The Second Amendment As An Individual Right

BY Herschel Smith
3 months, 1 week ago

William Layer:

To anyone who can diagram a sentence the Second Amendment is crystal-clear, not a Delphic pronouncement. The Founding Fathers, well versed in Latin grammar, knew exactly what they meant when they passed the Second Amendment. The meaning is in the main clause — “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” — a complete sentence. “A well-regulated militia” is, in Latin, an ablative absolute, it introduces the main idea. Would Second Amendment opponents be happier if it read, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”? The idea remains the same, but given the progressivist idea of a “living Constitution,” they would nullify the Second Amendment by asserting knowledge of the Bill of Rights superior to that of its author, James Madison.

Historian Leonard Levy’s “Origins of the Bill of Rights” reaffirmed an individual right. Wrote Levy: “The right to bear arms is an individual right. … if all it meant was the right to … serve in the military … [it] would never have reached constitutional status in the Bill of Rights. The very language of the amendment is evidence that the right is a personal one, for it is not subordinated to the militia clause.” The state constitutions of the revolution and early national period also acknowledged an individual right.

The Founders’ classical education made them realistically fearful of government power. They knew well what had befallen the Roman Republic and that tyrannies were only possible when the people lacked the means to resist. The chaos and oppression of the English Civil War and the Glorious Revolution’s short-circuiting of the Stuart’s divine right ambitions were fixed in their minds as was the English Bill of Rights (1689) which, although limited to Protestants, secured an Englishman’s right to arms. However, the roots go even further back, to the “Trained Bandes,” locals called up to defend the realm as Elizabeth I did when the Armada threatened England. Englishmen provided their own accouterments according to their station. Likewise, the chronic war with France in which for over a century frontier settlements were attacked, settlers massacred or carried off into Indian slavery meant colonists had to protect themselves.

New England towns either supplied weapons or, as had Plymouth in 1632, ordered freemen to arm themselves for defense against ever-present Indian dangers. When Queen Anne’s War (War of the Spanish Succession) broke out in 1702, New England militias were called to support the British assault on French Canada. Militiamen brought their own weapons; those who did not own a musket were issued one that they could keep when mustered out. The battles of Lexington and Concord at the start of the American Revolution could not have taken place without an armed citizenry. Who, then, was the militia? To George Mason, it consisted of “the whole people.” Under the Militia Act of 1792, every man between 18 and 54 “who when “so enrolled and notified … shall within six months thereafter, provide himself … with a musket, bayonet and belt, two spare flints, a cartridge box with 24 bullets, and a knapsack.”

The left’s assertion that America’s creators couldn’t foresee a firearm beyond a flintlock is the logical fallacy of presentism — we know better today. Were the Dark Ages better than the Pax Romana because 900 A.D. came later than 300 A.D? Contrary to modernist fallacies, innovation, not stasis, was the characteristic of 18th century society. They might not have foreseen the M-16 but they knew the devastation of the massed firepower of .69 caliber Brown Bess and that weapons evolved. The matchlock was superseded by the wheelock, the wheelock by the flintlock, as the rifle was to supersede the musket. In 1770, British Army Major Patrick Ferguson had invented a breechloading flintlock rifle and effectively deployed his riflemen at Saratoga in 1777 (Ferguson’s rifle could have revolutionized warfare). By 1819, 19 years after the Constitution’s ratification, the U.S. Army adopted the Hall breechloader.

What of the Second Amendment, then? It is most certainly individual, but more importantly, it does not grant a right; it affirms an existing one as surely as natural law recognizes every man’s right to self-defense.

Mr. Layer makes a very good case, one we’ve all read before, but he emphasizes an important point.  If the statement was meant to be taken as the right to serve in the military, it makes no sense for it ever to have risen to the level of the Bill of Rights to begin with.

And readers will know without being told that I generally don’t like stopping at “natural law,” a tip of the hat to enlightenment thinking.  Carl Becker destroyed the enlightenment mind in The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers.  This is a “must read” for all men who would be educated.

Let’s go ahead and drive this back to its real point of origin.  God grants men the right to self defense, as well as the right to enter into covenant with a government, that covenant having blessings as well as curses.  Self defense properly interpreted means not only personal defense from evildoers who would cause him or his family harm, but self defense from a tyrannical government.

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Comments

  1. On March 16, 2017 at 7:47 am, Frank Clarke said:

    You’ll see this occasionally as a response to those who claim the 2nd amendment is the right to serve in the militia:

    It is the most closely-guarded secret in all of American history that the 2nd amendment was meant only as a means to enable states to maintain their own armies. Over the centuries, those opposed to this idea have methodically tracked down and destroyed any and all documents surviving from the founding era that might have suggested this. That, and that alone, is why there is today not a single scrap of documentary evidence supporting the eminently reasonable view that the right of the people to keep and bear arms in fact means something entirely different than what a plain reading of the text suggests.

    Dan Brown’s bestselling “The DaVinci Code”, in fact, was originally going to expose this vast conspiracy, but sinister forces within the publishing industry conspired to change Brown’s blockbuster story to something less controversial. They’re everywhere. We’re doomed.

  2. On March 17, 2017 at 2:55 am, Phil Ossiferz Stone said:

    I agree completely with both of you. Except…. Bessie was 11 gauge, or 75 caliber. It was the French guns that were .69 caliber. They took a 1 ounce ball. I hope I should know. I own a modern replica of one.

  3. On March 18, 2017 at 1:31 pm, MTHead said:

    At the time the constitution was being passed. The president was the commander and chief of the militia. congress proscribed the training, and the states appointed the officers. it pretty much describes the entire “regulation” of the militia. since the constitution does not repeat itself, i.e. (the powers granted in one section of the constitution, to one group, need not be denied to any other group, in another section of the constitution.)
    Therefor, the word “regulate” as used in the 2nd., is not, and cannot be used as a grant of power to anyone. it can only be used as a descriptor.
    “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state”. is a statement of fact without a specified grant of power.
    Since a federal government, with the power and control of “the militia”, could also be a problematic to a free state. the only check and balance there could be to a well armed federal government was “the right of the people to keep and bare arms shall not be infringed”
    Anyone arguing differently is not digging into the frame of mind of those that wrote the bill of rights,(or bill of restrictions on government power), if you will. Or as Scalia described find reasons and reasoning for the bill in the first place.
    One only needs to read the 3A to get a clear idea of the “paranoia” with which our forefathers remained “bitter clingers” toward a government they themselves were creating.
    I only wished they would have added, “Eternal vigilance, and manly force, in protection of one’s self, one’s family, and one’s neighbor, is the price of freedom.

  4. On March 18, 2017 at 3:32 pm, Fred said:

    There is only one comma in the 2A.

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This article is filed under the category(s) Second Amendment and was published March 15th, 2017 by Herschel Smith.

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