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    Understanding Guns in America: Our Inherited Rights as Free Englishmen

    January 17, 2013 by Brandy Vencel

    [dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is ironic that the most vehement opposition to gun ownership I have ever witnessed was voiced by a British citizen, because our right to bear arms here in the States is an inherited right — it was an acknowledged right of free Englishmen, which is why the colonists were so appalled when their King tried to disarm them {to say nothing of his other tyrannical acts}.

    Russell Kirk talks about this extensively in his Roots of American Order, which is a must-read if you want to understand the extensive historical background of our founding documents. Truly, the structure of our laws go back to the Hebrews of Ancient Israel, the Greek and Roman Republics, in addition to the obvious, which is English common law.

    According to Kirk:

    One needs to note, moreover, that the Declaration’s word is “government”–not “state.” Eighteenth-century writers made a clear distinction between the two. “Government” implied the temporary possessors of power and their current political policies: whenever the king dismissed his ministers and chose new ones, a new “government” was formed. “State,” on the other hand, meant what today we tend to call “society” — the established civil social order, permanent in character, with some sort of enduring constitution. The Declaration spoke of instituting “new Government,” not of overthrowing the state itself, or the social order. That is another aspect of the moderation of the America “revolutionaries;” they argued that governments might be altered or abolished, but contemplated no pulling down of fundamental institutions and ways of life.

    This is really important: the American Revolution was not actually a revolution, regardless of what we have called it {it is also called the War for Independence, which is more accurate}. It was believed that the King had departed from the laws. Therefore, the colonists were deposing him. Actions in this vein really go all the way back to when the English lords forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, but this will be a 100-part series if I go down that road, and I really don’t think we all want me obsessing over the philosophy of gun ownership for the next year. At least my poor husband doesn’t.


    The important thing to understand today is that the right to bear arms, like so many other rights expressed in the Bill of Rights {the Bill is the first ten amendments to the Constitution, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the document} was an affirmation of already assumed English rights, many of which had been under direct attack by the King. The Founders saw themselves as restoring the natural order, not wreaking havoc.

    The best place to read about this specific right is to read the Cato Brief on Second Amendment rights as a right inherited from England, which was filed for a US Supreme Court case not too long ago. {If you are not familiar with the Cato Institute, one of the Institute’s primary goals is to promote an English common-law historical context in modern American public debate — this is why it is named after Cato’s Letters.} The brief begins:

    Over a century ago, this Court declared it “perfectly well settled” that the Bill of Rights was “not intended to lay down any novel principles of government, but simply to embody certain guaranties and immunities which we had inherited from our English ancestors,” including the rights’ “well recognized exceptions.” Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 281 {1897}. Indeed, “[t]he language of the Constitution cannot be interpreted safely except by reference to the common law and to British institutions as they were when the instrument was framed and adopted.” Ex parte Grossman, 267 U.S. 87, 108-09 {1925}.

    I cannot excerpt the entire brief, of course, but it is fascinating reading, and I’d highly suggest it if you want to grasp a full historical context of this issue. Some seem to think the right of Americans to keep and bear arms is a novel curiosity, but I would say that, historically speaking, it is not. What is both novel as well as curious is the idea that men can be called free at all when they do not possess the basic, historically acknowledged rights of free men, the right to bear arms among them.

    Again, according to the Cato brief:

    The English right was a right of individuals, not conditioned on militia service; individuals might exercise the right collectively, but the unquestioned core was a broadly applicable and robust right to “keep” firearms in one’s home for self-defense. Even the “well recognized exceptions” confirmed this core right, by focusing on the carrying, not the keeping, of weapons.

    In the future, we’ll talk about the Declaration of Independence, and, of course, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, but today I thought we should reach further back in history before we move forward.

    Read the Understanding Guns in America Series:
    The Noise that Made the Redcoats Run
    Our Inherited Rights as Free Englishmen ⇦ you are here
    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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  • Reply Freedom, by the way January 23, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Great discussion. I’m going to have to find your post about your friend’s pink camo gun. I was just telling hubby that gun manufacturers are missing out on a big market. Yes, I know shooting is serious business and a gun is not a fashion accessory but when we target shoot (it’s a family activity we all enjoy) I sure would like some “bling when I ping. And if I ever do have to use it in self-dense, a hot pink firearm might give the bad guy another reason to pause 🙂

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 24, 2013 at 4:14 am

      “Bling when I ping?” That is hilarious.

      I do think you could be right, though, about the style of the guns. For many years, the move was toward “military style weapons” which are picked on, but the difference is all cosmetic. Maybe some pink glitter would change the appeal. 🙂

    • Reply Rahime January 24, 2013 at 7:24 pm

      Here’s my gun. I wouldn’t want to be the criminal shot with a pink rifle.

      I would say on this subject, though, that I HIGHLY recommend for both people who are afraid of guns and those who plan to own them to go to some sort of intensive training course. There are a lot of “gun safety” courses available, but there’s nothing like spending 2-4 days straight learning to handle a weapon to communicate both the power they have AND the amount of control the user can have.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 24, 2013 at 11:11 pm

      Rifle! I was thinking it was a shotgun. You are one tough girl! 🙂

      By the way, I completely agree with you on the training issue. I was much more comfortable with them after a couple days out at our friends’ shooting range.

    • Reply Rahime January 25, 2013 at 6:16 am

      Shotguns kinda still intimidate me. I’ve only shot one twice, and I think both times my shoulder ached for days afterwards. My rifle was a source of curiosity to so many people at the training camp this picture was taken at. People were coming by all weekend (it was a 4-day class) to see it either because they HAD to see the paint-job or because they had heard rumors about the funny-looking “California-legal” ARs and wanted to see them for themselves (Hubby has a matching one in a more, um, traditional camo). Most people were shocked (horrified?) that we both went through the entire course with our 10-round magazines. But, we were able to pretty-well match the pace of our classmates who had 30 round capacity. Silly arbitrary laws.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 25, 2013 at 11:46 pm

      We don’t own rifles and I don’t think I’ve ever shot one. Am I to understand from the photo that your ear protection matches your gun??

      I really *do* think there is an untapped market, here! Maybe ‘Chung should do some gun painting on the side! 🙂

    • Reply Rahime January 27, 2013 at 7:24 am

      Indeed, the ear protection does match. ‘Chung’s had several of requests for custom paint jobs, but honestly with the number of hours it took, it’s not really worth what one could charge. If he were faster….well, that might be something. I told him after he did ours and people at the class wanted him to do theirs that I’d only let him do it for friends/family. 😉

      Shooting a rifle is, in many ways, just like shooting a handgun…you just have a longer barrel like a shotgun. I find them to have a lot less kick than a shotgun has, hence the less-sore shoulders.

  • Reply Sarah January 18, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    I was going to forward you a copy of a newsletter I subscribe to (The Transom) because it contained a piece on gun rights that was pertinent to your series. I got sidetracked yesterday and didn’t get it sent, but now it’s been republished on the Real Clear Politics website:

    The difference between citizens and subjects as outlined by Alexis de Tocqueville is noteworthy.

  • Reply Anonymous January 18, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    I think it is important to note that even in the UK and Australia many people felt the same as us freedom loving American’s but the populations were duped to believe that guns were “killing machines” and not to believe guns can also be righteous when in the right hands.

  • Reply Dawn January 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

    I am intrigued by this discussion, Brandy, and think that you are doing a magnificent job explaining the rationale for gun ownership. Why does that not surprise me (the clear expression part, I mean)? It is thought-provoking for me. I am the wife of a soldier and consider myself to be a devoted American, yet I find myself ignorant of so many of the things discussed thus far. I do not want to blindly demonstrate allegiance to our great nation, but am now considering that this is exactly what I have done to date. I very much look forward to reading Kirk’s book once we settled down after our imminent move.

    On a more pertinent note: guns. I don’t like them. I have never understood the desire to own them and the outbursts that inevitably arise about gun control in the US. I have been blinded by statistics, whether or not they are accurately utilized. On a personal note I believe that most of my loathing of guns arises from the fact that a dear college roommate lost her young brother when he picked up a gun and accidentally shot himself at the age of 8. One of the most chilling images I hold in my mind is that of my husband holding a big gun (see I don’t even have any idea what the names for such things are – my first thought was M16 but that might be the only name I know) in his Army uniform while providing airport security post 9/11. That image is such a contrast to the person of my husband which is part of the great irony that he is a devoted soldier that it is irreversibly sketched in my brain matter. But again, I digress. The point is that I am thankful that you have taken on this discussion. It is enlightening for me. I am not to the point of embracing gun ownership but I do already have a greater understanding of them being a symbol of liberty and freedom for those who own them.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 18, 2013 at 5:12 pm

      I completely understand not liking guns. I always joke that my weapon of choice is a bow and arrow, but honestly I am not kidding! I am much more comfortable with that than a handgun or a shotgun.

      In Switzerland–which is also a Republic–every male who is of age is obligated to own a firearm. I don’t think that *legally* he is obligated, but there is a lot of social pressure. Here, though, we always had the Quaker pacifists, so I think there has been the *right* to own weapons without the obligation.

      By the way, I think you would *love* Kirk. I have decided to start collecting his works because I loved Roots so much. And reading him *before* you start reading Plutarch will make Plutarch a lot of fun. You will see things you would have missed otherwise.

    • Reply Dawn January 18, 2013 at 6:49 pm

      I am pretty sure that I am going to love Kirk, too. Besides the fact that I seem to enjoy reading a lot of the same things you do and you have raved about it:) I have stopped myself from a 1-click purchase on Amazon at least a half a dozen times in the past two weeks since there is no way I can start yet another book before the relocation take place. Hadn’t thought about it being a wonderful precursor to Plutarch, though. Nice bonus.

  • Reply Jeanne January 17, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    I understand that the right to bear arms was the right of free Englishmen. I can see why the 2nd Amendment was made. The difference is that free Englishmen and Australians today do not even want to have that right any longer because it is anachronistic and more importantly, dangerous. What I don’t understand is the American need to own guns when they are killing machines.

    I’m really enjoying your series, Brandy.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 17, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      Thanks, Jeanne!

      In answer to your question, I can only say {so as not to yet again say too much…oops…} that we do not believe that the world has changed very much, or that the comfort our lives due to technological advancement has changed the heart of man or the nature of man’s relationship to his government.

    • Reply sara January 17, 2013 at 11:34 pm

      I see it too, as a gradual (or not so gradual) eroding of freedoms, so that eventually we get “all animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”

      Gun ownership has been one of those freedoms I was happy, until recently, not to exercise, however, now that that freedom is threatened, I feel that I must defend it.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 18, 2013 at 1:47 am

      I think a lot of people feel that way, Sara. I know so many who recently bought guns for the first time for that very reason.

    • Reply sara January 18, 2013 at 12:51 pm

      Brandy, This subject is now invading my dreams – I was hearing nocturnal conversations about your friend, Rahime’s pink gun.

      I woke with the idea that many Americans have a very strong sense of independence and do not trust anyone to do for us what we believe is our responsibility to do for ourselves – raising our children, choosing our religion, providing for ourselves, protecting our interests. Perhaps because this is a republic – of, for, and by the people – we consider ourselves to BE the government – and those in authority over us are in that position only because we have given them permission to be there for as long as it serves us. We may have delegated some of the responsibility of running the country to professionals, but it is still only a delegated power. (Perhaps we are feeling the effects of having delegated too much.)

      Anyway, that may be one reason why guns seem to be, at the present time, an American thing. This is our heritage and it’s part of the fabric of who we are. You can’t pull out a thread and expect the fabric to keep its integrity.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts January 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      That is hilarious! Did I mention it is pink *camouflage*? 🙂 I’ve never seen it in real life–only in photos–but I really want to see it in person someday.

      By the way, you basically wrote my final post out here. 🙂 That’s all I’ll say about that…for now. 🙂

    • Reply Kathy January 21, 2013 at 2:13 am

      Jeanne, many free Englishmen and Australians do in fact want to have that right today. The fact that they are not permitted to does not keep them from wanting to. Nor has it kept them from being victimized by violence, from guns and otherwise. Human nature has not changed, and weapons of self defense are not anachronistic.

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