On June 4, 1989, more than one million people took part in protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, to support democracy. The Chinese leadership, sensing its authority was slipping away, declared martial law and turned the military on the protesters. The military used not only guns, but rolled tanks into the unarmed crowd. The protest was quashed, and the arrests and executions began. The total number of deaths is unknown but estimates range into the thousands.
You might think that something like this couldn’t or wouldn’t happen in the United States, but it did almost 20 years before it happened in China.
On May 4, 1970, students gathered at Kent State University to protest bombings in Cambodia. The National Guard was brought in to disburse the thousands of protesting students. The soldiers tried tear gas, but it was ineffective due to wind. What exactly sparked the first shot is debated but the results are not. Four were killed and nine were injured after 67 rounds were fired by the National Guard into the unarmed group of college students.
Of all the arguments in favor of gun rights, this one should be understood better than any other by American citizens. We live in a country that exists because its citizens can bear arms. We used those weapons against an oppressive government and won independence. The Founding Fathers contemplated the possibility of tyranny and understood that bearing arms was an essential right that needed to be guaranteed to the citizens.
When we talk about checks and balances, we often think about veto power or lifelong judicial appointments, but we rarely recognize the Second Amendment as part of that list. The right to bear arms is our direct check against a tyrannical government and prevents guns from being turned on its own citizens.
This fundamental feature of the U.S. Constitution is either forgotten or glossed over when we discuss gun control. Often, it is simply dismissed as antiquated and no longer necessary. I admit that I was ignorantly in that camp before my husband and I moved to China for an internship.
Immediately upon exiting the plane we were greeted by soldiers carrying rifles. I chalked up the uneasy feeling that came over me to being in a new country and a combination of jet lag and culture shock. After all, this was an airport and security is important.
However, the feeling never left the entire duration of my stay. Seemingly at every train station, bank, school, mall, large intersection, and just walking down the street there were armed soldiers. These soldiers were in addition to the police and private security smattered throughout the cities. Why does China have such a high military presence among the general population?
The answer is that the military is intentionally visible. It serves as a daily reminder that the government has authority and is going to maintain that authority with force if necessary. The massacre that happened at Tiananmen square was not isolated. The protest extended to hundreds of other cities. Military presence deters anyone from trying to oppose the government’s authority. We returned home shortly before the Fourth of July. That Independence Day was one I will always poignantly remember because I was filled with added gratitude for the freedom we enjoy here in America.
I have been fortunate enough that my life has never been touched directly by gun violence. My heart aches as I imagine the grief over a death inflicted by a senseless and deranged gun-wielding perpetrator. The victims of gun violence deserve reverence and respect. When discussing gun violence victims, I am overcome with similar feelings to seeing names on war memorials. Those men and women fought and died for the cause of freedom. Those victims likewise are martyrs that stand as a testament to the freedom our country enjoys and will continue to enjoy because of the right to bear arms.
As a middle child, Carly Roes has a fine-tuned sense of justice. A mother of two and master of none, she enjoys her experience one day at a time.