Originally published in the Tipperary Leader, February 23, 1856.
“The right to bear arms is one of those fundamental rights upon which the liberties of a free people rest.” – W. S. O’BRIEN.
To this we will add, that it is the bounden duty of every people – having the slightest pretensions to being a free people, or the slightest hope of ever becoming a free people – to procure arms by all and every means, and be ready and resolved to use them; either in guarding the rights they possess, or (at the proper time) in achieving those to which they aspire. But, independent of this general truth, there are peculiar and most cogent reasons why every individual Irishman is, just now, particularly bound to provide himself with a stout weapon of some sort.
We were proceeding by a regular and most logical train of reasoning, to prove the above assertion when a prudent friend, who acts in the capacity of mentor to us, tapped us upon the shoulder, and pointed to certain words which we have hung, framed and glazed, over our desk – for the purpose of keeping our love and loyalty to our free and happy constitution, always up to the boiling point. These words are –
“Packed juries – perjured sheriffs – partisan judges.”
This interruption put us out of our latitude a little; but we shortly recovered. We thanked our friend for his warning, and, our stars, that we were writing for men who could tell “a hawk from a handsaw” any day in the year, and in all weathers, and who, moreover, are profoundly impressed with the truth of the apothegm, “a nod is as good as a wink.”
We are quite aware that there is in this free and happy country, a law against “drilling and training.” A law against “having or carrying” arms of any sort. A law even against pitchforks of a certain seditious length and strength of prong.
We do not forget that in this very county of Tipperary one of her most gracious Majesty’s mere Irish subjects, was, by a most intelligent and partially chosen jury, of his peers, and a most learned and very pious Catholic Barrister – and by virtue of British law and Johnson’s dictionary1 – sent to hard labour, for a certain number of years in one of her most gracious Majesty’s gaols, for the atrocious crime of having in his possession a pitchfork, exceeding by – we forget the precise number of inches – the legitimate dimensions of a loyal and respectable pitchfork.
All this, no doubt, is not very favourable to putting our theory to a practical test. Yet we do remember that Daniel O’Connell was wont to say that he could drive a coach and six through any British Act of Parliament that ever was framed. And we humbly submit that the barrier through which so unwieldy a vehicle could pass, ought to be no barrier at all to any number of men marching, say four deep. The devil’s in it, at all events, if the gracefully tapering “queen of weapons” – we mean our Irish “queen of weapons” – could not be driven, through anything, through which “a coach and six” could. We leave it to the wit of the reader to come at our meaning.
“Grim-visaged war,” so far from having “smothered his wrinkled front” is, we believe, preparing to roll his thunders over the world. If this should happen England will be compelled to force her militia and police – nay, she may take it into her head to force us – to recruit her already decimated ranks. How in such an event are our lives and properties, and the honour of our families, to be protected from the robber and burglar – and the press-gang? By the Orangemen, perhaps; for Dublin Castle will be sure to provide them with arms. And are we to be like sheep at the mercy of the wolves? We ask every honest man – every real lover, of not to say the liberty but of the virtue and religion, of his country to weigh well what we have said, or rather what we have but hinted at.
Suppose a permanent peace settled on – a not very probable supposition – and the necessity for arms is not the less imperative. It needs no ghost to tell us what a few years of high rents and low prices will make of Ireland. The crowbar in full swing – the peasantry unemployed – famine and pestilence sweeping over the land – a disbanded militia prowling through the country, with their original vices nurtured into rankness, in that hotbed of crime, an English barrack. May God preserve us from such a fate as this, worse – oh, how many thousand times worse – than the bloodiest war that ever reddened the soil of Ireland!
It may be said that if the people were allowed to have arms, lawless outrages would be of more frequent occurrence. This is not true. It is so ridiculously untrue, we will not stop to argue the point. Let us mention one fact, however. According to Sir J. Barrington, during the time of the Volunteers, when eighty thousand muskets were distributed amongst the people and kept in their own houses, such a thing as an outrage of any sort was scarcely ever heard of. And this at a time when there was no other force but the Volunteers – that is the people themselves – to preserve the peace and “law and order” of the country.
The law can disarm only the good citizen. The badly-disposed man will be armed in spite of the law. And it is the consciousness of superiority over the well-disposed portion of the community that makes him the daring ruffian he often is. Place the honest man on an equal footing with him, by putting arms in his hands, and the ruffian will soon give up his trade. So that the possession of arms by a people instead of promoting, is the best preventative of crime.
The greatest criminal of society is the exterminator. If there was a gun in every house, how many a landlord would be prevented, by the mere knowledge of the fact, from exterminating his tenantry; and how many a tenant would be thus spared the guilt of dying his hands in blood?
We implore of all good men – in the name of peace and morality – in the name of “the Church of our fathers and the liberty of our country,” to ponder upon what we have said, and what we have not said, and advocate the duty of the people to procure arms for their protection. In our hearts we believe that we are on the eve of trying times. Let every Irishman who has a house, or a wife, or a sister to guard – be prepared!
1 Barrister Howler, in order to remove all doubt from the minds of the jury, pointed out to them the meaning given by the learned lexicographer for “pitchfork” was “a pike.”