May 27, 2018
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A Mistaken Call to Arms

American armed revolution is as old as this nation. In fact, the Declaration of Independence provides a detailed justification for taking up weapons today against whomever and whatever we dislike.

All sorts of dissidents and complainers quote Thomas Jefferson’s call for a revolution every 20 years. Marxists cite it and advocate socialism. Tea partiers and libertarians have been quoting it lately as a defense against what they see as impending socialism.

Among the latest is Sharron Angle, who won the Nevada Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate and now faces Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the Nov. 2 election.

In January, she told Lars Larson, a right-wing talk-show host in Portland, Ore., that congressional actions might cause people to turn to “Second Amendment remedies.” That is, the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to keep and bear arms, recently interpreted by the Supreme Court to limit state as well as federal laws. The court said nothing about armed revolution. Instead, it said the amendment granted the use of arms “for traditional lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

Here is what she said: “You know, our Founding Fathers, they put that Second Amendment in there for good reason and that was for the people to protect themselves against a tyrannical government. And in fact Thomas Jefferson said it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying ‘My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

Ms. Angle since has said that her words about the Democratic leader were “a little strong.” She said, “I meant take him out of office … I changed my rhetoric.”

Still, she had a point. Jefferson did, indeed, advocate periodic revolution as “a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” He said, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It’s a natural manure.”

But when Jefferson wrote those words, this country was just emerging from a bloody but successful revolution. Since then, the United States has had only one more revolution, the failed Civil War by the South to defend slavery and secede from the Union.

Jefferson could not have condoned paranoid actions such as Timothy McVeigh’s blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 or the radical groups at Waco and Ruby Ridge. Yet those are the types who could warm to Ms. Angle’s hints about armed revolt.

The new health care act, the modest taxation of the rich, and the pending reform of financial regulation are no basis for armed revolution.

Such talk can win a primary election, but it should offend most voters in a general election.

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