A column ran on the Huffington Post that argued for more “common sense” gun laws, because “there are no drive-by knifings.” The columnist argued that the 2nd Amendment is the weakest defense for gun rights, and that the most laughable defense is the self-defense against a tyrannical government one. Here’s an excerpt:
Of all the pro-gun arguments used most often, the weakest is the constitutional one. I am not a constitutional law expert, but it’s pretty reasonable to say that former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by none other than Richard Nixon, is. When speak of the misuse of the Second Amendment to support private gun ownership, Justice Burger said:
[the Second Amendment] “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups I have ever seen in my lifetime.
Former Justice John Paul Stevens, in his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution; added this:
“For over 200 years following the adoption of that amendment federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by the text was limited in two ways: first, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms.”
Scholarly works like The Second Amendment, A Biography by Michael Waldman trace the origin of the amendment and show conclusively that there was no intent for it to be abused as a way to enable 18-year-olds to cruise around toy stores armed with automatic weapons.
If the Constitutional argument is the weakest, the “defend ourselves against the government itself” argument is the most laughable. Forgetting for a moment that the very Constitution that contains the Second Amendment ensures a government by, for and of the people; the United States has the most powerful military in the history of the world. In addition to our vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, we continue to spend over $750 billion per year on military expenses. If our government, made up of us, decides to attack us, we’re screwed, pure and simple. Since even millions of guns don’t stand a chance against nuclear weapons, it must be that gun owners think their government will oppress them, but not use powerful weapons. In which case they trust the government just like I do.
Gun control proponents often argue that the 2nd Amendment doesn’t actually say anything about civilians owning guns. The terms “well-regulated,” “militia,” and “free State” obviously have reference to our military, and it even calls for regulations to be enforced on guns.
However, the 2nd Amendment needs to be understood the way the Founding Fathers understood it. It needs the proper historical context.
If you read the great political theorists and thinkers of the time, including the Founding Fathers, you’ll find that there is very little room (none, actually) for debate as to what was meant by “well regulated,” “Militia,” and “free State.”
Today, we might think of “well regulated” to mean subject to government regulations, controls, restrictions, inspections, etc. But that isn’t at all what was meant over two centuries ago. It simply meant well-trained. Self-regulated. Disciplined.
The Militia referred to anyone capable of serving in a “well regulated Militia.” In other words, anyone. The people. And it was this group of people who would be well-trained in the use of weapons and military tactics that would serve as the check on the government’s standing army. It didn’t even necessarily refer to defending one’s country from a foreign, invading enemy. That’s what the national military was for, and I’m sure the militia would gladly join in, in that event. But the militia was that group of people who would band together and defend their liberties from a tyrannical government.
The “free State” didn’t refer to the individual states of the union, and it didn’t refer to the federal government either. It meant “free country.” Free from despotic rule.
So, to preserve a free country, well-trained and self-regulated militias, composed of law-abiding and capable individuals, should serve as the check and balance on a government that’s bent toward tyranny. Oh, and that right of the people shall not be infringed.
In order for this militia to be able to adequately defend liberty, it needs to possess at least the caliber of weaponry used by the government attempting to oppress its citizenry. The better weapons we have, the nicer our government becomes to us.
“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.”
Of course, general self-defense was an inclusive benefit of the 2nd Amendment. That’s a given.
AWR Hawkins reminds us of how one of the founding fathers viewed the 2nd Amendment:
…[T]he HuffPo didn’t quote James Madison, because Madison used Federalist 46 to express his confidence that one reason Americans owned guns was to keep government in check. Moreover, it was Madison who not only penned the Second Amendment, but also wrote about “the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”