THE SECURITY OF A FREE STATE
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. (President Franklin Roosevelt’s First Inaugural Address)
First things first. In what we call the “Bill of Rights” (the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution) America’s founding generation first took care to assure that the government of the United States would respect the activities by which people deliberate amongst themselves about what it is right to do; and by which, upon concluding their deliberation, they peacefully articulate their conclusions and take action. Thus the first article of the Bill of Rights deals with the free exercise of religion, whereby people consult the standard of right which is God’s will. It deals with the freedom of speech and of the press (what we would call today the media), whereby people articulate to one another their common sense of that standard and what it requires. Lastly the first amendment formally declares that it is right for the people “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It is no coincidence that these Constitutionally protected activities correspond to the way Americans acted prior to declaring their independence from Great Britain. Though aggrieved by the actions of the British government they respected their obligation to “seek peace and pursue it” (as the Psalmist says, Psalm 34:14), as required by the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” The disgruntled people of the colonies were disposed, as their subsequent Declaration observed “to suffer, while evils are sufferable”. Al the while, however, they were thinking through, articulating and seeking to end the violation of God-endowed right they were suffering at the hands of the British authorities.
They gave up this peaceful course only when it proved fruitless; when the British monarch forcefully engaged in “repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny….” By such actions- which included the abuse of armed forces to destroy the livelihood, property and lives of the people- the British government made it necessary for people to defend with arms the rights they had tried, in good faith, to secure by peaceful means.
By reminding us of this course of events, the Constitution’s First Amendment sets the context for the right to keep and bear arms recognized in the Second. Without arms, the people of Britain’s American colonies would have been helpless against the British King’s abuse of his armed forces. They would have been forced to submit to tyranny, as many people slaughtered and abused by tyrannical governments in the 20th Century were compelled to do; and as too many morally and physically disarmed people in other parts of the world are compelled to do today.
At the time the Constitution was adopted Americans generally possessed small arms for personal self-defense or sustenance. Thanks to their experience during the Revolution, they did not suffer the delusion that, against highly trained and experienced armed forces, such arms are, by themselves, sufficient to secure the basic rights which constitute the state or condition of a free people. From the outset of their war for independence they had undertaken to organize and prepare armed forces able to hold their own against the British regulars. But the early battles of the Revolution, and the frontier conflicts and wars they had endured before that, showed them that an armed populace, with and the hardy disposition needed to make use of their arms in an emergency, could make the difference between families or settlements that held out against attack until help arrived, and those that were wiped out. Able-bodied people familiar with the use of arms (the militia, properly so-called) were often essential when it came to securing the most essential, but often most elusive commodity in war, which is time.
So it was during the early stages of the Revolutionary war. In pitched battles against British regulars the American patriots more often than not lost. The militia often broke and ran after the first volleys. But the stinging effect of those early efforts affected the counsels of the British commanders, who learned that their forces were not moving against people incapable of inflicting damage against their assailants. This was the lesson symbolized by the famous Gadsden and other rattlesnake flags.
It’s passing strange that these days, when so many of the folks most determined to eviscerate the Second Amendment are leftists, people pretend to be ignorant of this lesson. It was certainly not lost on people like Mao Zedong and Che Guevara, whom many of the leftists unaccountably admire. In America the British forces bent on tyranny found themselves swimming in a sea of trouble: a body politic replete with armed antibodies, ready to respond to violent abusers of government power with deadly effect.
Of course, in their own way Barack Obama, and the elitist faction would-be tyrants he represents, are intent on applying this lesson in reverse, as Mao, Hitler and other socialist tyrants applied it after they came within reach of absolute power. The moment they were positioned to do so, they moved to establish and enforce a government monopoly on the lawful possession of arms. Once secured this monopoly left them free to perpetrate whatever horrors they pleased against people helpless to resist.
Are Americans willing to let themselves be stampeded toward this horrific fate? Elitist faction politicians and henchmen in the media are cold-bloodedly exploiting individual episodes of random violence to inflame public passion against the general possession of arms that has been characteristic of the American people. But the right of the people to keep and bear arms is indispensable if they are to deter the systematic, government sponsored violence which history shows to be incomparably more deadly than any and all such episodes. Over the course of many years episodic violence by random individuals may claim the lives of thousands. But in the episodes of unchecked tyranny that haunt and overshadow the modern history of humanity, governments have murdered scores of millions, in a tsunami of murderous slaughter without parallel in previous eras. When modern would-be tyrants undertake the general disarmament of the people, they sow the killing fields from which to reap this massive crop of horrors.
Such horrors are necessary accoutrements of despotism. As liberty depends on the decency and courage of the people, so despotism depends on subduing them with terror. FDR invoked a fundamental truth when he declared that unreasoning fear epitomizes the threat to liberty. Unreasoning fear makes people susceptible to the insane argument that the threat comes from the means of self-defense, not the evil will of would-be dictators slyly seeking to strip them away. Though ostensibly focused on fomenting a superstitious fear of arms, this insane logic actually exploits the moral vulnerability of people who no longer believe in their own goodwill, their own capacity to control the evil impulses connected with the unrestrained ambition for success, and the pleasure and power it brings. People beguiled by these external idols already feel themselves to be thralls, in bondage to the external goods for which they have sacrificed their souls. In pursuit of these things they have lied, cheated and laid waste to the lives and hopes of those around them. And, when frustrated in that pursuit they have consoled themselves with fantasies of the violence they would do to all who stand in their way, if ever they had the means.
It’s easy enough for these bond slaves of passion to believe that guns constitute an irresistible temptation to do violence, for they see their own actions as proof of the masterful power of material things. The gun seems fearful to them because they suspect that, at the behest of their own chronically uncontrolled passions, they would willingly abuse the the deadly power it represents. They are easily convinced that people can’t be trusted with arms because they quietly believe that, in this respect, they are themselves untrustworthy.
There’s the rub, as Hamlet says. For people thus easily convinced that they cannot be trusted with the deadly power of arms will soon be persuaded that they have no right to control the power of government, which includes, by necessity, control over arms in their most organized and destructive form. So, in the end, by inducing Americans to accept the abrogation of their right to keep and bear arms our would-be tyrants prepare the people to endure the abdication of their Constitutional sovereignty. In the next and last installment of this series, we will look at the means required to forestall this abdication, i.e., the well regulated militia in the context of which the Constitution asserts the people’s right to arms. By preparing people to fulfill the responsibility to secure their free condition, the formation of a well regulated militia offers the key to enforcing the right the Second Amendment authorizes the people to exercise, no matter what lawless powers purport to infringe upon it.