The horror just recently perpetrated at Sandy Hook Elementary School on the heels of the movie-theater massacre in Aurora, CO, has raised questions about firearms in America and the Second Amendment: “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.”
Be assured, the Second Amendment to the Constitution is not about the right to self-protection (I mean, why would any sane person need to delineate a reason for self-protection?), rather its main concern is with the overreach of a centralized federal government. Many of the representatives to the Constitutional Convention were concerned with the inherent risks of centralizing power as was being decided in the forming of our new federal government. After all, we had just fought a war to throw off what many thought was a tyrannical government that refused to grant the colonies equal representation. Indeed, the Constitution was preceded by the Articles of Confederation, a document that so weakened the federal government, due to the founders’ fears of centralized government, that it proved unworkable. So, while the conventioneers sought to repair that problem, they were wary of going overboard in the other direction and so were overly concerned with guarding the liberties of the people.
Some are under the impression that with a standing army we no longer have any need for militias and therefore the Second Amendment is defunct—DOA, so to speak. The Second Amendment was, in fact, about the right of the people to form a militia to fight federal government tyranny. Local militias were a response to a standing army which the colonists had had more than enough of. A standing army is no reason for the Second Amendment to pass away; a standing army is why the Second Amendment was written and is still so necessary.
One Patch reader worried why we needed firearms at all in this day and age and thought that the proliferation of firearms in the hands of the people is tantamount to living in a military state. Did I really need to respond that when only law enforcement and the military possess weapons, that is a police state? All tyrants first attempt to disarm the people and then, having removed all impediments to their tyranny, wreak their havoc upon the masses. The Second Amendment was drafted to protect against such. Please, give the founders a little more credit for their foresight than you might possess before trying to diminish the safeguards they imposed as protection against the tyranny of centralized government.
Be it understood that the founders, one and all, supported an armed citizenry not for the purpose of self-defense, nor for the purpose of withstanding an invading army, but expressly for the purpose of keeping the central government from becoming tyrannical.
Patrick Henry believed the only sure guarantee of liberty was an armed and trained citizenry. Alexander Hamilton (The Federalist No. 29) wrote, “…little more can be reasonably aimed at, with respect to the people at large, than to have them properly armed.” Noah Webster argued that an armed citizenry was the protection against the potential threat to liberty represented by a standing army. In fact, those at the Constitutional Convention who were opposed to a Bill of Rights were so because they were doubtful that the federal government would ever be capable of raising a standing army powerful enough to overcome a militia. So, it was not opposition to the ideas contained in the Second Amendment, per se, but more a doubting of its needfulness. Remember, it was only a few years prior that we had been through a war that never would have occurred were it not for the fact that the colonists were well-armed.
The point to be made above is that the armed citizenry in the form of local militias were not because of the lack of a standing army but expressly seen as established in response to a standing army. In fact, to form a local militia in the case of tyrannical impositions imposed upon the people by a centralized government with a standing army at its disposal, the citizenry as individuals need to be armed beforehand; thus is the requirement and needfulness of an armed populace.
Another point should be made with reference to the idea that an armed citizenry is not a guarantee of the Second Amendment or that there is no longer any need for a militia. The argument is made that the Second Amendment has reference only to an organized militia needed in the case of an armed invasion but the Constitution had already made allowance for such and the laws regarding armies and militias is contained in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution proper, so why would there be a need to bring it up again in an amendment? Look at it this way, the Constitution was written in an attempt to establish the boundaries of the centralized federal government. The representatives of each of the individual states however were in such fear of a growing and ever encroaching central government that they established further the bounds of the federal government in the 10th Amendment: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” While the Constitution was meant to delineate the boundaries of and restrain the powers of a centralized government, the representatives of the convention wrote the Bill of Rights to further elaborate and protect the rights of the states and the people from what they feared would be an ever encroaching centralized federal government.
Finally, one more point as to the argument against the need of so-called “assault rifles” and “high capacity magazines.” If, in fact, my argument is correct, and I welcome anybody willing to refute it with hard data, then the Second Amendment guarantees all Americans the right to bear arms. And that right is grounded in the concern that the founders had over the ability of the citizenry to raise and man a militia for the specific purpose of protection against a bloated and corrupt centralized federal government with a well-armed standing army at its disposal to impose its capricious will upon any attempt to protest. If that is so, what kind of arms would the people need access to? Would you suggest that a responsible answer to a fully outfitted army regular with full battle gear and a fully automatic rifle would be a citizen with a single shot revolver? If so, you not only misunderstand the point of this blog but you are ignorant about the struggles and concerns of the founders of this nation and those who put their lives on the line when they signed the Declaration of Independence, who to guard against any such situation arising again made sure to provide for the needs of the people with the guarantee of the ability to protect themselves against a federal government gone wild. They did this by writing the Constitution of the United States to limit the government’s powers and then complemented that with the rights of the citizenry as delineated in the Bill of Rights. And that’s the Law!