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The Purpose of the Second Amendment

"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."

No solitary sentence has been the subject of greater debate than the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, and no sentence has been more wildly misconstrued or misrepresented. 

Whenever mankind experiences any devastating loss of life, it appears so common that so many among us leap at the opportunity to cast blame well beyond the individuals responsible for the violent acts. 

Many among us automatically conclude that the acts represent some greater trend, a systemic problem, or an eradicable evil. 

On one hand, the morbid events that surround us expose the primal instincts of the human race, while the campaigns that leverage them to advance their agendas expose much of the same: the human being is thrust into the position of fighting for survival, and this remains just as relevant for the wilderness as for the political arena, just as relevant for species of animals as for species of thought. 

Nowhere can one find a more dogmatic yet violent fight for survival than in the shallow expanses of debate on the subject of America’s Second Amendment. 

Only a limited few subjects can possibly rival this one, and yet while so many people have shared their thoughts on the subject, so little seems to actually be commonly remembered about its origins and purposes. 

First, despite popular (and even possibly forgivable) claims that the amendment is modifiable, the Second Amendment is an absolute pinned to the Constitution as an unequivocal imperative with only added context. 

In the given context of the Second Amendment, that "well regulated militia" describes not a condition, but the purpose of including in the Bill of Rights "the [presupposed] right of the people to keep and bear Arms." 

In fact, James Madison's first proposed passage for the Bill of Rights, pertaining to arms, was worded even more unequivocally: "The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person."

In reviewing the Second Amendment and its first draft, it is important to remember that the "right of the people to bear arms" is presupposed, not granted by the Framers of the United States Constitution.

What's more, when the Second Amendment refers to "the security of a free State," the text refers not to the Union, but to the several individual states, respectively. 

As such, during the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment served the mutual interests of both contemporary movements as a means to strengthen the greater resiliency of the Union while protecting the right of the individual, and each sovereign state, to use the most effective instrument for defense against their foreseeable enemy: the increasingly-powerful and -influential central government. 

Remember, the Bill of Rights was attached to the Constitution as a means to placate the so-called Anti-Federalists, who intensely opposed the new Constitution, who preferred the form of federalism established by the foregoing Articles of Confederation. 

By the way, the "Federalists" merely appropriated the name after the American Revolution, whereupon they denounced their opposition as "Anti-Federalists" in a political campaign aiming to discredit their positions as expressions of disloyalty to the cause of the Revolution. 

In the midst of this political jockeying, James Madison moderated his own position just before his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, when he faced a formidable challenger in the form of James Monroe. 

Formerly opposed to amending the Constitution, Madison campaigned on the promise to seek amendments to secure "additional guards in favor of liberty." 

Madison wrote strongly in favor of an armed citizenry in Federalist No. 46, where he embraced the capacity of the "State governments, with the people on their side... to repel the danger [of a regular army]." 

Acknowledging that "governments are afraid to trust the people with arms," Madison writes:

"Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of."

In Federalist No. 45, Madison described the enumerated powers under the proposed Constitution: 

"The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government, are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. The former will be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce; with which last the power of taxation will, for the most part, be connected. The powers reserved to the several States will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State."

Regarding the militia, the Constitution offers two concise clauses in Article I, Section 8:

According to Clause 15, "Congress shall have Power to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions."

According to Clause 16, "Congress shall have Power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress." 

While some critics of the Second Amendment have claimed that the amendment pertains only to the militia, their criticisms are not only syntactically untrue, in accordance with the rules of grammar, but they also ignore the framework of the Constitution, which enumerates the limited powers of each branch of government in its first three articles, whereas the Bill of Rights seeks to secure those "additional guards in favor of liberty" for the people and the states, respectively.

After all, had the Second Amendment applied exclusively to the militia, the amendment would have characterized "the right to keep and bear Arms" as one "of the Militia" instead of that "of the people"; moreover, it would have been redundant after Clause 16, which had already enumerated the power of "Congress... to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia."

What's more, governments don't have rights; only people have rights. 

Governments are constituted only by the powers that the people cede to them, or alternatively by the encroachments broadly tolerated among them.

As etched into the Declaration of Independence, and thereby into the very foundation of these United States, "Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." 

It is only by some compromise of the people that governments are instituted at all, and according to the founding principles of these United States, any and all just power exploited by their central government is derived purely from "the consent of the governed" who are "the creators, not the creatures, of the general government." 

This means that the people are the possessors of their own unalienable rights and their consent to be governed: their rights are not forged out of thin air by the conceptions between pen and parchment, but rather preexist the instruments which serve to protect them.  

Furthermore, wherever one cites the Second Amendment as a right enjoyed exclusively by the militia, the individual states or the central government, it is critically important to remember that the Constitution of the United States does not enumerate rights of the people but limited powers for the central government, and that the Bill of Rights does not grant rights but instead seeks to protect some of the rights deemed most vital for the preservation of liberty, state sovereignty and federalism.

Indeed, as declared by the Ninth Amendment, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

This disposition is subsequently bolstered by the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." 

Ultimately, the Second Amendment, as with each of the Bill of Rights, serves to protect the rights of the people and the states, respectively.

Indeed, the Second Amendment, as unconditional and as indispensable to liberty as the First Amendment, was conceived as a natural check against the risks attending a central government and a standing army, institutions antithetical to liberty and anathema to America's Patriots.

The Framers of the Constitution, America’s famed Forefathers, lamented the notion of a standing army, not merely for the fear that such a force would inevitably become oppressive, but that it would, through its mere existence, suppress the kind of confidence among the people which stands to oppose that threat. 

The very existence of such a powerful and trained force, standing always at the ready to follow the orders of politicians and propagandists, dampens the spirit of liberty, which is choked of life in the presence of unquestionable authority and precious little hope to prevail. 

It is, after all, the people and the states, respectively, who possess, in their sheer numbers and perceived threat of resistance, that most vital check on ambitious government; in the absence of this check, government stands just as ready to press where resistance has relented or altogether capitulated, and nothing is more certain to achieve this end than such a force unfailingly capable of silencing every semblance of it. 

Wherever that spirit of liberty is born, the sobering odds of failure will invariably repress it, suffocating it ahead of its first breath, even before the first volley of fire.

Just as the rights indelibly etched into the Constitution are indispensable to liberty, so too is the standing threat against any one who aims to curtail them. 

For this very reason, Thomas Jefferson remarked in his 1787 letter to William Stephens Smith, the future congressman from New York and son-in-law of John Adams, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

That following year, fellow Founding Father and Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, popularly known for his "Give me liberty, or give me death!" speech to the Second Virginia Convention, argued his point unequivocally at the Virginia ratification convention in 1788, where he advocated in support of the right of man to arm himself and to defend himself against oppression: 

"Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined." 

In keeping with that concept of public liberty and that suspicion toward government, the official purpose of the Bill of Rights was "to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [the Constitution's] powers" and to "extend the ground of public confidence" through the complement of "further declaratory and restrictive clauses" that "will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution."



So when the savvy politician capitalizes on public despair and grief, or when the political contagion takes hold over family and friends who are susceptible to the message, unveil the fraud and remind them of the origins of the right to bear arms; remind them of the perils of sacrificing on the margin any measure of this right; remind them that it is government that beats ceaselessly against liberty, carving out its place insofar as the once-free people have relinquished control over their own defense, and effectively freedom in their lives. 

Once this obstacle is finally overcome by government, there is absolutely nothing to restrain the orders that follow. 

Once a free people are no longer free and prepared to defend themselves against oppression, their freedoms, their votes and their rights are rendered moot; they will survive no longer than their founding documents to the fiery inferno, whose intensity will be predictably outmatched by the fervor of impassioned politicians and opportunists who will, reminiscent of Sherman’s March to the Sea, exterminate every last “enemy” or “traitor” as they realize the “National Will” by "[making their opponents] to feel... the existence of a strong government, capable of protecting as well as destroying" and, as Sherman’s wife described it, driving them “like Swine into the sea.”

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