The Teeth of Liberty: At the time of our founding (part 1)

This is the first part in a two-part series.  We will discuss the attitudes of the founders and the reasons why they insisted that the newly formed Constitution be amended to guarantee the federal government could not disarm the people.

“Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.”
Okay, this quote from George Washington has been debunked.  He never actually said it, but he should have.  Others have said it, just not in those words.

Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat.  The right to keep and bear arms was not given to us by the United States government in the form of the 2nd Amendment.  The Framers knew that our rights come from God.  They amended the Constitution because the several states demanded they list the rights that the federal government could not take away.  The Bill of Rights is a list of the rights that our Creator endowed to us.  The Bill of Rights protects the people from the government.

Thomas Jefferson wisely said: “The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”  This is the true spirit of the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution.  There was no concern regarding hunting.  It was understood that most men were hunters and were so to feed their families.  There was no concern regarding sport shooting.  There was even very little concern to personal protection.  Those activities were all matters of fact.

The founders of this great country had spent years under the tyrannical rule of King George III.  They were taxed unfairly and without due representation.  They suffered unlawfully restrictive tariffs.  They were denied the right to assemble.  They suffered the brutality of an illegal standing army.  The final straw however, was Governor Thomas Gage seizing the provincial powder from a magazine in Massachusetts and forcibly confiscating arms from the people.  The founders put up with so much for so long with little more than peaceful protests and articles written in the patriot newspapers.  Why did they draw the line at the seizure of their gun powder and firearms?  In the words of George Mason, “To disarm the people… was the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”  The founders knew that without arms to protect themselves from a tyrannical government, the grievances they’ve had with the King up to that point would pale in comparison to what would come.

After the successful revolution there was a fierce debate in this country about forming a federal government.  The people who had lived under a tyrant and fought a brutal war to throw him off were not about to let a new tyrannical government take his place.  That’s why during the ratification process the several states demanded a Bill of Rights to guarantee the newly formed federal government would not be able to strip them of their God-given rights.  So long as the people were armed, they knew they had a check against a government that attempts to become too powerful.

“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.”  There’s been much debate over the language of the second amendment, particularly the “well regulated militia” piece.  If you’ve read the words of our founders, it becomes clear.

During the debates in Virginia to ratify the Constitution George Mason said, “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.”  Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist Paper #29 said, “…but if 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 use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights…”  In Federalist Paper #46 James Madison said, “Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”  He also said, “the ultimate authority … resides in the people alone.”

To the founders, the language of the 2nd Amendment was clear.  The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed upon by the government because a well regulated militia (a well armed and trained citizenry) is necessary to the security of their freedom.

In Part 2 we will explore the debate we are having in this country today and why the Founders’ ideals are as important today as they were 222 years ago.

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The Teeth of Liberty: Today’s debate (part 2)

This is the second part in a two-part series.  Part 1 discussed the attitudes of the founders and the reasons why they insisted that the newly formed Constitution be amended to guarantee the federal government could not disarm the people.

Let’s fast forward 222 years.  The 2nd Amendment is under attack.  We are told that we should only be allowed to have certain types of weapons.  Andrew Cuomo recently said, “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer!”  That may very well be true but it has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment.  Hunting is not what the 2nd Amendment is about.  You also hear the argument posed as a question: “Why does anyone need an “assault rifle?””  Maybe you don’t need one but maybe I do.  But it is a moot point.  The first 10 amendments to the Constitution are known as the Bill of RIGHTS, not the Bill of needs.

Since the premise behind the 2nd Amendment is that the citizenry must be able to protect themselves from a tyrannical government, wouldn’t citizens having access to arms equal to those possessed by the government be a requisite?  Shall not be infringed means just what it says.  Politicians are trying to ban “military style assault weapons” even though true assault weapons (i.e. machine guns) have been heavily regulated since the National Firearms Act of 1934 and it is illegal to possess any manufactured after 1986.  We will ignore the fact that congress has no constitutional authority to enact such laws but we’ll leave that for another time.  If we as citizens are only allowed to have single shot rifles, double barrel shotguns and 6-shot revolvers, how exactly is the citizenry supposed to keep a government armed with fully automatic machine guns from becoming a tyrannical police state?  The answer is simple: we cannot.

The next place the argument goes is: “Well, should people be allowed to have tanks and nuclear weapons.”  Well, technically, probably yes.  The federal government at one point allowed privateers to own and operate navy vessels that were as well armed as the U.S. Navy was.  But no one is arguing that point.  Very few people can afford to buy a nuclear warhead.  Very few can store one or operate the systems required to deliver such a payload.  It’s the same with tanks.  No one is arguing that private citizens should have access to tanks.  The 2nd Amendment says “keep and bear arms”.  Tanks and nuclear warheads are typically very difficult to bear.

No one is expecting the citizenry to be able to defeat the federal government in a fully fledged war, if it should ever come to that.  Some say the citizenry would have no chance of defending themselves against the United States military but history tells a different story.  The original band of patriots was up against the world’s greatest fighting force, Great Britain, and they won.  The soviets were the world’s greatest military power second only to the United States yet they pulled out of Afghanistan after fighting for almost a full decade because they couldn’t win.  We’ve been taught the lesson first hand. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong’s guerrilla tactics eventually forced us to leave without a victory.  In our decade long war in Afghanistan we have suffered the same fate as the soviets.  We had a far superior fighting force in both wars, but aside from scorching the earth, both wars were not winnable because the enemy did not stand in front of our advanced weapons to be slaughtered.  The same would be true here.  If the federal government decided that it was to lay waste to the citizenry it certainly could.  But what would be the point?  You can’t enslave a people you just wiped out.

In summary, the Framers of the United State Constitution and the several states that ratified it wanted protection from a government that turns tyrannical.  They accomplished this by amending the constitution to prohibit the federal government from disarming the populace and ever since, We The People have been defending that right.  Now it seems some are begging the government to allow us to keep part of our right to keep and bear arms.  They can’t take any of it because they didn’t give it, God did.  So the next time someone asks why you need an “assault weapon” or tells you that we have to have sensible gun control to save the children, just remember that tyrants have always disarmed their people before they murdered them.  When we allow our rights to be slowly eroded away, we’ll wake up one day and they’ll be gone.  If you register your guns, one day they’ll show up to take them.  If you let them take your semiautomatics and you are left with a single shot rifle, one day they’ll murder you with a machine gun.  History is very clear on this.  Lenin did it.  Stalin did it.  Hitler did it.  Mao did it.  I’m not suggesting the federal government is tyrannical and is trying to murder its people.  But if they succeed in disarming the people, one day a different federal government might very well thank them for their work.

Mao Tse-tung rightly said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”  And if we the people don’t have any, we are at the mercy of those who do.