The Intent of the Framers of the Constitution in Regards to the Right to Keep and Bear Arms – the Second Amendment.
By Jeff Crook
Much is made these days of the intention of the framers of the Constitution in regards to the Second Amendment. There are some who hold that the Founding Fathers only made provisions for the right of the individual to keep and bear arms in order to maintain a well-regulated militia, because, well, frankly, that’s what it says. And there are many who argue at length about what constitutes a militia in the modern context. Obviously, in the late 18th century, the militia was made up of individual citizens who were called to arms in order to defend the community – not unlike the modern National Guard. In those days, the individual members of the militia were required to provide and maintain their own firearms. Thus the provision in the Second Amendment.
The only problem with this argument is that you don’t need an amendment to require people to maintain a militia. The intent of the Bill of Rights, as a whole, is to limit the power of the federal government. "Congress shall make no law…" Remember that phrase? This is the problem with many of the later amendments and proposed amendments, such as the flag burning amendment so recently in vogue among red-blooded patriots. If anything, there ought to be an amendment that says Congress shall make no law preventing the right of the individual to burn the flag of the United States. That’s what the Bill of Rights was for – to prevent Congress from passing laws that infringe on those rights which the framers of the Constitution believed were vital to the success of their fledgling democracy.
I have also read arguments that the framers of the Constitution never conceived of the deadly capabilities of the modern firearm, that they were mostly concerned with muskets and pistols. This is simply not true. These were men of the world, many of them inventors and scientists (Franklin, Jefferson) and seasoned warriors (George Washington). They had seen in their own lifetimes the rapid pace of weapons development, and they knew without a doubt that weapons would continue to evolve and become ever more deadly. Yet, they didn’t word the amendment ‘the right to keep and bear muskets.’ We should not assume that they were idiots. The belief that everything that could be invented had already been invented didn’t come into fashion until the end of the following century.
Gun control advocates also maintain that this is a different world than the one the framers of the Constitution knew. Yet these men knew that the world would not stop evolving. They lived in momentous times and they knew that things would continue to ‘progress.’ That’s why, when they wrote the Constitution, they drew upon all their wisdom to create a living document, one that would speak for the ages to come, one filled with universal truths that would never change – freedom, liberty, and tyranny. They saw it as their job to create a government that could never become a tyranny. That is why they fought the War of Independence, so that they could make just such a government (see the Declaration of Independence). The entire Constitution, with all its provisions for checks and balances of power, was written to limit the ability of any one section of government from holding tyrannical power over another section of government, or over the citizens it was meant to govern.
"No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." -Thomas Jefferson, June 1776
"Americans need not fear the federal government because they enjoy the advantage of being armed, which you possess over the people of almost every other nation." -James Madison, The Federalist 46 (1788).
"And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the right of resistance? Let them take arms...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." --Thomas Jefferson
"The peaceable part of mankind will be overrun by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self-defense...[but] arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe...Horrid mischief would ensue were the good deprived the use of them."-- Thomas Paine
"Arms in the hands of individual citizens may be used at individual discretion in private self-defense." --John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America (1787-1788).
"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms…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." -Thomas Jefferson, quoting Cesare Beccaria in "On Crimes and Punishment" (1764).
So we see that these men provided for the right to keep and bear arms both to guarantee the ability of the individual to defend himself from criminals, and to maintain the ability of the private citizen to hold his government in check, as a last resort. These men were revolutionaries – they had just completed a successful armed revolt against an imperial power. They knew that, without the individual’s access to modern (for that day) firearms, their revolt could never have survived its first days. And they also knew that it is human nature for even the most noble government to eventually decline into tyranny if not kept in careful check. All one needs is to look at Zimbabwe and other modern nations who have shaken off imperial powers to see that this is true. Without the basic freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the people cannot make sure that their government will not take advantage of them. The cornerstone of these rights is the firearm, for without it, the government has nothing to fear from the citizens it governs. And when government is not afraid is when tyranny appears. This country is the world’s oldest democracy, not because our elected officials have an innate sense of fair play and moral obligation to do what is right. There have been many, many politicians who, if they could have abolished the electoral system and remained in power forever, even in defiance of the people, they would have, without a second thought. What gives them second thought is that the people are armed.
When we are no longer armed, we will no longer be free. All it will take is one national crisis for a president or Congress to invoke emergency powers, and you will see that those powers will never be revoked. For if the government doesn’t conduct elections, how will you vote someone out of office? And if you cannot rise up in arms, you won’t be able to restore free and fair elections.
And that, my fellow Americans, as they say, will be that.
"Both the oligarch and Tyrant mistrust the people, and therefore deprive them of arms."—Aristotle
Back to UncommonSense