The cannons leaped backward, the air was full of flying grass and weeds. Almanzo ran with all the other boys to feel the warm muzzles of the cannons. Everybody was exclaiming about what a loud noise they had made.
“That’s the noise that made the Redcoats run!” Mr. Paddock said to Father.
“Maybe,” Father said, tugging his beard. “But it was muskets that won the Revolution…”
-Laura Ingalls Wilder
In most of the debates surrounding the Second Amendment, there are statistics flung around. I find these statistics of interest. Is it true that gun-free zones are more likely to attract crime than other places? Do guns cause criminals to think twice before committing an offence? Are most crimes involving firearms committed with illegal weapons, meaning that gun control would have no effect on said crimes because the guns used in these crimes are already disallowed? It’s an interesting discussion, isn’t it?
The problem is when we try to group this (admittedly interesting) discussion into our talk about the Second Amendment, the issue can get muddied.
As I said yesterday, the Second Amendment does not exist because our Founding Fathers were concerned with the uncanny knack of guns to deter crime, or the deep American affection for hunting. One of the things I have always appreciated about our Founders was their focus on Permanent Things. They aimed at universal, timeless principles rather than creating a governing document that was mired in its own time.
Our time, however, is very caught up in itself. This is why, when we discuss issues, we refer to statisticians and economists rather than philosophers and prophets. We have a bad case of chronological myopia. Culturally, we tend to be concerned with here and now. We don’t think much about yesterday, nor do we think about tomorrow.
I think if we are going to try and understand our time and its problems (which are not unique, mind you), we have to look back through the halls of history and find out how we got here (and also how men wiser than us dealt with similar problems), not just in regard to the problems we have, but the legal documents that structure our society.
In the latter case, we need to go back to the days preceding the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and even the Declaration of Independence. There are events which preceded these documents that inform their reading.
Often called “the shot heard ’round the world,” the first shots of the American War for Independence, fired at Lexington April 19, 1775, were fired why exactly? Are you aware of the history of this? You may not be, for I know that I personally was not taught this in school; I had to learn it for myself as an adult studying history.
No one knows which side fired the first shot (or if perhaps a spectator fired one to get things going), but what we do know is that General Gage had received orders shortly before this battle. His mission was clear: he was to disarm the colonists and arrest the rebel leaders. The colonists, who were supposed to have the rights of a free Englishman, had been taxed without representation, forced to quarter soldiers in their homes, and, to add insult to injury, the King had now ordered their total disarmament.
The Battle of Concord had the same cause; British troops were sent to Concord for the purpose of confiscating the colonial stock of firearms and ammunition.
The Founding Fathers were concerned with protecting the rights of citizens to bear arms because they knew not just history in general (though we can and ought to look there), but their own very recent history, in which a tyrant stripped freemen of their rights–first their right to representation, then their right to a private domain, and then their right to arm themselves. The Founders’ purpose was to protect against tyranny.
Our national discussion must center around universal principles and timeless concepts, around important ideas such as what it means to be free and what a tyrant looks like, what is a free man and what is his proper place and what are the rights proper to his position as a free man, if we are going to make wise decisions. Wisdom does not crunch numbers and read statistics and polls to make decisions. Wisdom concerns itself with truth–timeless truths. Or, as the Founders called them, “self-evident truths.”
But I digress.
If we want to understand gun ownership in America, today’s lesson is clear: Americans own guns–have the freedom to own guns–because there was a time when their government tried to take guns from them. The British oppression of the American colonies actually culminated in disarmament. Disarmament was the line the colonists did not allow their King to cross; it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Once upon a time, the colonists were stripped of their rights as free men. Tyranny showed itself clearly in the very act of disarmament. And we put an end to tyranny using the very guns we owned.
Our history runs deep, and if we seem to cling to our beloved Second Amendment, this is one reason why.
Read the Understanding Guns in America Series:
The Noise that Made the Redcoats Run ⇦ you are here
Our Inherited Rights as Free Englishmen
Natural Rights and Legal Rights
James Madison’s Angel Problem
On Amendments and Ratification
Res Publica, the Nature of a Republic
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