by Chuck de Caro
Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, the former congressman from Texas who couldn’t beat Ted Cruz in a U.S. Senate race but who nevertheless believes he can win the presidency, said a curious thing at the Democrats’ third primary debate in Houston on Thursday night.
“Hell yes,” he said, “we’ll take your AR-15 and your AK-47 . . .”
As I say, curious. Who exactly, I wonder, does Beto mean by “we”? A legion of overgrown adolescent 6-foot-4 rich-kids like him, collecting rifles on skateboards? Or does he mean the United States government, under his command?
If he intended the latter, then a little history lesson might be in order.
Being from New England, where gun ownership has been part of life since the Mayflower dropped anchor in 1620 (and well before Beto’s native state had yet to be imagined), I think Beto might be well advised to do a rethink—or, for that matter, just think.
I am, in fact, part of that demographic subset of New Englanders called Rhode Islanders, a breed that is particularly peevish when it comes to individual liberty. Rhode Islanders, feeling oppressed by the Royal Navy’s disregard of the special status assigned to the colony by the Rhode Island Royal Charter, attacked the HMS St. John in 1764, and burned the HMS Liberty in 1768—five years before the Boston Tea Party.
When the HMS Gaspee came a calling on June 9, 1772, pursuing the good ship Hannah, she ran aground. Fed up, Rhode Islanders rowed out, shot the ship’s captain in the groin, and burned his ship to the waterline. To this day, Rhode Islanders have a parade in June to mark the first blood against oppression and then burn the Gaspee in effigy, on that same low-tide mudflat where the Hannah left her.
Context, as always, is key. Back in 1775, the government at the time, run by a guy named Tommy Gage, decided that he, like Beto, would take away the lethal battle weapons of the time—mostly long pattern smoothbore British “Brown Bess” muskets or copies thereof called “Committee of Safety” muskets that were often used with several projectiles, rather like a shotgun, thus increasing their lethality many fold.
Oh, yeah—then there were those dang Pennsylvanians and their rifles which had lands and grooves inside the barrel, and were used to pick off squirrels (and bad guys) from great distances. In fact, those battle weapons were more advanced than the guns Tommy Gage’s Red Coats possessed. Imagine that!
So you might say that long before we were the United States, Americans possessed the most lethal weapons they could acquire.
Americans were pretty touchy about those possessions, too. They understood that with such weapons, they were citizens. Without them, they were mere subjects.
Now back to Tommy Gage. He was the lawfully appointed man in charge and he sent his boys up the Charles River in a bunch of rowboats thinking: “Hell yes! We’re gonna take away their guns . . .”
Unfortunately for Gage, the social media gurus of the time, Robert Newman, John Pulling, and David Fischer, went to the proto-ISP located in the Old North Church and they doxxed the bastard!
These guys were called Patriots, and for the last 244 years, their descendants have been tending the fires of liberty.
It seems that a young guy like Beto O’Rourke (and his starry-eyed supporters) might want to read up on something other than the coolness of skateboards or punk rock—you know, like, maybe U.S. history.
Americans are pretty easy-going. But push them too far, and they will remind their would-be “betters” that they are citizens, not subjects. That’s who “we” are.
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Chuck de Caro was a CNN special assignments correspondent in the 1980s. A pilot since he was 17, he is currently working on a book about the World War I efforts of Fiorello La Guardia, Giulio Douhet, and Gianni Caproni, which led directly to today’s U.S. Air Force Global Strike Command.
Photo “Beto O’Rourke” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.