The Second Amendment was NOT written to enshrine every American with the right to own a gun for hunting, sport or self-defense from violent crime. These un-enumerated rights are merely incidental benefits of what the framers of the constitution originally meant. Pure and simple, the Second Amendment was intended for one thing and one thing only: power. The framers wanted citizens to have the literal firepower to rein-in their politicians and unelected bureaucrats. Our founding fathers were revolutionaries. Extremists. Radicals. Insurgents. Guerrillas . . .
They wanted private citizens to be better armed than the armed forces of the government. AND they gave citizens other tools to express themselves or rein in an unpopular government.
It is times like these, when the government we elected passes laws that empowers them to confiscate our property (new taxes) and violate our liberty (forcing citizens to buy medical insurance), gun owners need to remember that firearms are the last civic weapon drawn in dissent.
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson, our third President, wrote to Colonel William S. Smith (referring to Shays’ Rebellion, a revolt of Massachusetts farmers against high taxation and debtor prisons):
God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion . . . And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.
Jefferson echoed these sentiments more concisely in letter to his friends James Madison and Abigail Adams
I like a little rebellion now and then.
Jefferson possessed one of the greatest minds of his time. But he was wrong for his casual support for armed uprising; just as he was wrong about the French Revolution, slavery (his actions, not words) and his personal finances.
Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were mass-murdering morons, not revolutionary heroes. Ted “the Unabomber” Kaczynski and Andrew Joseph Stack III were lone kooks, not modern-day prophets of liberty. Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn should be rotting in prison, not hobnobbing with presidents and educating our young people at [formerly] esteemed universities.
Groups like ALF, AOG, BLA, ELF, JDL, KKK, SSCS should be repudiated with same prejudice we accord an Islamic fundamentalist in a C-4 diaper, not excused or offered financial aid by those who sympathize with their ends.
Before raising arms, we Americans must exhaust our rights to free speech, vote and due process.
Never before has our First Amendment right to free speech been stronger. No longer must political news and opinion be funneled through three media networks. Tools like the Internet and wireless communications have greatly enhanced our ability to bleed their spleens and solicit support for their ideas without first kowtowing to an old gray lady with a jaundiced eye.
If we don’t like the direction our elected officials are dragging the nation, be patient. Work to vote out incumbents at the midterm election. Participate in local primaries and caucuses to put quality candidates on the ballot.
Consider how President Lincoln intellectually wrestled with the use of the Second Amendment as he confronted the seven states that declared their independence from the U.S. in the weeks prior to his first inauguration.
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise… their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
However, Lincoln reasoned, secession was not justified because there was not “a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied [citizens of the breakaway states].” Therefore, “there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority.”
Gun control proponents like to scare people by saying that American streets would become the Wild West if everyone had handguns. I think that’s silly. But I’m glad that America hasn’t devolved into countries like Somalia or Afghanistan, where well-armed warlords and militias administer their own brand of tyranny, unchecked by impotent governments.
So what does the Second Amendment mean for us today? In 2008, the Supreme Court clarified that the language in the constitution regarding the formation of a “well regulated Militia” does not detract from “the right of the people,” meaning individuals, as used throughout the rest of the Constitution, “to keep and bear Arms.” Furthermore, the court ruled that self-defense from common crime is intrinsic in the notion of individual self-defense from tyranny.
IN the run-up to new civilian disarmament legislation, no doubt the media and political commentators will portray law-abiding gun owners as right-wing extremists. As the battle to protect the Second Amendment is joined, they will accuse gun rights advocates of fostering—if not organizing—anti-government violence.
This assessment is wrong. But there’s no denying the average American’s extreme dissatisfaction with the government that holds power over him or her. And it’s not entirely inappropriate to see the gun rights movement’s rallies as the initial rumblings of a revolutionary spirit which, once upon a time, lead to armed revolt.
The threat, the possibility, of such a popular, and yes, armed uprising has the government deeply worried. As it should. Why else would Vice President Joe Biden threaten to use an Executive Order to achieve the scope and scale of disarmament the Administration could not achieve through the legislative process?
Might there come a day when it is appropriate for the American people to rise up in arms against their government? Perhaps. If ever we are collectively denied our rights to express our political views and to vote. If the legal systems of our government collapses. Until such a time might come, keep your guns holstered. For now, open your mouths and punch your ballots.
[First published in 2010. Modified for current times.]