Considerable attention has been paid to an argument made by Justice John Paul Stevens in his dissent to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on the Second Amendment, as though Stevens had identified precisely why the majority was all wet.
“The Court,” wrote a seemingly astonished Stevens, “would have us believe that over 200 years ago, the Framers made a choice to limit the tools available to elected officials wishing to regulate civilian uses of weapons…”
Well…yeah! That is exactly what the Framers intended when they penned the Second Amendment, affirming the individual citizen’s right to keep and bear arms. Only someone who skipped U.S. History in high school could not understand why James Madison, John Hancock and the rest of those “old dead white guys” would specify that, in order to secure the existence of a “free state,” no government could disarm the citizens.
Those who rally around Stevens’ sarcastic contention are leaning on their anti-gun biases rather than an accurate reading of history.
The Framers had no such tainted perspective. These fellows had just finished a long, bloody revolution that began – whether the gun ban lobby cares to admit it – when British troops under General Thomas Gage tried to enforce gun control on those pesky colonials. Yes, there were serious problems over taxes and tea, quartering of soldiers and heavy-handed enforcement of other rules and laws, but the flashpoint of revolution was the British plan to seize the colonists’ arms.
Damn right the Second Amendment’s authors purposely limited government’s ability to regulate citizens’ use of arms. They keenly grasped the dark side of government; that it could become oppressive because the nature of government is to limit rights, not protect them. They knew that ultimately the only thing keeping government in check was an armed citizenry. The only way to preserve liberty was to protect our right to bear arms by stipulating that right via the Second Amendment.
But these men also recognized the need arms beyond militia service and resistance to tyranny. We are talking about a time when a man’s finest possession was his rifle and perhaps the brace of pistols he kept at the ready against bands of marauding Indians, lone highwaymen or gangs of ruffians. There was no 9-1-1 then, and absent the intervention of heavily-armed neighbors, you were on your own. Despite our best efforts as a society, only the outlaws have changed, conditions haven’t. You’re still on your own. Cops get there after the fact.
Justice Stevens seems horrified that the Framers would put such a limit on government. It is arguable that the Framers would be even more horrified, were they alive today to witness what their government has become. From the IRS to the Patriot Act, from “political correctness” to “zero tolerance” policies, one could easily argue that Madison, Hancock, John Adams, Ben Franklin, George Washington and the rest would want to demolish the whole thing and start over.
You can safely bet they would once again delineate a Bill of Rights to include freedom of speech and the press, the right of due process and trial by jury, and most assuredly the right to keep and bear arms, and they would zealously prevent government from getting its greasy little fingers on any of those rights.
Dave Workman is senior editor of Gun Week (gunweek.com), a publication owned by the Second Amendment Foundation.