I recently have read several of your posts on Facebook questioning our Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. In your last post, you mentioned that you were confused as to its meaning, and that “it seemed to refer to circumstances that no longer apply.” I know that you have a different perspective on the situation than I do, being from the United Kingdom. I hope that in this posted response I can clear some of that confusion up for you.
First of all, as we get into this topic, we need to address two separate, yet interconnected issues. The first, is why this was written into our constitution in the first place by our founding fathers and what they might have intended in this guarantee. After understanding that, then we can be safe to try answering the question of whether there is still a purpose to this guarantee, and what might happen if we decided to remove it.
It is important to note that one cannot really understand the continued purpose of the Second Amendment if one doesn’t grasp its original meaning. Also, if the founders were wise in putting that right into our Constitution, that doesn’t mean it is wise to leave it there. On the other hand, if those circumstances still exist for us, then maybe we are wise to continue this right.
Why did our founders include a constitutional right to bear arms?
The US Constitution is an old document. It is no Magna Carta, but it certainly wasn’t written in MS Word. The world of pre-1776 was a place of kings and dictators, where it was assumed that governments were meant to be led by single autocratic leaders. Much of the western world also used out-of-context scripture to point toward God ordaining this situation.
It easily followed from this mindset that the God-ordained king could give life, and take it away, that in fact, the rights of a people were given them by the king himself. Thus, when the king decided that all people were to be members of the Church of England that is what the people had to do. Or if the ruler wanted to tax you, or put troops in your home there was simply no other recourse. He was the king.
In 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was written, it gave voice to the writings of philosophers like John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. When they wrote the words “…all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights…” what the founders were saying was that rights came not from any earthly ruler or document, but were given to each of us by God, Himself upon our birth.” We are given the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that no ruler or government could take them away.
That is where we usually stop in our reading of this famous document, but when we do, we miss something really important.
See, the first sentence of the Declaration gives its thesis. Paraphrased, it says that when in history a people decide that they need to be separate from another and form their own government, there better be a good reason and it should be given.
After this, is the famous section about God-given rights and the government’s purpose of securing and protecting them. But, when a government isn’t doing that job properly, it is the “right of the people to alter or abolish” that government. This is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but it is one of those unalienable rights of all mankind.
Our founders thought that the ability to protect yourself without relying on the government, to tell the government “no” when it was attempting to usurp your own rights, and to even destroy that government when necessary were all things that the government could never take away from our people.
One of the writers of the Second Amendment said, “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 2nd Amendment, 1788). Other founders statements agree with that. There is no scholarly doubt that the “militia” written in the text means the unorganized people themselves.
This makes sense when you read the wording of the amendment. It has also been our greatest source of national security. No one has ever invaded the US homeland. Why? It is because no army could disarm the people. As the Japanese said, every blade of grass would hide a man with a rifle. Or as Lincoln said, “All the armies of Europe, Asia, and Africa combined, with all the treasuries of the world, save ours, could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or a step on Blue Ridge in a trial of a thousand years.”
The Second Amendment had nothing to do with hunting, and it also has no problem with weapons that held increasing firepower, and a violent society (remember, one of our founders died in a gun fight with one of our past Vice Presidents). Whether or not the Second Amendment should remain is the focus of my next blog. It is a different topic altogether.
Now, not many people will talk about these aspects of the Second Amendment, mostly because it sounds like advocating violent revolution of the government. But remember, all of this was set in place not necessarily so that people could overthrow the government, but that the founders thought the right of self-defense and self-determination were one of those rights no government ever had any mandate to ever take away.
My next post will cover the question of whether or not the Second Amendment should be continued.–Ryan