“I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.” – Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787
Schools teach everyone American History at some point. Unfortunately, history cannot be taught in a perfectly objective manner: the bias of the author or teacher will inevitably creep in. It is important for everyone, but especially those in the process of learning about a subject for the first time, to be exposed to as many points of view as possible.
Currently, and frequently over the past years, we find ourselves in the middle of a debate on gun control. It seems every time a gun is used in any nefarious way, the “Left” calls for restrictions on the Second Amendment, and everyone else tries to hold on to their liberty. That said, more recently we are seeing those on the “Right” start to push for similarly controlling legislation. What is considered appropriate to some may well be thought of as unconstitutional to others. Regardless, facts form opinions, so it is important to get accurate facts.
The order of the amendments listed in the Bill of Rights is no random accident. They were ordered on purpose, based upon how important the founding fathers deemed them to be for a free society. The First Amendment covers freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of the press. All of these freedoms have found themselves under attack, at some point, by both the United States government, and authoritarian sects of society.
The Second Amendment was created, first and foremost, to protect the First.
The Founding Fathers were exceedingly clear in their intent for the Second Amendment. Alexander Hamilton noted in Federalist Paper 28 that, as history shows, people entrusted with power often misuse their power, and try to either maintain it or gain more.
“The usurpers, clothed with the forms of legal authority, can too often crush the opposition in embryo,” Hamilton said, after arguing that an armed populace was the only real way to fight against a government become tyrannical.
Jefferson, speaking again on the issue in a letter to William Smith, said, “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.”
In Federalist Paper 46, James Madison compared the armed populace of America to the European kingdoms, saying, “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition…Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
Richard Henry Lee, with regards to the Second Amendment specifically, claimed, “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.”
Can there be any doubt as to what the Founding Fathers intended when writing the Second Amendment? I would argue there is none. Yet, it is often stated that, with the advent of military technology in the modern age, it would be impractical, if not impossible, to fight a tyrannical government with the military strength possessed by the United States. However, the same was said about the British before and during the American Revolutionary War. The outcome proved otherwise. More importantly though, this argument completely misses the point. The issue has never been whether or not resisting tyranny would be a successful endeavor; rather, it has always been that tyranny must be stood up to, and the best way to do so is through an armed populace. The argument that no one needs an AR-15, for example, falls within the same line of logic: need is not the point; it is a right.
One of the more common arguments for gun control is that the Second Amendment was intended for the use of muskets only, because that is what was around at the time. This argument is not only ridiculous, it is also patently false. The Founding Fathers lived in a time of technological revolution. The late 1700s saw the creation of the lightning rod, an improved steam engine, the first steam boat, and even the first submarine. These are only a few of the patented inventions of the time, and completely leaves out simple improvements that were never legally recognized, which people would have been surrounded by. I would be remiss to not acknowledge the fact that most advocates of this argument are likely not writing their opinions using a quill and parchment. To suggest the Founding Fathers did not anticipate technological advances to firearms is blatant logical misconduct.
Muskets were also not the only weapons around at the time; though they were the most common among both the military and the general citizenry. The Belton Flintlock was designed to fire up to sixteen rounds in five seconds; The Girandoni rifle was an Austrian design, which was eventually used by the Lewis and Clark expedition, and could fire twenty-two rounds without reloading. The Puckle gun was actually patented sixty years prior to the Revolutionary War, shot nine shots per-minute, and became the world’s first machine-gun. To solidify the argument for us, James Madison wrote a letter commissioning the use of a privately owned warship for use in combating British vessels encroaching on American waters. The ship was owned by John Ordronaux & Peter E. Trevall; it was not given to them by the military for use in the charter. Take this from the example: private citizens owned weapons of war at the time the Constitution was written.
In law and legislation, definitions and precise wording are of utmost importance–especially when being intentionally vague. Terms like “assault rifle,” “machine gun,” “clip,” and “automatic weapon” get thrown around regularly, with no real accuracy. When used by legislators, this is likely on purpose, whereas it is a simple case of misinformation amongst the general public. “Semi-automatic” means each time the trigger is pulled, one projectile is fired until empty. This describes an weapon which is not operated by a bolt or a pump. Anything which fires more than one round per pull of the trigger is an automatic weapon. While not banned entirely, automatic weapons are highly regulated by three separate acts of legislation: the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and the Hughes Amendment in 1986.
Assault rifle and assault weapon are even more commonly confused. According to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, in the Stanford Law Review, “…assault weapon…is a political term…to expand the category of assault rifles.” An assault rifle, though, can be fired fully automatic or in bursts, and is used by the military. No semi-automatic rifle is an assault rifle. As a bit of an aside, the AR in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle.” It stands for ArmaLite Rifle, the company which first produced it.
The favorite argument by legal scholars is that the Second Amendment calls for a well-regulated militia, and only those in the militia should be armed. This argument is partially correct. The amendment reads, “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.”
A militia is certainly mentioned, but it seems to equate an armed populace to a militia. George Mason, the co-author of the Second Amendment, said, “I ask, Sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people. To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.” Again, we see the intentions of the framers of the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
The Second Amendment is under assault by those who would cannibalise the Fifth Amendment, as well. One of the clauses of the Fifth Amendment states that no citizen shall “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
Not long ago, Congressional Democrats staged a sit-in to protest for stricter gun laws in the wake of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Since then, we have seen a perceived rise in the occurrence of mass shootings. According to researchers, violence tends to happen in clusters. This is especially true with mass shootings. Specifically, the aim of the Democrats was to draw attention to the “No fly, no buy” campaign. The idea behind the slogan is that anyone on a no-fly list should not be allowed to legally buy a gun. It seems totally reasonable, until you look into it. As a testament to how bad the bill is, both the NRA and the ACLU oppose it.
First of all, the list is riddled with mistakes. In 2014, a federal judge opined that the federal government lacks an effective system for allowing people to get off the no-fly list who are put there by mistake. Secondly, no due process is involved in adding names to the list. The mechanisms are unknown. Instead, the government decides to put someone on the list, and their name appears. To get off the list, one must appeal to the government and prove that they are innocent. This process is a complete and intolerable contradiction of the Fifth Amendment. Not only is there no due process, but one is considered guilty until proven innocent.
This is an issue of concern to all, but it likely affects a specific group more than others. Namely, those who frequent “Gun Free” zones. 92% of all mass shootings in the United States, since 2009, have occurred in gun-free zones. Currently, all 50 states allow for people to obtain concealed carry permits, given that they meet certain requirements. 17 states outright ban guns on college campuses. 23 states leave the decision up to each individual campus. The simple truth of the matter is that signs do not keep guns off of campus, or out of gun free zones.
The black market in the United States is valued at over $600 billion, a portion of which includes illicit gun sales. Laws will not remove guns. Nor should they. In fact, between 1993 and 2013, gun ownership went from 0.94 per person up to 1.45. In that same amount of time, gun-related homicides dropped in half. It is clear that there will never be a world without firearms; it is our right to be able to match that threat with a commensurate level of protection.