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The 2nd Amendment: Plainly about liberty, not just guns

Both sides of the debate about the 2nd Amendment seem purposely intent on ignoring the stated reason and intended result, for its presence in the Constitution. This despite the fact that it deals with what was, as a matter of historical fact, the key to the implementation of representative self-government in Great Britain and the United States. Had Cromwell’s New Model Army proven unequal to the task of winning decisive victories, in siege warfare as well as open combat, would America’s patriots have had the presumption to assume that the discipline of their republican creed could prevail against regular professional armies? Without the courage, self-reliance and communal discipline that had to be second nature to families and villages regularly exposed to adventitious violence, would their experience have verified that assumption, time and again?

The defense of the communities in which they live is first of all the responsibility of the citizens themselves. Self-government dies on the vine if they forget or neglect this responsibility. It can never be solely the preoccupation of government, not for a people determined to retain their self-government, i.e., their liberty, according to God’s will.

Freedom is the context in which this responsibility is exercised, as human beings deliberate and act upon the choice to observe God’s rule or defy it. Evil is the consequence, damaging to others and to the whole, which follows from the choice to defy it. Right is the choice which implements it, acting for the good of the individual and the species, and in accordance with God’s provision for the good of all things. Because it thus accords with the good of humanity as a whole, liberty is an unalienable right, inseparable from the wholesome nature of humanity, and essential to it.

When people decide to exercise their unalienable right, they have the right to do so freely, by the authority of their Creator, whose will, predisposed for their good beforehand, informs their disposition to act as they do. Because they act in accord with His supreme authority, they are as free to do so as He was to determine what they do—which is to say, absolutely free, since such is the freedom of God Almighty.

With this is mind, what are we to make of the language of the 2nd Amendment, which begins: “A well- regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”. People constantly pretend that the 2nd amendment is about violence. But violence involves the licentious (lawless) use of force. However, the amendment begins with a reference to the rule of law. It is hiding in plain sight, as it were, in the meaning of the word “regulate”. In its origins and current usage, the word refers to actions undertaken according to a rule, which includes, of course, the rule of law.

The rule in question is to be applied to the “militia”, a word that simply refers to those who possess and are able to function as soldiers in the event of armed conflict war. (Webster’s first dictionary [1828]—which reflects usage during first era of our nation’s existence, defines the militia as The body of soldiers in a state enrolled for discipline, but not engaged in actual service except in emergencies; as distinguished from regular troops…”) Given this observation, what the 2nd Amendment has in view is not intended, as even some of the amendment’s purported advocates are wont to argue, the freedom to hunt or engage in sports. It is about war, and in particular war in defense of one’s community.

This intent is explicitly confirmed when the amendment clarifies the context for the reference to of the militia, which is “the security of a free State”. Given that it was written by the very generation that fought to establish that the States of the United States should be “free and independent”, it surely refers to freedom from external rule or sovereignty. But since the amendment goes on to deal with a “right of the people”, it must also refer to the individuals who comprise the people within a State.

The reference to right, like the reference to regulation, makes it clear that action in accordance with some rule or standard of right action is involved. So, this is not about people subject to no rule but their own arbitrary whims and pleasures. It is about people subject to a rule that obliges them to do right. Since the people of the United States fought their war for Independence pursuant to their claim of unalienable rights, endowed by God, and including liberty, it makes sense to assume that some such right is in view.

So, the 2nd Amendment is about fulfilling an obligation to God, which give rises to an exercise of right, right, the fulfillment of which is necessary to maintain the free State in which people live. What’s particularly arresting is that this necessity calls for “a well-regulated militia”, i.e., some arrangement of rules for the organization and training of people, not part of the regular armed force, to participate in the defense of their community against an armed threat.

For all the talk of “doing something” in response to terrorist and other adventitious armed attacks in our communities, where is the plan to identify, organize and train able bodied people to comprise the immediate first line of defense against such threats? Politicians waste time talking about the control of inanimate objects, when the 2nd amendment explicitly refers to the organization and discipline of human beings. In fact, though they are sworn to uphold the Constitution, our feckless political leaders have allowed the Constitutional word “militia” to be appropriated by certain bureaucracies as a term of opprobrium, entirely contrary to its Constitutional importance. This is gross dereliction.

But it coincides with the elitist faction agenda to distract from and denigrate the role the Constitution envisages for the people themselves when it comes to the security of the free communities in which they live. We don’t need gun control. What we need is a Constitutional Militia Act, providing for the well-regulated militia the Constitution demands. If President Trump were half the visionary leader his boisterous supporters wish him to be, he would make such legislation a top priority. After all, national security means nothing if it does not extend to the communities (including schools, malls, office buildings, etc.) in which we learn, work and otherwise conduct our affairs. It also means nothing if the nation (i.e., the people themselves) are not the matter and the means that make it a reality.

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  • Jeff T. March 31, 2018, 12:27 pm

    Dr. Keyes, I agree with all you’ve said but wonder why you limit your comments to President Trump. The governors of each state also share in the responsibility for training individuals and organizing them into a force. I believe the founding fathers not only had a high regard for state governments but wanted them to have a greater role than they have today.

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