- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 2000

No one can say we live in humorless times. The Clinton administration's threat to use the power of the federal government to blackjack concessions from the gun industry or hit it with a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the Department of Housing and Urban Development's 3,200 housing authorities comes hard on the heels of new evidence supporting the claims of the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights organizations that the Second Amendment confers upon individuals, not only militias, the right to keep and bear arms.
A Nov. 22 article in the Wall Street Journal dealt devastating body blows to the gun-control lobby's efforts to strip the Second Amendment of its meaning. The article cites that in 1789 James Madison, the father of the Constitution, made "the right of the people" the first clause in early drafts of the amendment, indicating his belief that it is the right of the people to keep and bear arms that makes a well-regulated militia possible.
It is clear that the administration's efforts to play a role in class-action lawsuits against gun manufacturers are not grounded in any legal or moral principle but in bullying tactics and "feel-good" wishful thinking. These same tactics and misguided idealism pervaded its role in the October debate over the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The continuing attacks on the gun industry and the debate over the CTBT showcase a common error: the belief that domestic tranquility and international peace can be secured without the deterrent value of weapons.
The importance of the gun industry throughout American history cannot be overstated. American gun makers have served the national interest honorably by manufacturing high-quality firearms for both the military and civilian markets. Eli Whitney's first use of interchangeable parts on an assembly line to produce military muskets was a major advance in methods of industrial production. The large base of knowledgeable civilian customers in the new nation spurred innovation and competition among the many small arms manufacturers. Samuel Colt developed the first practical revolver in 1836, and in 1911 John Browning invented one of the earliest semi-automatic pistols, as they are now called. Because innovation in gun manufacture required precision and strength in machine tooling, the gun industry's expertise in machining lay the foundation for American excellence in industrial development across the board.
In the current climate, however, hounded by a fiercely anti-gun administration and media, gun manufacturers may fall victim to unscrupulous trial lawyers intent on making the manufacturers responsible for the careless or criminal use of their product. American gun makers are particularly vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits because they are relatively small and have survived by competing with each other. If the American public allows the anti-gun lobby to continue using the courts to defy common sense and seek to impose bankruptcy on the gun industry, we will have disgraced our history and jeopardized our future.
The Senate's legitimate defeat of the CTBT highlights the international side of the equation. America's initial monopoly over nuclear weapons, combined with the Democratic Party's policy of containment, enabled us to maintain a genuine deterrent relatively cheaply for a brief time. After the Soviet Union acquired nuclear weapons, various administrations promoted the mutually-assured-destruction strategy, the idea that the United States and the Soviet Union would hold each other hostage to an unacceptable nuclear strike. Since we had renounced first-use of nuclear weapons, we had to convince the Soviets that we could withstand an initial first strike and also retaliate. Such a strategy necessitated maintaining a clear technical and/or numerical edge over the Soviet Union.
In the post-Vietnam War era, the Democratic Party, exhausted internationally, became accommodationist and adopted the "nuclear freeze" strategy, thus advocating moving to a rough parity of power between us and our adversaries. They sold the new strategy by indicting our nuclear weapons as unequivocally evil, as if they had no value in deterring a nuclear holocaust.
In contrast, Ronald Reagan believed in negotiating disarmament not from a position of parity but of clear and overwhelming superiority. In defiance of the political and media elites and of conventional wisdom itself, he proceeded to rebuild the defense of this country, introduced cruise and Pershing missiles into Europe, and sought to develop an anti-missile technology that would buttress a treaty structure based on mutual assurance of verification. These actions helped consign the Soviet Union to the dustbin of history.
Mr. Reagan was crucial in our winning the Cold War because he realized that being well-intentioned but not well-armed before your enemy was stupid and would not be rewarded by either victory or the blessing of history. The Clinton administration, however, has ignored this valuable lesson in its approach to both personal and international arms control: Its policies place the full burden of that control on law-abiding citizens and nations.
Furthermore, Mr. Clinton's rhetoric aimed at domestic criminals and international brigands is hollow. Domestically, the gun-control laws his administration has pushed go largely unenforced, which shows the intent is not to control the criminals who misuse firearms but the firearms themselves. On the international scene, Mr. Clinton backed away from his firm assertion that North Korea would not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons because he was afraid to seriously contemplate going to war to defend that policy. He was oblivious to the probability that being resolute would gain him both the avoidance of war and North Korea's relinquishing of its nuclear-weapons capacity. Had we gone to war in 1994, however, our victory would have been bloody, but North Korea and other rogue states would know that nonproliferation has teeth, American teeth, and that the risks of using nuclear weapons outweigh the benefits.
Mr. Clinton has frittered away the international benefits secured by George Bush's victory in the Persian Gulf war, thereby making Iraq's Saddam Hussein another beneficiary of his administration's tendency to shout and carry a small stick. At the same time the administration was loudly proclaiming that Saddam had better not try to interfere with the work of the U.N. arms inspectors, it quietly acquiesced in that interference so it would not have to follow through on its threats.
The senators who voted against the CTBT were right to be suspicious of Mr. Clinton's genuine commitment to arms control and nonproliferation, based on their knowledge of his past duplicitous behavior and his deliberate efforts, e.g. the "agreed framework" with North Korea, to circumvent their constitutionally mandated obligation to provide advice and consent on treaties and other international commitments made in the name of the people of the United States.
This nation now stands between a pinnacle and a precipice. Whether we like it or not, we are the world's only superpower, and the people of the world need us to lead them to a more peaceable and prosperous future. The precipice lurks, however, in the mistaken notion that good intentions alone can guarantee domestic order or international peace. Those who are tempted to see virtue in bringing a knife to a gun fight sinfully repudiate the precept that God helps those who help themselves.

William Goldcamp is a diplomatic historian and a former intelligence analyst.

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