Why it’s Needed
In previous columns we have examined how the Second Amendment protects an individual right. We looked at how “the militia” referenced in the amendment referred to all law-abiding citizens. Although it is clear that the Founding Fathers wanted an armed populace, our modern friends and neighbors may wonder why.
Besides the necessity of putting wild game on the table, the founders realized that the right to keep and bear arms gave the people a defense against various threats to their lives and liberty. Joseph Story, the famous jurist and Supreme Court Justice put it this way: “The importance of this article [Second Amendment] will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers.” I would add common crime to that list as well.
Admittedly the risk of foreign military invasion is pretty remote. Fortress America is protected by oceans on two sides and friendly neighbors to the north and south, but who knows what the future holds? Any nation foolish enough to send an invading army into the United States would be in for a fight. Even if they were able to defeat American military forces and capture certain areas, the armed citizenry would be able to conduct a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the occupiers. As Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and numerous other examples have proven, armed civilians on their own turf are often harder to defeat than professional armies.
Thomas Paine: “[A]rms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property… Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.”
Domestic tyranny, unfortunately, may be a more likely threat than foreign invasion. Our founding fathers understood that an armed populace was the final, last ditch safeguard against government suppression of the people’s liberty, when all the other “checks and balances” had failed.
Joseph Story: “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium [safeguard] 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[.]”
Noah Webster: “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 pretence, raised in the United States.”
Thomas Jefferson: “And what country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.”
Defense against crime is probably the most relevant of these issues to modern day Americans. Police can’t (and in a free society shouldn’t) be everywhere. This means that the duty to protect the individual resides with the individual himself. Some places have recognized that fact while others have tried to hide from it.
John Jay: “Even if it was practicable, would it be wise to disarm the good before ‘the wicked cease from troubling?’” [citing Job 3:17]
A look at crime rates from around the country shows that areas with the most restrictive prohibitions on civilian gun ownership have the highest crime rates (e.g. Washington D.C.), while areas with the least restrictive gun laws have some of the lowest crime rates (e.g. Vermont). States that legally recognize the right to carry concealed firearms, for instance, have 26% lower total violent crime and lower rates of murder by 31%, robbery by 50%, and aggravated assault by 15%, than states that do not recognize the right to carry.
America’s crime rates have remained low while the number of guns in private ownership has greatly increased and the number of licensed concealed carriers has also increased. Compare that to England and Australia which have seen their violent crime rates (including gun crimes) skyrocket after passing near-total gun bans. According to the U.N., these two countries now have higher violent-crime rates than America. Noted crime researcher Professor John Lott summed it up succinctly in the title of his book, “More Guns, Less Crime.”
The Second Amendment reads: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” The militia that the framers referred to was all citizens capable of fighting. The amendment therefore protects an individual right of the people to keep and bear arms, which is necessary to defend themselves from crime, invasion and tyranny. Now, just as then, that’s important.
End of series.