The national conversation we are having regarding the 2nd Amendment and guns, in general, might best be discussed as a security issue, rather than a Constitutional issue, as it is really not about arms, per se.
The Founders were well-educated in the classics and looked to the Roman model of the citizen-soldier called up to defend Rome, then returning to the fields – a Lucius Cincinnatus. George Washington personified this concept, leaving his farm at Mt. Vernon to take command of Continental militias in 1775, named Commander of Continental forces after the Declaration of Independence in 1776, relinquishing his commission after the Revolutionary War, then returning to Virginia to oversee his farms.
So embedded in the Founder’s minds is this notion of citizen-militias, General Knox founded the Society of Cincinnatus in 1783, a fraternal society of the descendants of officers who served in the American Revolution, and a commemoration of the simple, noble virtues that personified the Roman Republic. The Society still exists in the United States and France and is the oldest of its kind.
In 1787, then, when the US Constitution was written, Article I, section 8 provides for a Navy but not a standing army. The 2nd Amendment, added in 1791, reflects the position of the Founders that “[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.”
This language is important because Washington would have been aware of the wording even though his experience with citizen-militias was less than favorable. Washington considered the militias he commanded undisciplined and ragtag. “I am disturbed. . . at the conduct of the militia, whose behavior and want of discipline has done great injury.”
It was, in fact, a Prussian – Baron Von Steuben – introduced to George Washington by Benjamin Franklin in a letter, that came to America in 1777, and turned hapless militiamen into real professional soldiers. Without Von Steuben, it is unlikely that America could have prevailed against well-trained British forces. With this in mind, Washington still supported the 2nd Amendment and the restriction regarding a standing army in Article I, section 8.
The real change in interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, from a collective right to an individual right, came during Reconstruction after the Civil War, 1860-1865. Codes in many Confederate states forbid black Americans from owning firearms or ammunition. This was to change with the Civil Rights Act of 1866, later the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution and the Freedmen’s Bureau Acts meant to codify the civil rights of former slaves. Included in these rights was the right to personal security through keeping and bearing arms.
“The right to have arms implied the right to use them for protection of one’s life, family, and home against criminals and terrorist groups of all kinds. . . [f]ar from being restricted to official militia activity, the right to keep and bear arms could be exercised by persons against the state’s official militia when the latter raided and plundered the innocent. In the above sense, ‘the constitutional right to bear arms’ was perhaps considered [by Congress] as the most fundamental protection for the rights of personal liberty and personal security, which may explain its unique mention in the Freedmen’s Bureau Act. To the framers of the Fourteenth Amendment, human emancipation meant the protection of this great human right from all sources of infringement, whether federal or state.” Stephen Halbrook, 1995, Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal.
The District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), confirms what Congress recognized during Reconstruction as a privilege of citizenship – an individual right to keep and bear arms for personal security unrelated to military service, but subject to regulation and restriction. “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of the citizens of the United States.” 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, 1868.
Where does this background leave us today regarding personal security, the 2nd Amendment, the 14th Amendment, and the restriction and regulation of guns?
- Regardless of Supreme Court decisions recognizing an individual right to keep and bear arms and two amendments to the US Constitution that recognize this right, Congress, by federal legislation, could effectively erase these protections. A national database that identifies the arm registered and the person to whom it is registered would make confiscation relatively easy.
- If personal security is partly assured by personal firearms there must be robust prevention and prosecution of crime. There is no such thing as defunding police, relaxed bail, legal shoplifting, or any other so-called progressive re-imagining of crime and punishment along with a personal right to keep and bear arms. The combination we now have – easy access to guns with no loss of freedom for their misuse – can only lead to lethal vigilantism as citizens realize there are no public safety officials to help assure their safety.
- The push to de-legitimize the nuclear family; transfer moral authority within the family to the state; diminish the importance of Moral Law; undermine the role of religion in individual lives; sexualize and debauch children; allow access to violent images at will; marginalize life itself; mock authority and rules and boundaries for human behavior; automatically diminishes the argument for a personal right to keep and bear arms. Arms and moral, responsible conduct go hand in hand.
Perhaps the best way to assure personal safety in these times is to see the issue as fluid. We the People, if we wish to retain the 2nd and 14th Amendment guarantees of the right to keep and bear arms, must actively and purposefully clean up the moral rot in the nation and remove those in public office who support it.
We must also accept restrictions including age, mental fitness, conditions within the home, strict monitoring, required extensive training, and thorough vetting, regarding lethal firearms through each of the 50 states. This must be a state, not a federal effort.
The alternative to the above is a necessary police state where personal security often comes at the whim of a tyrant, assuring that the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity will be lost forever.