“Thomas Jefferson wrote this into the 1776 draft of the Virginia Constitution, the first such document of a state declaring their independence: ‘No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms,'” Paul Ratner (above) reveals at bigthink.com . . .
That seems pretty cut and dry until you consider that the second and third drafts of the same document added “within his own lands or tenements” the sentence. It seems Jefferson seriously considered that there should be some limitations on the individual’s right to gun ownership. It makes sense to own a gun for self-defense on your own property, but a different set of issues comes up when this gun is taken into public space.
And so Mr. Ratner heads down the rhetorical rabbit hole, cherry- and nit-picking quotes from America’s scare-quotes founding fathers end-scare-quotes to prove that they weren’t the absolutists that latter day gun rights advocates want them to be. Like this:
Another oft-used quote by Jefferson used by gun rights advocates is: “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” Here Jefferson states the basic principle behind rising up against the monarchy – while it’s harder to control and keep stable, a democratic society is preferable to being enslaved, though peacefully. And, as we all know, guns are an excellent instrument for disrupting peace.
The statement can be debated further – is it more moral to live in a society where individual safety is not guaranteed and people often die due to gun violence versus living in a society where you have fewer freedoms, but greater safety for all individuals? Is “freedom” more precious than safety?
Yes. Next question?
While guns are certainly useful in overthrowing monarchs, is individual gun ownership the best way to oppose monarchs or hypothetical tyrants?
For argument’s sake, if the main reason to have a gun is to stop a potential dictator, what if people are organized into militias (as the founding fathers advocated) or some such political organization? And these people could have a collective well-guarded stockpile of guns and munitions instead of guns being out there in the world for any random person to use (for purposes having nothing to do with stopping the next Hitler).
Rather’s trotting-out ye olde argument that the right to keep and bear arms is a collective right. Only Ratner isn’t arguing that RKBA is a collective right but that it should be.
The few people who are passionate enough about standing up to the government occasionally do organize themselves in such fashion (like Cliven Bundy’s family). But outside of this anti-tyrannical reasoning, it can be argued that the prevalence and the media attention on gun violence is causing the fear and instability in society that is the perfect breeding ground for a tyrant to exploit.
Clearly, Mr. Ratner has left historical analysis behind to make the case that, well, I’m not quite sure. I think he’s saying that “gun violence” enabled by the Second Amendment makes it more likely that Americans will need their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to fight tyrants. And that’s a bad thing.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
While it appears to mean something else, this often-invoked quote [by Benjamin Franklin] actually defends the power of a state legislature to impose tax in the interest of collective security.
It’s not really about the gun issue at all, but very often appears on self-serving lists of quotes that are used by various activists. This illustrates the danger of reading too much into the words of admittedly great, but long-since-dead people to address the modern issues we, the living, face.
In Ratner’s view, the Second Amendment ain’t what it seems to be: a clear and unequivocal protection against government infringement of Americans’ individual right to keep and bear arms.
Which can only mean that the men who created the Second Amendment didn’t mean it to be a clear and unequivocal protection against government infringement of Americans’ individual right to keep and bear arms. No matter what the evidence.
In the final analysis, whether or not our Founding Fathers were gun rights “absolutists” is irrelevant. The Second Amendment is absolutely clear: “the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Its meaning hasn’t changed. Nor has its importance to the defense of liberty.