You may have heard lately that guns are in the hot seat of national debate, and that many Americans shrug at or even support repealing the Second Amendment. To some, severe restrictions on guns would somehow increase freedom. (Is it because they would use magic to enforce gun control on the criminals sparking the public verbal brawls, offenders who, by definition, conviction and common sense, already ignore laws?)
Without guns, there would be no America in which to try to ban them.
Our story begins in 17th-century England, a landscape profoundly injured by usurpations of religious liberties. James II, the Catholic King and an overall tyrant, sensed that some of his many Protestant subjects might hate him enough to revolt. In response, King James II sent his royal thugs to confiscate the guns of possible Protestant rebels.
Luckily, the move backfired spectacularly or, for the sake of historical accuracy, gloriously. The very rebellion that James feared so much overthrew him in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. In direct response to his massive government overreach and individual rights violations, England quickly codified its own Bill of Rights. It explicitly granted Protestants the right to keep and bear contemporary weapons for “Defence.”
Notably, masses of persecuted Protestants did not wait for a revolution to save their rights and instead sailed off for the New World.
Look ahead a little less than a century. A fellow of tradition, George III sensed that some of his many colonial subjects might hate him enough to revolt. In response, King George III sent his royal thugs in the colonies to confiscate the guns of possible colonial rebels. However, the up-and-coming Patriots invoked their rights as Englishmen to keep and bear arms. Without the legal protection of their arsenal, Americans never would have been able to fight the British and, most likely, their fate would have been execution for treason.
The Founding Fathers did not specify individual rights because they received advance copies of 1984. They wrote them down on a permanent record because of the tangible effects of tyranny on themselves and their families. In this sober resolution, they placed the right to keep and bear arms second only to what can arguably be defined as freedom itself, the right to free speech and free expression.
The well-regulated militia that has caused so many misinterpretations of the Second Amendment these past few years served critical functions from their inception. The very foundation of such a citizen militia was that a standing army or federal military of any kind would make it more necessary, not obsolete. The militia was comprised of able-bodied men within the designated age range, which varied by state. They would regularly attend muster and drill with the rest of the militia.
Why is that so important today? While the statewide citizen militia didn’t stand up to population expansion, but its core values remain. It is all about protecting one’s community from tyranny, whether in the form of oppressive government or psycho criminals like school shooters. Every man of the militia was expected to bring his own weapon to drill and to fight. Adjusting for inflation, the standard privately owned weaponry would be roughly an M-16 today. Since virtually every house had a militia-aged male, every house was expected to have at least one “weapon of war,” if not more, for tasks like hunting, home defense, and pest control. Today, that well-regulated militia stands as those who study the law carefully, keep their weapons in ready condition, and train regularly with them, knowing it’s so much more than a hobby.
Many of the people who are mind-bogglingly sure of the idea that repealing the Second Amendment is worth debating, let alone a viable notion, argue about the advances in weaponry since the codification of the individual right to keep and bear arms. The tune goes, “People in the 18th and 19th centuries didn’t need a full buyer’s guide to decide which guns to purchase. They were more primitive, less varied, and less efficient, and therefore more suited to their purpose.”
Anybody can see that the story does not hold water. The first thing that people learn in US History or Government classes in high school is that the Constitution was designed to be selectively mutable. The Founding Fathers literally lived in revolutionary times and were very conscious that they could not predict the next day, let alone the next century. They protected the right to keep and bear arms without lengthy qualifiers or lists of banned weapons because it was essential to free society. Nobody is calling the First Amendment archaic because the Internet spreads information and free thought more efficiently than the 18th-century postal system.
Under unequivocal protection by the Second Amendment, guns became iconic to America and essential to Westward Expansion. Nobody can argue that weapons were always used justly on the frontier, but they were nevertheless fundamental to survival. They found use in everything from hunting and protecting crops from wild animals, to protecting house and home, and wagon train as opportunistic pioneers and outlaws took advantage of thin law enforcement. Again, gun ownership was the norm, not the exception.
The tables have not just turned- they have been flipped entirely in today’s debates. Desperate to punish society for the most visible crimes, gun control advocates call for a ban on the rifles used in only a minuscule fraction of murders. Far removed from the gun-totin’ Wild West image, carrying a personal, licensed firearm into specific areas can lose you your job, and even responsible gun ownership is punished with ostracism. Across the United States, some communities still keep high gun prevalence as the norm, not the exception, and gun violence is nearly non-existent because of gun safety education and respecting them as tools, and the law takes a stand for gun rights.
Winston Churchill said, “Study history” and, if we do, we can see that the engraining of gun culture into society makes society safer and brings more freedom. The protection of the community is what gun ownership has always been about, and what it is still all about, and it’s why Americans still need to stick to their guns.