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January 8, 2013


The Gun Thing, Part V: The Founding Fathers’ Intent

The Second Amendment is without a doubt the most potent expression in the Bill of Rights of the idea that the proper relationship between the individual and the state is one in which the state is subservient to the citizen.

Remember that the idea of America is a radical one. Never before in human history had it been successfully asserted that the governors are subservient to the governed. This is how it was articulated in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Read it carefully:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

How do the people “alter or abolish” a government that has become destructive of the ends of securing our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Prudence dictates that we begin by voicing opinions and making our cases for or against whatever proposal is on the table.

We can elect representatives who pledge to vote in our interests.

We can do all sorts of the things at the ballot box, from initiatives to referendums and all manner of legislative action.

We can put judges in place who share our ideas.

We can engage in peaceful protests. We can practice jury nullification and state nullification.

And, failing all of that… we can take up arms, and shoot our way out of an oppressive government, just like we did when threw off the British crown.

Why did the Founding Fathers include the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights? To “allow” people to hunt? No. To fight the redcoats? No. To be part of an armed militia under government supervisions? Emphatically no.

Here are some of the Founding Fathers, in their own words, about what they intended the Second Amendment to do:

“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, “Commonplace Book”

“[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights and those of their fellow citizens.”—The Federalist, No. 29 - Alexander Hamilton

“[A]rms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. . . Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.”—Thomas Paine, “Thoughts On Defensive War, 1775

“Are we at last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms under our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?” - Patrick Henry


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22 comments

Well done, Greg.  Anyone who reads the founders’ comments on the necessity of an armed citizenry can plainly see that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to serve as a check on the govenrment’s power should it exceed its legitimate powers under the Constitution.  To say otherwise is simply disingenuous.

[1] Posted by evan miller on 1-8-2013 at 08:55 AM · [top]

They didn’t understand loving, committed government confiscation and control of weapons in the way that we do through modern scholarship.

[2] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 1-8-2013 at 09:29 AM · [top]

...but gun confiscation worked so well for the ordinary citizen in Germany.  And Russia.  And China…

[3] Posted by B. Hunter on 1-8-2013 at 12:38 PM · [top]

Greg - How about getting an interview on CNN or MSNBC to discuss this information.  You could say you will be discussing gun violence from the point of view of an Episcopal Church member, bringing to bear spiritual and historical resources.  I would like to see how long they would let you talk before cutting to a commercial and removing you from the set cheese

Seriously, the fact that comments such as yours are not showing up in any mainstream media articles or on any widely watched TV news shows, proves that all the arguments so far are emotional ones, with thoughtful, logical discourse being left behind.  The raw emotionalism is exactly what POTUS and his cronies are pushing.  They realize that if they had to make a careful, reasoned argument, drawing on well researched studies and historical perspective, they could never get their desired legislation passed.  I guess a crisis really is too good to waste if you are merely an agenda driven ideologue; oops, I mean compassionate community organizer.

[4] Posted by Daniel on 1-8-2013 at 01:16 PM · [top]

There are some obvious disconnects here:

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms. . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes  False: Such laws are also somewhat effective at disarming people who will later have psychotic episodes and launch assaults on schools, malls, and movie theatres.

while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them [the standing army] in discipline and the use of arms Probably False: I see no evidence that the general public in the US is as disciplined as the US armed forces or as proficient with guns.

in whose hands can they [guns] be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands Well, given recent events and given the extraordinary statistics of gun violence in the US, I would suggest the disciplined government forces can be more trusted.

There are many, many examples of countries where firearms are tightly controlled without a totalitarian regime emerging, and many examples of countries with uncontrolled guns, that are ruled (violently) by totalitarian regimes.

Are not US soldiers screened and indoctrinated to serve the US constitution and to protect the freedom of the country?  [Put another way: could Kent State happen again?] That is your best safeguard, not Bushmasters in every bedroom.

[5] Posted by Michael D on 1-8-2013 at 01:16 PM · [top]

Wait a sec! How come liberals are pro-choice when it comes to infanticide, but want to deny choice to others when it comes to guns?

[6] Posted by paradoxymoron on 1-8-2013 at 02:22 PM · [top]

p-moron: as I’m sure you know, if you want to gain any insight into liberals, the first thing you have to abandon is any expectation of consistency or coherence of policies.

[7] Posted by Michael D on 1-8-2013 at 02:49 PM · [top]

Michael D,

Your first “false” is false. If the mere possibility of future psychotic episodes is a good reason to implement gun control, then the degree of control should be complete (a total prohibition, including forced confiscation), and the time to do it is immediately. But of course, this is an absurd notion, because if it weren’t, then we would similarly ban all knives, automobiles, lead pipes, fertilizer, and Ryder rental trucks, since it’s POSSIBLE that anyone who now owns of them MIGHT have a psychotic episode in the future, and go around slashing people, bludgeoning them, or bombing them.

You “probably false” is neither here nor there. Private citizens may, if they wish, obtain training that is every bit the equal of the US military, with the possible exception of ultra-elite special forces (SEAL, Delta, etc.). Obviously the founding fathers weren’t saying that if you put a gun in the hand of the biggest, dumbest slob out there, that he magically becomes the equivalent in training and experience of a veteran soldier.

As for the rest of it, I have to chuckle at your suggesting that you know best what every American citizen needs to have or do in order to protect himself or his family. I thought I had made it clear by now, but perhaps not: THE FOUNDING FATHERS, IN THEIR WISDOM, KNEW THE FOLLY OF THIS, AND PROVIDED THE SECOND AMENDMENT PRECISELY SO WE DON’T HAVE TO SUFFER THE INDIGNITY OF HAVING SOMEONE ELSE DECIDE FOR US WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO PROTECT OURSELVES AND OUR FAMILIES.

You say there are ” many, many examples of countries where firearms are tightly controlled without a totalitarian regime emerging, and many examples of countries with uncontrolled guns, that are ruled (violently) by totalitarian regimes,” by which I suppose you mean, “Being disarmed by the government won’t necessarily lead to totalitarianism, and having guns isn’t a sure preventative of it.”

The first half of that is true. The second isn’t. Places like Yemen and Afghanistan, where gun ownership is very high, do indeed have violent and/or oppressive regimes in place, but that’s because they reflect the character of the people, not because the armed populace has been tyrannized.

As to whether societies with strict gun control can exist without totalitarian regimes emerging, I would remind you of two things:

One is that the very fact the governments to which you refer are able to disarm their citizens and keep them disarmed, is sufficient evidence of their totalitarian nature.

The other is that the places to which you refer - mainly in western Europe, I assume - have existed only briefly in their present gun-control configurations, so the jury is still out as to whether they can do so for very long.

Finally, if you suggest that the regular army alone having high-powered weapons is sufficient to the protection of this country, remember that we are not talking solely about foreign threats. We are also talking about domestic threats, and it’s easily conceivable that the regular army might one day constitute precisely such a threat.

Also, since security in our persons and our property is part of what it means to be secure in a free state, the inability of a regular army - and even a police force - to protect us fully in our homes or in public against criminals intent on harming us, makes the notion of relying on either for our primary protection ridiculous.

Thus - again - the need for citizens to be armed. We have a God-given right to be secure in our person and in our property. When someone attempts to violate that right, we have a right to defend ourselves. That right cannot possibly be construed as being limited to “meeting force with equal force” - e.g., expecting an 80-year-old woman to go mano-a-mano with a young gangbanger using only her fists or a baseball bat, so logically it must include an equalizer in the form of firearms.

But to keep going farther down that line of threats, our ability to counter the threat of domestic military or police oppression similarly cannot be limited to 6-shot revolvers; so logically it must include high-capacity, automatic weapons.

This all assumes that you believe in the core American concept: That the power of the state derives from the consent of the governed, because the governed - the people - are supreme, not the state.

I don’t know your nationality, but if that’s not your understanding of the correct relationship between the individual and the state, then you’re in the wrong country.

[8] Posted by Greg Griffith on 1-8-2013 at 11:38 PM · [top]

hi Greg,

Thanks for our thoughtful response.  I find it interesting that I have admired your opinions on so many faith and moral issues over the years, but disagree quite strongly with your stand on this issue.  When this happens, I usually have something to learn, so thank you for not just ignoring me.

I am a Canadian, and thus live in a constitutional monarchy.  Sometimes I wish the Queen had even a bit of power left, so that she could give us a decent Archbishop of Canterbury, but alas she apparently has none.  Like you, we elect representatives who bicker among themselves and pass resolutions that are sometimes enlightened and sometimes irritatingly short-sighted.  So I suspect you and I have a similar relationship with our governments.

Though I am a civilian, I work a lot with the Canadian armed forces, and have come to admire them very much.  I note with interest that, while my business associates have become much more informal, CF officers still dress formally, salute, call superiors “sir” rather than “Joe,” and even use formal table manners.  I have come to realize that this is because, when you give men the power to destroy life, you do not want them to be casual about their work.  You instill in them a high view of their calling and their responsibility.  This is essential to the maintenance of civilization.

Thus I am at peace with <a href = “http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+13&version=ESV”>Romans 13</a> Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good.

Though I am not afraid of my government, sometimes, like you, I wake up in the night and worry “what if a thief or murderer broke into my home, how would I defend my family?”  What or whom can I put my trust in?  I have come to the conclusion that ultimately I must trust in God for this too.  To do anything else would lead to a sort of paranoid arms race: I would buy a handgun, then worry about multiple robbers, then buy body armour and an automatic, then worry about nuclear weapons, then build a fallout shelter, then worry about the fall of civilization, then move to Fiji and become a survivalist, then worry about climate catastrophe.  And in the end, no matter what I do, I suspect I will die and eventually my children will die.  [Here, in the interest of full disclosure, I confess, we lock our doors at night, so perhaps that is evidence that I have not fully put my trust in God.]

My wish is to lay up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  What good would a gun be to defend such treasures?

[9] Posted by Michael D on 1-9-2013 at 01:39 AM · [top]

RE: “I have come to the conclusion that ultimately I must trust in God for this too.”

Yeh—we do too.  That’s why we purchase guns—we don’t gnostically refuse His good gifts to us, we celebrate them and use them.

It’s why, even when we trust God to supply our needs, we go out and get jobs too, or use medicine as we pray for God’s healing.

I’d like to also point out that Michael D’s critique of the words of one of America’s founding fathers, ably refuted by Greg, does not, however, rebut Greg’s point, which is that our founding fathers were quite clear about the meaning and purpose of the Second Amendment.

Finally, while it’s nice that Michael D offers his opinion that our “best safeguard” is not “Bushmasters in every bedroom”—very fortunately, we don’t have to accept his opinion, thanks to the Second Amendment.

[10] Posted by Sarah on 1-9-2013 at 08:43 AM · [top]

No, of course you don’t have to accept my opinion, Sarah - blogs are about civilized discussion, not bludgeoning.  Was I coming on too strong?

[11] Posted by Michael D on 1-9-2013 at 10:10 AM · [top]

Michael D.,

I usually enjoy your comments on threads here, so please don’t misunderstand what I’m going to say, because I don’t mean it as a put-down, but the fact that you, as a Canadian, don’t agree with our interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, is frankly immaterial.  Same goes for several other regular commenters from other countries.  One of the major factors that makes the US exceptional among the nations of the world it our right, recognized and enshrined in the Bill of Rights, to bear arms in our own defense.  This right alone, and the denial of it in virtually every other country on earth, is THE primary reason I would never live in another country.  I recognize that you and other non-US citizens don’t share our attachment to the uniquely American view of government as the servant, rather than master, of the people, and our conviction that having adequate means to defend ourselves, as individuals, is essential to preserving such a relationship.

Completely off topic - Would any other Stand Firmers attending Mere Anglicanism like to get together when in town?

[12] Posted by evan miller on 1-9-2013 at 02:59 PM · [top]

The right to defend one’s self, family and home is a natural right.  It is also a natural right for a person to provide food for themselves and their family.  Finally human freedom is a natural right, which sometimes must be preserved by use of force.

Since these may have to be exercised by the use of firearms to prohibit the bearing of arms to law abiding persons for such purposes is to take away rights held by virtue of the dignity of the person.  Taking away such dignity results in a form of slavery. 

Worse, by doing so it is assumed that the government has the power to grant not only civil rights but natural rights as well.  This is not true.  Governments (our government at least) are tasked with restraining themselves from infringing upon a person’s exercise of his or her natural rights.

I wish Liberals would understand that being told not to infringe upon a right is not the same thing as being given the power to grant that right.

[13] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 1-9-2013 at 08:33 PM · [top]

For a different perspective in support of the Second Amendment, look at Star Parker’s Opinion Piece in the Washington Examiner, below.

<a >Star Parker Opinion Piece - 29 Dec 2012</a>

“Citizenship requires three boxes: The ballot box, the jury box and the cartridge box.”  - Frederick Douglas

[14] Posted by Justin Martyr on 1-9-2013 at 08:57 PM · [top]

[15] Posted by Justin Martyr on 1-9-2013 at 08:58 PM · [top]

Evan: perhaps this is a US-eyes-only discussion, but the sign to that effect is not showing up on my browser smile  Part of the pleasure in blogs, for me, is learning to see topics through the eyes of people from outside my precise cultural niche.  If I was not interested in understanding other points of view, I would correctly be labelled as “provincial.” 

And Evan, I’m not sure where you got the idea that Canadians think of the government as the master rather than the servant.  I travel to the US a lot, and find the hand of government in the US much heavier than in Canada.  For example US police and border guards seem to feel no constraint to be polite - they act very authoritatively even when no crime has been committed.  Come visit us and see what you think of Canadian police and border guards.  They behave as servants of the people, and we demand that they do so.

Paula: all countries, including the US, have their own limits on “defending one’s self, family and home.”  In Cambodia after Pol Pot, for example, it was commonplace for rice farmers to plant land mines around their fields to prevent theft.  But to my knowledge such a defense of property would not be allowed in Canada or the US, and infringing that right does not diminish our dignity.

Greg: how thoroughly did you research the statement “Never before in human history had it been successfully asserted that the governors are subservient to the governed,” Do you not think the Magna Carta (1215) was such an assertion?  And what about Athenian democracy? (I’m not an expert in it, but wikipedia claims “While citizens voting in the assembly were the people and so were free of review or punishment, those same citizens when holding an office served the people and could be punished very severely. All of them were subject to a review beforehand that might disqualify them for office and an examination after stepping down. Officeholders were the agents of the people, not their representatives.”  And what about Iceland’s Althing founded in 930 AD?

[16] Posted by Michael D on 1-9-2013 at 11:42 PM · [top]

Michael D,

In the U.S. courts have typically found that weapons which are commonly used for self defense, hunting and that contribute to the efficiency of the militia are permissible weapons for a person to own.  I don’t think land mines will ever make that list.

But be honest many of those who advocate for gun control aren’t talking about banning land mines for personal use they are talking about arms which have historically been used for the lawful purposes I have given above. 

A ban on such weapons would indeed be a threat to the freedom and dignity of the person because of the reasons I gave above.  Now you and others are free to use other means to protect and secure those natural rights.  But the government can not tell me and others that we must be prohibited from exercising those rights by use of firearms. 

Oh and before you ask, I have no problem with laws establishing permits to hunt and seasons for various species.  I don’t think that infringes on my 2nd amendment rights.  If the world goes dark, I might have a different opinion.

[17] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 1-10-2013 at 01:05 AM · [top]

Michael D.,

I have visited Canada several times and have found the border guards very courteous, and yes, regretably, I have often had the opposite experience here, though my experiences with our police have been very positive by a wide margin.  However, I wouldn’t trade my right to armed self defense for nice border guards and courteous police.  To the extent that the hand of the government in Canada is lighter than
it is here, Canada is to be commended I’m happy for you.  Certainly I find our federal government acting far outside the limits the Constitution places upon it and I decry these excesses.

[18] Posted by evan miller on 1-10-2013 at 08:54 AM · [top]

Depending on God but refusing the flu vaccine is the same as depending on God but refusing to defend oneself or one’s family is basically testing God, NOT having faith in His graciousrovisions.

[19] Posted by drjoan on 1-10-2013 at 11:42 PM · [top]

Paula and Joan,
I’m not advocating pacifism.  I guess it just sounded like some commentors were trusting in guns more that God (not to imply that they are exclusive, though I know some who I admire would argue that).  In my spiritual walk (so far) I have become convinced that it is futile to trust in guns or land mines or stinger missiles. 
M

[20] Posted by Michael D on 1-11-2013 at 04:28 PM · [top]

Michael,

I trust in God but I know I am trusting God in a fallen world.  I respect those who choose not to have firearms or other weapons for that matter.  This could be because they are pacifists. It could be because they the risk of having a gun in the house is too high. Some people just should not have guns because in the wrong hands (even when such hands belong to law abiding people) the possession of a gun can lead to the escalation of a confrontation.  So I realize guns are not for everybody.

When a gun is used for protection it should keep a very bad situation from getting worse; when the aggressor does not get that a gun means “NO” a person has to be willing to take the life of another person.  This would not be an easy one for me to make.  I certainly understand it being hard for any Christian to make.  Unless you (general you, not specific you) believe you can reconcile that with your Judgment day before God having a gun for self defense is not the right choice.

[21] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 1-11-2013 at 05:31 PM · [top]

The upcoming American civil war, between those who are willing to fight, kill, and die for the right to defend freedom and liberty and those who seek to enslave and degrade a free people on the North American continent, will be a bloody and frightful affair far beyond anything seen before. We have all already decided which side we will be on. Search your heart. Pray for God’s mercy. Keep your powder dry.

[22] Posted by Chazaq on 1-12-2013 at 12:23 AM · [top]

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