Mayor Bloomberg is rowing back his statement encouraging the police to go on strike over the failure of our democratic institutions to take a tougher line in respect of gun control. The mayor’s call for a police strike, made on a broadcast with Piers Morgan, must be one of the most bizarre statements ever to issue from a mayor in the whole history of the city. “I don’t understand why the police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say, we’re going to go on strike, we’re not going to protect you, unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe,” the mayor had said. Later the mayor told reporters that that he hadn’t meant the police should go on strike “literally.”
Maybe the mayor should consult his friend Ice-T. Only six years ago, the mayor and Ice-T were kvelling about each other at an appearance at Harlem, where the mayor quoted the rapper as calling the mayor “cooler than air conditioning.” In the wake of the tragedy at Aurora, however, Ice-T fetched up on a television broadcast at Britain and, according to an account at Eonline.com, declared, “I’ll give up my gun when everybody else does” and explained that owning guns is legal in America. “It’s part of our Constitution,” Ice-T said. “The right to bear arms is because that's the last form of defense against tyranny. Not to hunt. It's to protect yourself from the police.”
No doubt what Ice-T was referring to is the debate in the 1st United States Congress, when the Bill of Rights was up for a vote. The most famous expression of what the Congress was thinking is in the statement of Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Under discussion was a version of the Second Amendment that said: “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state; the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but no person, religiously scrupulous, shall be compelled to bear arms.” Gerry said he took it that the amendment was “intended to secure the people against the mal-administration of government.”
Gerry then expressed the apprehension that the clause “would give an opportunity to the people in power to destroy the constitution itself. They can declare who are those religiously scrupulous, and prevent them from bearing arms.” In other words, what Gerry was worried about was the danger of the government denying people the right to bear arms. “What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.” Eventually the business about religious scruples was dropped from the Second Amendment, and the people were left free to keep and bear arms by a Congress that viewed the most likely threat to liberty as coming from government and the state.
Now, the “police” that Ice-T speaks of today are not the standing army that the Founders feared. And we wouldn’t want to make the danger of the state the focus of the gun control debate today. We wouldn’t want to make light of it. But we wouldn’t want to make it the main focus. It is the genius of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions on gun control that the motives of the First Congress in enacting the Second Amendment — and the people in ratifying it — did not dilute the grammar and plain meaning of the main clause of the amendment, which is that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The problem the mayor has is that it turns out that, even after more than two centuries, Americans like this freedom, and they are prepared to risk a lot for it. That is the meaning of the refusal of our democratic institutions to do what the mayor wants on guns. Everyone is horrified at what happened at Aurora and Columbine and Virginia Tech. But the vast majority of people in this country cherish the freedoms in the Bill of Rights, including the freedom that is protected by the Second Amendment. It is a scandal that this most basic article of the Bill of Rights is not in force now in the leading city in America because the mayor, among others, refuses to bow to the Constitution that he is bound by oath to support.