By Charley Reese of The Orlando Sentinel
June 22, 1989
We saw in Beijing what James Madison and other American revolutionaries hoped to prevent ever happening in the United States – unarmed civilians being shot down by their own country’s standing army.
There is a concerted move today to weaken or in effect do away with the Second Amendment, which guarantees the right of individual Americans to keep and bear arms. We should oppose it strenuously.
Shyster lawyers and propagandists will tell you that the Second Amendment was intended only to provide arms for the National Guard and Army Reserve. That’s stuff and nonsense. Neither of those existed at the time and both, unlike the militia, are today federal organizations.
Besides, the historical record is crystal clear that the amendment applied to individual Americans, that it was to be the means by which the people could protect themselves should the government turn tyrannical.
Let’s go to the sources:
James Madison said: ”Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.’‘
Samuel Adams said: ”The Constitution shall never be construed . . . to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
Thomas Jefferson: ”No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”
Of course, the idea that Americans might have to fight in their own streets against their own government strikes us today as absurd and impossible. That’s because we are victims of a common enough human fallacy – the belief that if something has never happened to us before, it never will. Such optimism is unjustified by history. The Chinese students didn’t think their own army would fire on them.
The men who made our Revolution were more realistic. At the very time of the victory over England, at the very time of greatest national enthusiasm for the new government, at the very time they themselves controlled the government, they recognized that sometime in the future this new government might turn tyrannical. Therefore, just as they took pains to spell out of the basic political rights – assembly, speech, petition, and press, they also spelled out the right to private arms.
Here again is another principle modern Americans have difficulty in grasping because our experience for the past 120 years has been domestic peace. That principle is the inseparability of rights and the power to enforce them.
Without the means to enforce them, rights do not exist. There is no right to life if you can’t prevent someone from killing you. There is no right to trial by jury if you cannot stop a lynch mob. There is no right against search and seizure if you lack the power to prevent someone from kicking down your door.
Rights are an intellectual concept that can only be realized in flesh and blood if there exists the physical power to enforce them. Our forefathers believed that people had rights and therefore of necessity must have the means to protect them. To have denied private arms would have been a contradiction of the Declaration of Independence.
A cruise liner firm that said it had never had a ship sink so therefore did not carry lifeboats would never get my business. A government that said it had never censored speech and didn’t intend to would not convince me to repeal the First Amendment.
So, too, just because we have not had the experience and cannot foresee a need, we should not abandon a right to private arms.
Editor’s Note: With renewed attacks on The Right To Bear Arms in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, I believe this article warranted re-posting. You can view the original article here.