Perhaps you believe the threat of tyrannical government is slight, or less severe today than when our republic was formed. There is still another important point our Founders understood. Namely, the demand for police or military to defend us increases in proportion to our inability to defend ourselves. That’s why disarmed societies adopt police-state tactics. Even if a reduced threat of government tyranny no longer required an armed citizenry, an unarmed citizenry could well create the conditions that lead to tyranny. There is plenty of proof in the last century. Gun control laws and anti-gun attitudes formed a key ingredient in genocides of the 20th Century. They assured that only “authorities” had weaponry. They made it difficult, costly, risky or impossible for civilians to own or use firearms. The Soviet Union, China, Uganda, Cambodia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Ottoman Turkey, and Nazi Germany all had tough gun control laws in place before and during their genocidal periods. Those nations alone murdered 70 million of their own disarmed people.
Talk about repeating history: the Founders had garnered that same lesson from the ancients. They understood that concentrated political power is the most dangerous thing on earth, and they contrived a variety of checks and balances in the Constitution to divide political power—between the separate branches of government, as well as between the federal government and States. The first ten amendments or Bill of Rights were adopted to keep political power from becoming concentrated, by reserving natural or pre-existing rights to the people. Technically speaking, the Constitution doesn’t actually bestow upon the people a right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment prohibits the government from infringing upon a pre-existing right. The Founders’ knew that an armed man must, in a real sense, be regarded as citizen; an unarmed man is subject. English colonists enjoyed the right to keep and bear arms among their inherited rights as freeborn Englishmen. It was George III’s attempt to seize the colonial militia’s stock of weapons at Lexington and Concord that sparked the American Revolution. I submit to you our Founders took their right to keep and bear arms seriously, well before the Second Amendment. Likewise, they interpreted the king and parliament’s move to control firearms as a direct affront to all their rights and liberty.
One of the biggest problems with the English system was that the English constitution was not written or fixed in meaning. Operating on purely common law assumptions, it absorbed precedents leading towards unfettered power. The successful operation of America’s written Constitution and the unrivalled political stability of the United States, stems from the Constitution being fixed and relatively difficult to amend. The risk and potential of American decline is entirely, in my view, related to a failure to live constitutionally. In the United States, we have allowed the letter and intent of the Constitution to be stretched by the Supreme Court which has given the Constitution a “living” interpretation, and this has reinstated a kind of modern version of colonial-era British common law. We have, in the words of Jefferson, made the Constitution “a blank paper by construction.” The solution is to move to recapture the Constitution of original intent, to reestablish it as government’s fixed edifice. Key to recapturing the Constitution of our Fathers is the reinvigoration of the Second Amendment. And while that certainly means we need good statesmen and judges to keep its meaning, it also means we ought and must exercise our right to keep and bear arms. Every time you take your son or daughter hunting. Every time you target practice, or break your weapon down to clean it; every time you travel with your firearm and undergo the inconveniences at the airport to do so—you reinforce the Second Amendment and ensure survival of our right to keep and bear arms and pass the torch to another generation.
Why do I tell you this? Because there is a far different course down which this country can slide. Remember I said that our Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms existed before the Constitution. The Founders validated that right, and they intended it to guarantee an individual’s right to have arms for self-defense and self-preservation—something Sam Adams called “the first law of nature.” And they also intended firearm ownership and skill in the use of firearms to be general, because the customary American militia necessitated an armed public. The political theory behind that was to stave off tyranny or vindicate liberty when required. Even the position of the Second Amendment in the order of the Bill of Rights underscored its importance. It was the safety valve of the Constitution, affording the means whereby, if parchment barriers proved inadequate, the people could protect their liberties or alter their government. That sounds radical today, but that reasoning was part of William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the authoritative source concerning English rights in England and the Colonies during the Revolutionary period and after. Indeed, this inherited right of freeborn Englishmen existed in substantive degree in Great Britain until 1920.
Wesley Allen Riddle is a retired military officer with degrees and honors from West Point and Oxford. Widely published in the academic and opinion press, he serves as State Director of the Republican Freedom Coalition (RFC). This article is from his newly released book, Horse Sense for the New Millennium available on-line at www.WesRiddle.net and from fine bookstores everywhere. Email: Wes@WesRiddle.com.