The Second Amendment assumes a moral people
When the Framers put the Bill of Rights into place, they did so assuming that Americans were a fundamentally moral people. John Adams stated that explicitly, saying, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” One element of this assumption was that the people could be trusted with firearms. Now, though, those in charge of the government presumptively assess Americans as immoral and untrustworthy.
Immediately after the Framers created the union, they passed the ten constitutional amendments that we call the Bill of Rights. The Framers understood these to be inalienable rights from our Creator. They forbade the new government to infringe on these rights.
The First Amendment is a moral people’s right to communicate to the government a proper course of action. The Founders knew that government has no morality in and of itself and would depend on moral people to speak and write to redress the errors of government. To be moral, a government must trust the people to develop and guard their moral principles.
The Second Amendment embodies the implied trust that the government should have in the people. There is no greater trust than the trust required when people can possess the means of lethal force without regulation. The people should be trusted because they could be trusted.
It has been said that the Second Amendment is necessary to protect the other amendments. That is quite true. However, the First Amendment also protects the Second. The Founders expected that people would seek the moral teachings of their religious institutions and act upon them – and not just in their speech and in the redress of grievances. They believed that a moral people would handle lethal force in a moral way, whether hunting for food, self-defense, or defending the nation against enemies both foreign and domestic.
The Framers knew that not all people would act morally. To constrain their worst behaviors, they created a judicial system by which the people could judge each other through a jury of their peers. Any facts presented to the jury had to comfort with centuries’ old refinements aimed at excluding unreliable evidence. A person found to be outside the bounds of legal morality could be denied liberty – and one liberty that can be denied is possessing lethal force.
The framers had built a system in which free moral people could be trusted to govern themselves. It is the definition of liberty. Removing liberty from those who prove that they do not have the moral guidance to be trusted is the regulating force to compel people to seek morality. This is not compelled religion. It is compelled moral behavior and people can learn that from religious teaching without participating in the faith and practices.
It is a delicate balance. The people could be free except when they proved by their own actions that they should not be completely free. Of late, this has changed.
The government now seeks to take away people’s liberty first and then force them to prove their morality before they have the government’s permission to be trusted. It is a battle that cannot be won. The government will make it increasingly difficult to prove morality. Since a person might act immorally in the future, a person can never be trusted. It has been a slow and subtle change, but now the government defines morality and it has no need for religion and the morality it teaches.
In the past, the left would decry laws made based on morality. “You can’t legislate morality,” they would scream. They were wrong. A government can define morality based on the demands of a moral people. That is not the government determining morality; it is the government reflecting the morality of the people in its laws.
We are increasingly upsidedown from the Framers' intentions. The government defines morality, it does not reflect it, and the people can never meet the government’s constantly changing definition of morality because the government doesn’t trust the people. Now, a person is guilty until proven innocent. We do not have permission to speak certain things and we cannot approach the government with a moral argument to redress grievances. To make certain that we do not get uppity, they have shown that they are willing to use government force to deny us access to moral teaching not from the government.
It is surprising that the greatest example of trust given to the people – the right to bear arms -- remains at all. It hangs by a thin thread that can be severed in a moment. Maybe the people that back the Second Amendment are correct when they say that the Second Amendment protects the rest, but the rest are already gone when the government wants them gone. The Second Amendment may only be protecting itself.
IMAGE: High school rifle team; origin unknown