By William R. Tonso
October 1, 1993. More the Independence Institute on the legal history of the Second Amendment.
No American citizen, except for National Guard members, has any right to possess a gun, let alone a semi-automatic guns. So say President Clinton and Attorney General Reno, who insist that the Second Amendment right to bear arms only refers to a state government's right to have a National Guard unit. But some very important folks -- including the folks who created the Second Amendment -- have seen things very differently.
The amendment's author, James Madison, wrote in The Federalist Papers about "the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation." Madison disparaged the Kingdoms of Europe where "the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."
Madison's friend, Tench Coxe, explained the Second Amendment as follows: "As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the next article in their right to keep and bear their private arms."
Thomas Jefferson simply stated: "No Free man shall ever be barred the use of arms." And Patrick Henry was also to the point: "The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun."
Richard Henry Lee: "To preserve liberty it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them...."
Noah Webster: "Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed..."
Concerning the militia -- Richard Henry Lee: "A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves... and include all men capable of bearing arms." George Mason: "Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers."
Joseph Story, associate justice of the United States from 1811 to 1845: "The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of the republic; since it offers a strong moral check against usurpation and arbitrary power of the rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance; enable the people to resist and triumph over them."
As late as the 1960s, as prominent a liberal politician as Hubert H. Humphrey could voice agreement with this traditional American acceptance of an armed citizenry and its constitutional justification: "The right of citizens to bear arms is just one more guarantee against arbitrary government, one more safe-guard against tyranny which now appears remote in America, but which historically has proved to be always possible." So how is it that any politician can get away with claiming that Americans have no constitutionally guaranteed right to own guns and no business possessing military-type guns? Why aren't these politicians confronted with the paper trail left by the Founders?
Could it be that the manipulative state described by George Orwell in 1984 is gradually settling in? As nation states modernize, they become ever more dependent on "experts," people who have received advanced education and training intended to prepare them to carry out specialized tasks in scientific, industrial, or bureaucratic settings. Even violence has become a job for experts, the professionals of the military and police forces. The upper-middle-class symbol-manipulating specialists of the universities and media, who aren't very good at violence and disapprove of it, are only too glad to let others specialize in state-approved violence to preserve or impose an approved social order. Hardly what the Founders intended.
Since an armed citizenry has the means to resist social-engineering efforts by experts, the highly-credentialed elites and their press allies have a vested interest in disarming that citizenry, not just (or even especially) the criminal element. So don't expect the lapdog big media to mount as crusade to salvage the Second Amendment once the Founder's paper trail is brought to their attention. The republic and meaningful representative government are being swamped by technocrats and bureaucrats. We can only hope that Big Brother is as bumbling as President Clinton and his crew.
William Tonso is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Indiana at Evansville. He wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a think tank in Denver.