, some members of Congress want to disarm the free masses in response to the actions of a single deranged person.

Fear is a bully. Before this nation existed, our forebears were bullied by Britain, the greatest geopolitical power of that epoch. On December 7, 1941, our nation encountered fear as bully and responded with resolve. It happened again on September 11, 2001.

Slayers of innocents are psychological bullies of those of us they don’t directly harm. They rob society of its sense of security. Sometimes there’s nothing one can do to stop evil. But sometimes there is.

We can triumph over fear through preparation. On December 9, 2007, a gunman opened fire at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. A volunteer church security staffer drew her weapon and shot the 24-year-old male attacker dead.

I’m dumbstruck by the desire to disarm in the face of tragedy. Our founders saw vigilance, preparedness and muscularity as essential components of the defense of liberty, and they articulated that belief in the text of the Second Amendment: “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.”

The Second Amendment isn’t about guns. It’s about liberty and the right of the people to possess the means necessary to preserve it. The most vital ingredient of freedom is not the right to say what you want but the capacity to remain free when someone or something inevitably attempts to take your freedom from you.

If a psychological Wild West is confronting us, let’s confront it back. How about doing the opposite of disarming — embracing the Second Amendment? Frankly, we’ve become Romans, too reliant on paid professionals for our well-being, unable to provide for our own defense.

Maybe we should take a page from Switzerland and Israel, where nurses and shopkeepers own assault rifles and have the knowledge to use them. If we shifted from aggrandizing violence to participating in the rites and practices of self-defense, we and our children would see guns not as entertainment but as an avenue to freedom and security.

We live in a time of evil, a time of spiritual vacuity. We won’t be able to change that from the top down or by disarming and cowering in corners. Let’s prepare, and take our vigil with verve — neighbors helping neighbors, with firm reliance on divine providence.

It’s worth noting that in the rural Oregon of my youth I never knew the political affiliation of a family friend or neighbor. “Republican” and “Democrat” were not words we used. We were just free people, Americans.

If we need to pack heat, let’s say a prayer and do it. We are all Americans. We don’t submit to fear.

Tim Quast is founder and president of Modern Networks IR LLC in Denver.

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