History Behind the 2nd Amendment

secondNRAThis is a most interesting cartoon because it reflects a rather gross misunderstanding of the Founding Father’s view (and original intent) of the Second Amendment.

Does the Second Amendment allow private citizens to own tanks? More generally, how might the historical understanding of the 2A relate to the ability of private citizens to own and use weapons of war? If we are to judge by actions and not intentions, the answer is pretty clear. In fact, the answer is unambiguously YES!

On this question, Steve Kellmeyer provides the historical context.

Most people, even many pro-gun people, don’t realize the Constitution does say precisely that1)i.e., that private citizens should be able to own tanks.. Keep in mind that George Washington used artillery that was loaned to the Revolutionary Army by private citizens in the colonies. Many towns had artillery clubs, wherein the members maintained pieces of artillery. Plantations bought cannons in order to protect their property from Indian attack. Ship owners bought muskets and cannon to protect their ships from pirates. Many of these private citizens loaned their pieces to Washington under the proviso that they would be returned when the war was over – which they were, insofar as was possible.

George Washington was our first President. When we think “George Washington,” we think “government”, but that’s not correct. The American Revolution and its Washington-led army was really just a bunch of armed citizens. These citizens were running around with the deadliest weapons produced at the time, weapons they purchased themselves, and all of these private citizens were shooting at government employees. That’s the American Revolution.

Mr. Kellmeyer goes on to explain that, in fact, the text of the Constitution (not the amendment, mind you) says as much. Specifically, Article 1, Section 7 explicitly provides for the government to contract with private ship owners to capture enemy ships. The contract (technically called a “letter of Marque”) assumed the owner would provide the necessary weapons, not the government. As Mr. Kellmeyer points out, the Letter of Marque “was really just a government rental agreement for the use of a privately-owned warship.”

In other words, the text of the Constitution along with the 2nd Amendment express the full intent of the Founding Fathers to depend upon the country’s citizens to keep and bear arms for America’s protection. This is how the Founding Fathers defined ‘militia’ – an armed citizenry able to take up arms in its country’s defense2)as, for example, Switzerland today..

But there is an even more important, that is, fundamental reason why the 2A exists. In the absence of the second amendment (and Article 1:7), the American citizen is entirely a subject of the government. The Founding Fathers didn’t see Americans in this way. Citizens were to be more than subjects. They were to be participants in one of the most significant purposes of centralized government – the defense of the state.

Here’s how Kevin Williamson puts it,

The bearing of arms is a sign of citizenship, which is to say, of being a full participant in government who acts through it, as opposed to subjectship, the state of being a passive being who does not act through government but who is acted upon. In that sense, it is like the ability to vote or to be eligible for service in government. Frederick Douglass understood this linkage perfectly, inasmuch as these ideas were much better understood in those more literate days. “A man’s rights rest in three boxes,” he said. “The ballot box, jury box, and the cartridge box. Let no man be kept from the ballot box because of his color. Let no woman be kept from the ballot box because of her sex.” The militias contemplated by the Second Amendment were armed citizen volunteers who could act to use the force of arms to keep the peace in an emergency; they are entitled to act in the peacekeeping role generally reserved for the state because, being the citizens of a republic, they are the state, the very seat of its sovereignty.

Ita est ut

Footnotes   [ + ]

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