Becoming a libertarian is a process, not an overnight change. One does not become persuaded by the economic arguments of Milton Friedman and then immediately demand an end to the War on Drugs. The libertarian perspective is consistent across a broad range of issues, but individuals who encounter the libertarian worldview and adopt it do not do so all at once.
Although I have considered myself a libertarian for some time now, it was only recently that I became persuaded of the need to protect the right of citizens to bear arms. While I could understand why having the right to conduct ones economic affairs freely is important, as is the freedom to travel abroad or express oneself without restriction, I did not consider the ability to own and carry a deadly weapon to be an important personal freedom.
I knew that some people felt very strongly about gun rights, but it just didn’t strike me as something that we needed to protect in the 21st century. When someone would appeal to the need for an armed citizenry to act as a check against government power, I would simply laugh and shrug it off as a distant and mythical threat. When someone would appeal to the second amendment, I would point to the language in the amendment that ties the right to bear arms to participation in a militia.
That was until I saw the occupy protests. The NYPD has behaved so despicably towards the protestors that it makes my stomach turn. We have seen bystanders intentionally ran over by police on motorcycles. We have seen peaceful protestors thrown to the ground and handcuffed. We have seen people pepper-sprayed without justification. We have seen people arrested for no reason whatsoever and charged with crimes as vague and subjective as “disturbing the peace.”
Two years ago, an analogous movement to the occupy protests popped up just as spontaneously. The Tea Party was in many ways similar to the occupy movement. People sick of the status quo in politics wanted to go out and make their voices heard, and they used peaceful demonstrations to do it.
But, to my knowledge, there was no police brutality at any of the Tea Party rallies. Not once was a Tea Partier thrown to the ground and handcuffed arbitrarily. Why not?
It certainly could not have been the message. The Tea Party was out to protest the immense power that government had taken for itself in the wake of the financial crisis. The occupiers, with the exception of a libertarian minority, are out to expand the influence and control that government has over the American people. Surely jack-booted thugs like those in the NYPD would approve more of the latter message than the former.
It could not have been the public perception of the protests. The media has portrayed Occupy Wall Street as a legitimate expression of public outrage at things like perceived inequality and the misdeeds of bankers and big corporations. Two years ago, it portrayed the Tea Party as either an “Astroturf” protest movement—paid for by the villainous Koch brothers, of course—or a resurgence of racism in the wake of America’s first black president. As a result, the occupy movement enjoys a public approval rating twice as high as the Tea Party.
I am convinced that there is only one factor that prevented the Tea Party from falling victim to the same brutal police tactics that the occupy movement has—the presence of guns at the protests.
Right from its early days, Tea Partiers were known for showing up to protests with weapons in plain sight. Pistols were strapped to legs and assault rifles were slung over shoulders. This caused a media panic and MSNBC anchors spoke about violence breaking out at the protests with a sense of inevitability.
But not one malicious shot was ever fired from any of these weapons at a Tea Party event. No accidents happened, no confrontations got out of hand, and no inevitable assassination ever took place.
The guns, just as gun rights advocates have always claimed they do, kept the peace. No police officers got out of hand and started man-handling innocent protestors because they knew that a confrontation with this group was to be avoided—they could fight back. The opposite is true of the occupiers.
And so, as I said before, this recent bout of police violence in New York has opened my eyes to the need for an armed public. If only the occupiers had been an armed group like the Tea Party, the brutality and thuggery we are witnessing now might never have happened.