Should the Second Amendment Have Been the First?

No honest debate of any issue can be conducted without both parties agreeing to some basic definitions of terms.  And that is precisely what is wrong in the currently heated debate on the matter of gun control.  Those who wish to limit the gun ownership rights of Americans read and interpret the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms in a very limited way.  Let's look at what the constitution actually says:

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.

Look at that provision in the terms of the times in which it was written.  The authors of the constitution were men who had just declared their freedom from an abusive sovereign power and then won that freedom through force of arms.  What did the authors of the Second Amendment mean by the term militia?  From an excellent discussion of the issue written in the 1990s:

Many civil libertarians, uncomfortable with the private possession of firearms, have found the militia prefatory clause of the second amendment a convenient exculpatory clause. The Supreme Court has not dealt directly with the constitutional militia, as opposed to the National Guard, but there is nothing to indicate that the militia, under second amendment analysis, is anything other than the "whole people." [40]

The whole people, indeed!  And what did our founding fathers mean by the term keep and bear arms?  In their time, it almost certainly had to carry with it significance not readily apparent to much of our current population.  In our War of Independence from Great Britain, many if not most of the arms used against the European forces were provided from local sources -- even cannon and mortar, those coming from local militia.  The arms borne by individual soldiers were, for the most part, self-provided, at least in the early stages of the war.

So when the founding fathers included language in our Constitution guaranteeing the right of the people to keep and bear arms, do you not suppose that they most likely meant that guarantee to refer to the ability to fight back on the terms and with the weaponry of the times when such conflict occurred?  Should this guarantee stand frozen in time, or should it continue into the future, when events might once again necessitate the use of arms (contemporary arms, no less!) to once again overthrow tyranny?

The founders granted us, the people, the right to keep and bear arms.  Those who wish to constrain that right frequently use the very lame argument that the Second Amendment allows us this freedom to maintain arms for hunting purposes only.  That is the anti-gun lobby's most frequent argument when attempting to deny American citizens the right to possess semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles.  The failure of their argument is that the constitutional grant of power to the people says nothing whatsoever about hunting.  Further, the very term "bear arms" carries with it a definition that has nothing to do with hunting.  Here's what we find at Dictionary.com.  Do you see there any reference to hunting?

The reason for that is clear: the founding fathers, in the preparation of the principles which would ensure the continuance of the democratic experiment they had put into operation, weren't concerned with the then-everyday practice of provisional hunting, they were determined to preserve their political accomplishments and protect them from future threats of tyranny.  They gave us, in the form of the Second Amendment, the right to defend all those other freedoms they had bestowed on us through that remarkable document spelling out our human rights.  They knew, better than most, that the right to keep and bear arms is the bedrock freedom of the rest of those freedoms so clearly set out in that Bill of Rights.  Without the implied protection of force of arms, those other rights are just so much wishful thinking -- mere ink upon paper.

Those who would disarm us to meet their feel-good need to eliminate murderous atrocities from society say we have no need of weapons capable of firing thirty rounds.  Think for a moment what the founding fathers might think about that should they somehow learn that the people are now facing a standing federal army with weapons of far greater lethality than a simple semi-automatic rifle with a thirty-round magazine.  Don't you suppose that the founding fathers were familiar with the concept of parity of arms?  Considering what they had just been through in fighting for their independence, don't you suppose they understood that concept very clearly and that their experiences in opposing the standing army of Great Britain may have very well been the primary reason for the Second Amendment and its placement in the Bill of Rights as the only right secondary to that of the freedom of speech?  Is it too far-fetched to believe that those who founded this nation and put in place our guiding documents would not want to see the citizenry -- that is, we the people -- at least so well-armed as to prevent the rise of a tyrannical central government that would negate the rights they, the founding fathers, bestowed upon us?

Where I believe those brilliant, inspired founders may have erred, though, is in making the Second Amendment second, rather than first, where their intent would have been crystal-clear and unmistakable to posterity.  And may I suggest that the primary placement of free speech was likely due to the prevalence of lawyers -- men accustomed to fighting more with words than with arms -- among them?

In any event, whether the right to bear arms comes second or first in the Bill of Rights, we can reasonably assume that our founding fathers were making a clear statement of their strong belief that the democratic republic with which they endowed us can be preserved only through a well-armed militia -- a citizenry, a general public, well-armed to sufficient extent as to overthrow a tyrannical central government.

 

No honest debate of any issue can be conducted without both parties agreeing to some basic definitions of terms.  And that is precisely what is wrong in the currently heated debate on the matter of gun control.  Those who wish to limit the gun ownership rights of Americans read and interpret the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms in a very limited way.  Let's look at what the constitution actually says:

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.

Look at that provision in the terms of the times in which it was written.  The authors of the constitution were men who had just declared their freedom from an abusive sovereign power and then won that freedom through force of arms.  What did the authors of the Second Amendment mean by the term militia?  From an excellent discussion of the issue written in the 1990s:

Many civil libertarians, uncomfortable with the private possession of firearms, have found the militia prefatory clause of the second amendment a convenient exculpatory clause. The Supreme Court has not dealt directly with the constitutional militia, as opposed to the National Guard, but there is nothing to indicate that the militia, under second amendment analysis, is anything other than the "whole people." [40]

The whole people, indeed!  And what did our founding fathers mean by the term keep and bear arms?  In their time, it almost certainly had to carry with it significance not readily apparent to much of our current population.  In our War of Independence from Great Britain, many if not most of the arms used against the European forces were provided from local sources -- even cannon and mortar, those coming from local militia.  The arms borne by individual soldiers were, for the most part, self-provided, at least in the early stages of the war.

So when the founding fathers included language in our Constitution guaranteeing the right of the people to keep and bear arms, do you not suppose that they most likely meant that guarantee to refer to the ability to fight back on the terms and with the weaponry of the times when such conflict occurred?  Should this guarantee stand frozen in time, or should it continue into the future, when events might once again necessitate the use of arms (contemporary arms, no less!) to once again overthrow tyranny?

The founders granted us, the people, the right to keep and bear arms.  Those who wish to constrain that right frequently use the very lame argument that the Second Amendment allows us this freedom to maintain arms for hunting purposes only.  That is the anti-gun lobby's most frequent argument when attempting to deny American citizens the right to possess semi-automatic handguns and semi-automatic rifles.  The failure of their argument is that the constitutional grant of power to the people says nothing whatsoever about hunting.  Further, the very term "bear arms" carries with it a definition that has nothing to do with hunting.  Here's what we find at Dictionary.com.  Do you see there any reference to hunting?

The reason for that is clear: the founding fathers, in the preparation of the principles which would ensure the continuance of the democratic experiment they had put into operation, weren't concerned with the then-everyday practice of provisional hunting, they were determined to preserve their political accomplishments and protect them from future threats of tyranny.  They gave us, in the form of the Second Amendment, the right to defend all those other freedoms they had bestowed on us through that remarkable document spelling out our human rights.  They knew, better than most, that the right to keep and bear arms is the bedrock freedom of the rest of those freedoms so clearly set out in that Bill of Rights.  Without the implied protection of force of arms, those other rights are just so much wishful thinking -- mere ink upon paper.

Those who would disarm us to meet their feel-good need to eliminate murderous atrocities from society say we have no need of weapons capable of firing thirty rounds.  Think for a moment what the founding fathers might think about that should they somehow learn that the people are now facing a standing federal army with weapons of far greater lethality than a simple semi-automatic rifle with a thirty-round magazine.  Don't you suppose that the founding fathers were familiar with the concept of parity of arms?  Considering what they had just been through in fighting for their independence, don't you suppose they understood that concept very clearly and that their experiences in opposing the standing army of Great Britain may have very well been the primary reason for the Second Amendment and its placement in the Bill of Rights as the only right secondary to that of the freedom of speech?  Is it too far-fetched to believe that those who founded this nation and put in place our guiding documents would not want to see the citizenry -- that is, we the people -- at least so well-armed as to prevent the rise of a tyrannical central government that would negate the rights they, the founding fathers, bestowed upon us?

Where I believe those brilliant, inspired founders may have erred, though, is in making the Second Amendment second, rather than first, where their intent would have been crystal-clear and unmistakable to posterity.  And may I suggest that the primary placement of free speech was likely due to the prevalence of lawyers -- men accustomed to fighting more with words than with arms -- among them?

In any event, whether the right to bear arms comes second or first in the Bill of Rights, we can reasonably assume that our founding fathers were making a clear statement of their strong belief that the democratic republic with which they endowed us can be preserved only through a well-armed militia -- a citizenry, a general public, well-armed to sufficient extent as to overthrow a tyrannical central government.