I wrote recently that under the Second and 14th Amendments, the average citizen must be “allowed” to own, without government license or permission or taxation (the tax having been specifically designed to discourage possession, in the case of the $200 “machine gun tax,” enacted in 1933 when that sum was equivalent to 6,000 to 13,000 of today’s dollars) “every terrible instrument of the soldier.”
One correspondent insists that’s absurd, since “That would mean just anyone would be allowed to own machine guns, mortars, and biological weapons!”
Another ridicules the presumption that a major reason we retain the right to bear arms is because our armed strength will thus strike fear into the heart of any would-be tyrant. This is absurd because our current state of arms-bearing is so pathetic that there’s no way any American community could successfully resist a brigade of regular army troops sent in to impose martial law, argues Correspondent Number Two.
Taken together, these two form a circular argument: If we’re now so inadequately armed as to render laughable the usefulness of our “right to bear arms” as a prophylactic against tyranny, then unless tyranny is the goal, the inescapable conclusion is that we must repeal every existing gun law, further offering surplus mortars and machine guns below cost and otherwise encouraging American “civilians” to stock up on any terrible weapon they can figure out how to import or manufacture.
Instead, the statists act as though the obvious conclusion is that we must give up what few, weak arms we still retain.
A corollary argument asks: “What did the Founding Fathers mean when they penned the Second Amendment? American colonists had flintlocks, not AK 47s and Glocks. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison didn’t have 33 round clips. They had gunpowder, lead, gun flints, bullet molds, powder horns. … They sure couldn’t shoot 20 people in a split second. Colonist had guns mainly to protect themselves from British abuses of power. Do we fear the English today?”
Someone who contends you can kill “20 people in a split second” with a modern weapon has clearly never tried to hold one steady while placing even 10 rounds into a target. On the other hand, the Founding Fathers certainly COULD “shoot 20 people in a split second.” Load a bag of grapeshot into a cannon of 1775 vintage and fire it at a tightly formed company of redcoats at 100 yards, and you have precisely described the likely result. It worked again in 1815 at New Orleans, as well.
Besides, does the First Amendment “freedom of the press” protect only those newspapers that still print on 18th-century hand-cranked presses? Of course not. Does the Constitution allow the Congress to fund only a wind-powered Navy, since steamships were unknown in 1787? Of course not.
The Founders may not have been able to precisely foresee that “fighting terrorism” and the “War on Drugs” would be the excuses of the day, 230 years later, to attempt to abrogate our right to be secure in our homes and persons. But they didn’t need to. The principle outlasts the immediate circumstance.
Or would the gentleman argue it’s OK for someone to break down our doors and ransack our homes without a warrant so long as he’s not wearing a tricorn hat and shoes with big buckles?
I was not the one who decided the great contract of 1787 meant the American people would forever retain the right to possess “every terrible instrument of the soldier.”
Our schoolchildren are taught the Articles of Confederation were inadequate, so the delegates were sent to Philadelphia in 1787 to design a more powerful central state. Not true. One may search the historical record in vain for any evidence of massive riots, starvation or disorder from 1782 to 1786, indicating the Confederation was failing. Instead, the delegates were instructed merely to make some minor improvements.
With Jefferson safely away in Paris, the dominant Hamiltonians came up with a charter for a vastly stronger, expansionist, and tax-hungry central government which shocked many Americans. The anti-federalists, including Patrick Henry, organized. The Hamiltonians were obliged to promise their skeptics a Bill of Rights and to spend considerable time offering assurances.
Peruse pp. 66-69 of Stephen Halbrook’s “That Every Man Be Armed.” Federalist after Federalist vowed their proposed new government could never impose tyranny on these shores “while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights” (Hamilton, Federalist No. 29), that any encroachments on our liberties by the new government “would be opposed (by) a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands” (Madison, Federalist No. 46).
“Who are the militia?” asked Tench Coxe, friend of Madison and prominent Federalist, in the Pennsylvania Gazette of Feb. 20, 1788. “Are they not ourselves. … Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible instrument of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American. … The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
If the armed forces — or the armed and uniformed police SWAT teams who are more likely to break down our doors, these days — have any legitimate power to wield all their terrible weapons, where did they get it? In America, the government has no powers except those delegated to it by the people, and the people can delegate no power they do not have. Thus, if the government has any legitimate power to wield “every terrible instrument of the soldier,” it must follow that we the voters had and retain that same power — the power to arm ourselves as the effective militia which is “necessary to the security of a FREE state.”
Finally, have our correspondents considered the real ramifications of what they propose?
A contract can no longer be held valid if one side unilaterally abrogates its responsibilities under that contract. You cannot tell your landlord you’re going to stop paying rent as agreed, and expect him to continue allowing you to reside in the domicile.
Lysander Spooner, in his brilliant 1867 essay “The Constitution of No Authority,” argues compellingly that even if the document ever did represent a valid contract between consenting parties, it has no force upon those who were not even alive when it was ratified.
In a practical sense, a working majority of naive American voters, out here in the 50 states, still disagree. To the great benefit of the cynical pigs fattening at the trough in Washington City, we semi-morons operate on the theory the Constitution is still in effect, still limiting the powers of the federal government to the legitimate ones to which our forefathers assented.
(Few in Washington City still believe this. Asked in October 2009 where the Constitution authorizes Congress to order Americans to buy health insurance, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi asked, “Are You Serious?” She swore an oath; she should have been impeached.)
But if the central government and its supporters now seek to unilaterally abrogate their promise to our forefathers that “Congress have no power to disarm the militia; their swords, and every other terrible instrument of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American,” then finally they have UNDENIABLY abrogated the contract, and the people are henceforth morally and ethically free — I do not say we are pragmatically free, since we are not, but that we are morally and ethically free — to ignore every enactment, every levy and assessment of that central government as we choose, free of any obligation to make good the debts of a cynical cabal which no longer has any legitimate claim to our loyalty, our support, or our obedience, since they will have abrogated the one central purpose of the state — to protect our RIGHTS.
As they seek to waive and wish aside the parts of the deal they no longer like, have they thought that through?