The right to keep and bear arms is unique among the first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, in that it is the only right which is self-preserving.
In other words, all other rights ultimately rely on the ability to resist to prevent their loss. As the common saying goes, you can’t have the First Amendment without the Second. It’s hard for someone to take away your freedom of worship or speech when you still have a gun in your hand.
So, why is our right to keep and bear arms so important?
One thing is for certain; it’s not just so we can go hunting. As former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura said at the Rally for the Republic in 2008, when the Second Amendment was written, if you didn’t hunt, you didn’t eat.
For one thing, people are ultimately responsible for protecting themselves and those under their care. When an intruder enters your home with the intent to harm your family, the outcome directly affects you. It has no repercussions for the local police department. Courts have ruled that the police are not legally responsible for defending your home and loved ones.
But this is a secondary rationale.
The Founding Fathers wrote the Second Amendment because, having recently secured their independence from England, they knew their freedom had only been possible through the use of guns.
Whether people are comfortable with the truth or not, the reality is our rights are ultimately preserved either through the use of force or under the threat of violence. Everyone responds to incentives, including governments. A government that knows its citizens have the means to rise up and abolish it if it gets out of line behaves differently than the government which rules over disarmed citizenry who must comply no matter what.
When all peaceful means fail to restrain an oppressive government, citizens must have that final option.
This is evident when examining the American War of Independence. The British redcoats attempting to seize munitions and arms at Lexington and Concord retreated back to Boston because they were opposed by men who had guns in their hands, not political signs.
Instinctively, people understand this, which is why tyrants and gun confiscation go hand in hand. They know they can’t carry out their schemes as long as there are people ready to offer an effective resistance.
Justice Joseph Story, appointed by James Madison, remarked, “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
All governments have a tendency to grow and consolidate power. Very rarely, if ever, do they reduce their authority on their own volition. When it becomes necessary for people to revolt against their government, guns make it possible to achieve success. History is replete with failed rebellions because the rebels lacked the necessary firearms.
In An Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution, Noah Webster wrote the following, which has an eerie relevance as we witness the increasing militarization of police:
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.
In 1775, Americans believed the right to bear arms was worth fighting for. Let us continue that tradition.