The constitutional right to keep and bear arms has been, for most of human history, an anomaly. Rarely have such rights been included in constitutions or founding documents. However, discussion of the idea itself goes back to before written constitutions were commonplace. In their philosophical and political writings, historic figures including John Locke and Niccolò Machiavelli discuss how an armed citizenry affects the political and economic system of a state.
Machiavelli’s opinion, unsurprisingly, is that the ownership and use of arms is a duty of the state, and allowing the masses to bear arms is a threat to the state. Locke, on the other hand, writes from the viewpoint of those masses – the people. According to Locke, being equally armed as the state is an indication of freedom and liberty. An armed populace, Locke argues, can prevent the state from committing atrocities.
As noted by Bloomberg.com, U.S. Gun Rights Truly Are American Exceptionalism. In 1875, seventeen percent of constitutions included the right to keep and bear arms. However, since the twentieth century, “the proportion has been less than nine percent and falling.”
Since 1789, only fifteen constitutions in nine countries total have ever included the right to keep and bear arms.
The majority of these countries were in Central and South America, and most of the constitutions were from the nineteenth century. These countries were and are the following:
- United States of America
- Costa Rica
All those Latin American Countries modeled their constitutions after that of the United States. The U.S. founding fathers derived their understanding from the English Bill of Rights of 1689, which stated that Protestant citizens of England “have Arms for their Defence suitable to their Conditions and as allowed by Law.” In the eighteenth century, Sir William Blackstone wrote that the right to have arms was auxiliary to the “natural right of resistance and self-preservation.” That means the right to keep and bear arms fell within an Englishman’s natural right to defend himself from acts of evil.
The Founders took such meaning from English philosophical views and incorporated it into the American philosophical understanding of inalienable civil rights.
Sadly, today, only three of the world’s nearly 200 constitutions make any direct mention of the right to keep and bear arms.
Those are the constitutions of the United States of America, Mexico, and Guatemala. Two of those are severely limited.
The right to own weapons for personal use, not prohibited by the law, in the place of inhabitation, is recognized. There will not be an obligation to hand them over, except in cases ordered by a competent judge.
The right to bear arms is recognized, [and is] regulated by the law.
United Mexican States – Constitution, Article 10 (Enacted in 1917)
The inhabitants of the United Mexican States have the right to possess arms within their domicile, for their safety and legitimate defense, except those forbidden by Federal Law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Militia, Air Force and National Guard. Federal law shall provide in what cases, conditions, under what requirements and in which places inhabitants shall be authorized to bear arms.
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 United States’ constitutional right to keep and bear arms is the oldest listed and currently the strongest. The other six nations that once had such a right individually listed as belonging to the people have lost theirs due to dictatorship, revolution, and despotism. Amazingly, Liberia had this right in its constitution for the second-longest period of time, after the U.S.
The other two nations that currently have such rights listed have watered them down greatly. Really, those rights are more like privileges issued to the politically connected, not civil rights that can be exercised by the masses. We both know that Mexico and Guatemala aren’t exactly bastions of freedom, and their governments aren’t shining exemplars of non-corruption.
The United Kingdom never had a direct listing of the people’s right to keep and bear arms, since Britain has never had a constitution. However, under the customary practice of English Law, the English Bill of Rights of 1689 was in force until the UK Parliament passing the Firearms Act of 1920. Since then, it’s been a slippery slope leading to the overbearing and intrusive nanny state we see today.
Even Switzerland doesn’t enshrine the right to bear arms. The Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation reads as follows:
- The Confederation shall legislate against misuse of weapons and their accessories and ammunition.
- It shall legislate on the manufacture, procurement and sale of war material as well as the import, export and transit of such material.
Since Switzerland uses a militia system for national defense, the people are armed by the state. Any right relating to arms is directly related to the government’s procedure of arming the nation’s militia. No civilian right to keep and bear arms is included, and it is in fact treated as an entitlement administered by the State. All Swiss gun laws are listed under statute chapter § WG/LArm.
Across the globe, the majority of constitutions that mention weapons restrict them within the right of the state to form a standing military. Even the fabled United Nations does not have a standard or listing of the individual person’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
Yes, you read that right. No right to gun ownership exists under international law. In particular, there is no human right to self-defense or its means.
Instead, states are under an obligation to reasonably limit access to firearms as part of their duty to protect the right to life. Gun control, not gun ownership, is the standard. We all know how well putting blind faith and trust in the state has turned out in the course of human history.
Take that to heart. The right to keep and bear arms in the history of man is an anomaly, and the freedom that we as Americans hold near and dear to our hearts is priceless. Across the world, the forces working to strip us of our rights are tireless. They do not give up, and they do not quit. Neither should we when it comes to defending our rights.
The Second Amendment is peerless in the world, but on its own, it’s just ink and paper. Our right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in twenty-seven simple words. That’s it. Never forget that, and never give up protecting it.