According to a new ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, often regarded as one of America’s most left-leaning collections of judges, there is no general right to carry a gun in public for self-defense – concealed or otherwise. The 7-4 ruling came in response to a challenge to Hawaii’s requirement that residents pass an application process to have weapons outside their homes.
The majority opinion included the statement: “we can find no general right to carry arms into the public square for self-defense.” That quote is more telling than the judges likely realized. If they found no such right, they were perhaps searching with their eyes closed – that, or they were so blinded by ideology that they were unable to comprehend what they found.
From letters to speeches, the words of the Founders ring clear: The people are the militia and have both a right and duty to be at all times armed. How did these judges miss the truth: Was it overpowering ideology or simple illiteracy?
From the opening paragraph, the Declaration of Independence tells us that the people have both the right and duty to sever ties with those who would oppress them. How do the anti-gun folks believe that happened? With a warm embrace and a sweet farewell?
When attempts at reconciliation with the crown failed, the colonists sent perhaps the world’s greatest break-up letter to the king. The response was exactly as we have seen more recently in Hong Kong, Catalonia, Georgia, and Ukraine: Imperial troops were deployed to bring the rebels to heel. That aggression sparked a bloody war, and the colonists won. They fought, they killed, and they died. A great price was paid for American liberty – and it was paid in blood at the barrel of a gun and the point of a blade.
After laying out the structure of the federal government and the powers it should hold in the Constitution, America’s early leaders – those who knew royal and parliamentary subjugation before their hard-won freedom – added the Bill of Rights, explicitly limiting the powers of government and explaining in greater detail those “unalienable rights” they held so dear.
The Second Amendment states:
“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.”
The precise wording used has sparked many a heated debate. Nevermind that a state-run militia or army would negate the very right of the people to rise up – clearly that’s what they meant, right? And who cares that there would be no need for the Founders to explicitly grant the government the right to have guns – in a document otherwise focused entirely on limiting the government’s power and explaining the people’s liberty? It is often argued that the architects of America never meant to include a right to rebellion – yet rebellion is precisely how they wiped the slate clean for the new Republic.
So, what does it mean?
Let the Founders Speak
First and foremost: Who are the militia? George Mason – the man who originally suggested the Bill of Rights preface the Constitution rather than amend it – asked and answered this question specifically. “I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers,” he declared during his address at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 4, 1788. When the Bill of Rights was drafted, it was based largely on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Though Mason’s suggestion fell flat, his friend, James Madison – who held the pen that drafted the Constitution – introduced what we now call the Bill of Rights in the very first Congress. Eventually, his proposal won through. Here’s the original Second Amendment, as introduced by Madison:
“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.”
Thomas Jefferson, a member of the Committee of Five who had the honor of penning the Declaration of Independence, was perhaps one of the most outspoken on the issue of an armed citizenry. “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,” he wrote into the Virginia Constitution. “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” he wrote to Madison in 1787. In Commonplace Book, Jefferson quoted the 18th-century criminologist, Cesare Beccaria:
“The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes … Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
All of this before the Bill of Rights was ratified and either before or while it was being written. Much later in life, Jefferson wrote a letter to John Cartwright in 1824. Jefferson wrote, many years after the ratification of the Constitution and Bill of Rights:
“The constitutions of most of our states assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent …
… or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person; freedom of religion; freedom of property; and freedom of the press.”
For anyone able – and willing – to read them, these primary source documents make it clear that the very men who established this nation believed in the right and duty of the citizen to keep and bear arms – before, during, and well after the documents were being written. How much clearer can it get?
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