As might be expected, plenty of non-Americans have no idea what the Second Amendment is all about – its history, its purpose, and its meaning. But sadly many Americans don’t know much more about it, so a bit of information and education may be in order here.
Of course America would not exist if it were not for the right of its citizens to bear arms. It was founded by a revolt against what it considered to be tyrannical British rule. Without that ability to bear arms, things today would be far different. So rightly or wrongly, the very beginning of the US as an independent nation has this aspect of gun ownership at its heart.
And this was not unique to the Americans. Indeed, they picked this up from their British ancestors. Way back in the twelfth century King Henry II had ordered all Englishmen to keep weapons to defend the realm. English common law ran with this, so much so that by 1689 this right had become entrenched throughout the British empire in the Bill of Rights.
Thus all of the early American state constitutions picked up this idea of a fundamental right, culminating of course in the Second Amendment. The overwhelming understanding of almost everyone at the time was that this was a fundamental good to be enshrined in law, both on state and federal levels. Plenty of such voices can be cited here:
“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined.” George Washington, 1790
“The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed. … If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government.” Alexander Hamilton
“[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation . Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” James Madison
“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Thomas Jefferson, Draft Virginia Constitution, 1776
“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” Thomas Jefferson
“The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.” Thomas Jefferson
“The rights of conscience, of bearing arms, of changing the government, are declared to be inherent in the people.” Representative Fisher Ames of Massachusetts
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.” Noah Webster, 1787
But I have gotten ahead of myself. This is what the Second Amendment says: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” This short but concise statement is quite clear.
Yet lefty revisionists don’t think so, and they want to change all that. They claim this was only for a “militia” and not the ordinary citizen; that it only applied to weapons of the day; and that it is foolish to think armed citizens can resist modern American tyranny if it should develop.
As to the first charge, some of the quotes above make it clear that this was never the intent of the Founding Fathers. Here are some more quotes to support this:
“I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” George Mason, Co-author of the Second Amendment during Virginia’s Convention to Ratify the Constitution, 1788
“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” Tench Coxe, 1788
“[W]hereas, to preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them; nor does it follow from this, that all promiscuously must go into actual service on every occasion. The mind that aims at a select militia, must be influenced by a truly anti-republican principle; and when we see many men disposed to practice upon it, whenever they can prevail, no wonder true republicans are for carefully guarding against it.” Richard Henry Lee, 1788
“Who was the militia? … the body of people capable of bearing arms.” New York Constitutional Convention
The second charge is just silly. One might as well argue that the First Amendment therefore must also be similarly restricted. Following this logic, “the freedoms of speech and press found in the First Amendment should be limited to a town crier, horses and footmen to carry communiques, quill pens, and actual printing presses. This would mean setting type by hand, rolling ink ever the type, and pressing the paper on the raised letters, one sheet at a time,” as one commentator remarked.
As to the third charge, Walter Williams handily debunks it: “There have been people who’ve ridiculed the protections afforded by the Second Amendment, asking what chance would citizens have against the military might of the U.S. government. Military might isn’t always the deciding factor. Our 1776 War of Independence was against the mightiest nation on the face of the earth – Great Britain. In Syria, the rebels are making life uncomfortable for the much-better-equipped Syrian regime. Today’s Americans are vastly better-armed than our founders, Warsaw Ghetto Jews and Syrian rebels. There are about 300 million privately held firearms owned by Americans. That’s nothing to sneeze at. And notice that the people who support gun control are the very people who want to control and dictate our lives.”
But a bigger picture is needed here. Is there a fundamental right to self defence, and to defend ones’ loved ones? Can a moral, even a biblical case be made for the right of self-defence and the resistance to tyranny? I have already tried to answer those questions, at least in part, here: billmuehlenberg.com/2012/12/20/self-defence-and-scripture/
However, a recent piece by former Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano more fully examines these issues, and is well worth quoting from. He begins, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms is an extension of the natural right to self-defense and a hallmark of personal sovereignty. It is specifically insulated from governmental interference by the Constitution and has historically been the linchpin of resistance to tyranny. Yet the progressives in both political parties stand ready to use the coercive power of the government to interfere with the exercise of that right by law-abiding persons because of the gross abuse of that right by some crazies in our midst.
“When Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, he was marrying the nation at its birth to the ancient principles of the natural law that have animated the Judeo-Christian tradition in the West. Those principles have operated as a brake on all governments that recognize them by enunciating the concept of natural rights.”
He continues, “The essence of humanity is freedom. Government — whether voted in peacefully or thrust upon us by force — is essentially the negation of freedom. Throughout the history of the world, people have achieved freedom when those in power have begrudgingly given it up. From the assassination of Julius Caesar to King John’s forced signing of the Magna Carta, from the English Civil War to the triumph of the allies at the end of World War II, from the fall of communism to the Arab Spring, governments have permitted so-called nobles and everyday folk to exercise more personal freedom as a result of their demands for it and their fighting for it. This constitutes power permitting liberty.
“The American experience was the opposite. Here, each human being is sovereign, as the colonists were after the Revolution. Here, the delegation to the government of some sovereignty — the personal dominion over self — by each American permitted the government to have limited power in order to safeguard the liberties we retained. Stated differently, Americans gave up some limited personal freedom to the new government so it could have the authority and resources to protect the freedoms we retained. Individuals are sovereign in America, not the government. This constitutes liberty permitting power.”
He concludes, “The historical reality of the Second Amendment’s protection of the right to keep and bear arms is not that it protects the right to shoot deer. It protects the right to shoot tyrants, and it protects the right to shoot at them effectively, with the same instruments they would use upon us. If the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto had had the firepower and ammunition that the Nazis had, some of Poland might have stayed free and more persons would have survived the Holocaust.
“Most people in government reject natural rights and personal sovereignty. Most people in government believe that the exercise of everyone’s rights is subject to the will of those in the government. Most people in government believe that they can write any law and regulate any behavior, not subject to the natural law, not subject to the sovereignty of individuals, not cognizant of history’s tyrants, but subject only to what they can get away with. Did you empower the government to impair the freedom of us all because of the mania and terror of a few?”
Quite so. Much more needs to be said on this important issue, but for those who prefer viewing short videos, this clip by Bill Whittle is well worth watching: conservativevideos.com/2013/01/bill-whittle-gives-us-a-history-lesson-on-why-we-need-the-2nd-amendment/
In sum, there has been a long standing mindset about the right to self-defence that extended back for many hundreds of years, well before the Second Amendment was penned. And its relevance for today cannot be overestimated.
www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jan/10/the-right-to-shoot-tyrants-not-deer/ – nap