The title of this post is, of course, a mockery of Mark Nuckols’ ridiculous recent article in The Atlantic, “Why the ‘Citizen Militia’ Theory Is the Worst Pro-Gun Argument Ever“. So right off the bat, he effectively proclaims that the Founding Fathers’ purpose for including the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights is the worst argument for an armed populace … ever. His subheading reads, “Two out of three Americans see the Second Amendment as a safeguard against tyranny. What?” What? Nearly 66% of Americans actually understand the purpose of the 2nd Amendment? This is no good! We must dumb them down more! Having only 33% of Americans ignorant of the Founders’ intent is clearly a failure.
The notion that an individual right to bear arms guarantees the American people against government tyranny is of course an old one. Given its apparent validation in the Second Amendment of the Constitution itself, it’s not surprising that the notion has survived in some way through to the 21st century. Given its defiance of history and common sense, though, what should be surprising is that it’s survived to remain so widespread.
So he begins by essentially acknowledging that, yeah, the purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to protect against government tyranny. But, you see, the Founding Fathers just didn’t understand history, and showed a great lack of common sense, in espousing the belief that having an armed populace was a strong defense against tyranny.
Then he writes:
Under our constitutional form of government, the Supreme Court has the authority to decide what the Constitution means, and after decades of judicial ambiguity, in District of Columbia v. Heller a majority of the justices found an individual right to gun ownership, unrelated to membership in a state militia. But the Heller decision also makes it clear that this is not an unlimited right, and that it may be subject to extensive government regulation.
So, you see, if five of nine people on the Supreme Court decide that the 2nd Amendment — which states, “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” — means that the government may infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms, then the government may so infringe, even though the Constitution says differently, because the Court has the “authority” to redefine the Constitution and tell all us sheeple what it means (Orwell’s Animal Farm comes to mind). Where did the Supreme Court get that authority? Nuckols doesn’t say. It’s not in the Constitution, so who knows? Never mind that, anyway! Stop asking questions! Our Overlords have spoken! Just obey!
However, in recent years, the belief in widespread gun ownership as a defense against tyrannical government has become an alluring idea, gaining traction with members of Congress as well as fringe conspiracy theorists.
So 66% of Americans are apparently “fringe conspiracy theorists”, that trusty old phrase so oft’ thrown about to malign one’s interlocutors without having to actually produce an argument, used here by Nuckols reflexively. He quotes Senator Tom Coburn saying, “The Second Amendment wasn’t written so you can go hunting, it was to create a force to balance a tyrannical force here”, and then says that “It is easy to ridicule such rhetoric” — though not nearly as easy as it is to ridicule Nuckols’ nonsense. And never mind that Coburn’s “rhetoric”, as Nuckols already acknowledged, has “validation” in the 2nd Amendment, as he put it. So now stating a historical fact is mere “rhetoric”. Of course, Nuckols goes on to cite his own history, so clearly, the criteria are that any historical facts he thinks he can use to argue that the government may disarm the populace are valid, but any that contradict his view is mere “rhetoric”, by definition.
Even individual Americans armed with military-style assault rifles could hardly pose any serious resistance to any future tyrannical central government supported by overwhelmingly powerful military capabilities. But many otherwise sensible people seem willing to concede that gun ownership could one day play some role in preserving democracy. Just this month, a Rasmussen poll reported that 65 percent of Americans see gun rights as a protection against tyranny.
In other words, two-thirds of Americans are not sensible when it comes to their views on guns by virtue of not sharing Nuckols’ minority opinion that the Founding Fathers themselves were ignorant of history and lacking in common sense, who based the 2nd Amendment on a “shaky intellectual edifice” consisting of two pillars.
The first is a cottage industry of academics and lawyers who have scoured ancient political tracts and common law to establish that in the distant English past that there was a constitutional right to bear arms as a defense against tyranny. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has given some credence to this view: In his majority opinion for Heller, he asserted that “the Stuart Kings Charles II and James II succeeded in using select militias loyal to them to suppress political dissidents, in part by disarming their opponents.” This line of reasoning ignores the fact that, in 21st century America, the prospect of monarchs and their select militias oppressing the populace is reasonably remote.
This “line of reasoning”? The quote from Scalia isn’t a “line of reasoning” at all; no argument or conclusion from Scalia is quoted, merely a statement of fact. As Scalia went on to point out, “These experiences caused Englishmen to be extremely wary of concentrated military forces run by the state and to be jealous of their arms.” Clearly, Justice Scalia, too, is ignorant of history and lacking in common sense on this matter.
And what are we to make of Nuckols’ argument that this observed historical fact “ignores” that in contemporary America, it is “reasonably remote” that “monarchs” will oppress the populace? Remote, indeed, since the U.S. doesn’t have a monarchy. Nuckols says nothing about whether it is merely a “remote” chance that the government that does exist — which has declared for itself the power to capture Americans on U.S. soil and hold them in indefinite military detention and the authority to act as prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner and assassinate American citizens — poses a threat to individuals’ Liberty.
He adds that “common law evolves and is subordinate to acts of the legislature”. Thus, in Nuckols’ view, our wise government Overlords, those Benevolent Bureaucrats in the Congress, may legislate away individuals’ rights. Conflating the concept of “common law” with “natural law”, he rejects either the self-evident truth that individuals have a right to self-defense or the logical corollary that they therefore have a right to own whatever means are necessary in order to exercise that right. So long as our Overlords decide otherwise, in Nuckols’ view, individuals have no such right. Nuckols would have “the right to bear arms” cited in the 2nd Amendment read as “the government-granted privilege to bear arms”.
He next cites hypothetical arguments, such as that the Holocaust could have been avoided if only Germany’s Jews were armed, or that “Ukrainian peasants could have defeated the Stalinist regime”, if only they had been armed, but dismisses these as “counterfactual interpretations of history” that “are wildly speculative — and downright implausible.” Oh, “how misguided these kinds of arguments truly are” — which we can see, as Nuckols proceeds to show, by examining the American revolution — an obvious example of how having an armed populace does not offer any kind of defense against government tyranny.
After a lengthy irrelevant discussion about how guns were used for domestic violence in American history, Nuckols offers the comment that “The constitutional government of the United States has never been perfect, but it has repeatedly corrected its mistakes and sometime tendencies to abridge the fundamental rights of its citizens.” So the 2nd Amendment was a “mistake” that needs to be “corrected” and the “fundamental rights” of Americans need to be “abridged”. He throws in the argument that “And for the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rationale of ‘protecting’ their own rights would be a convenient justification for straight-up looting, robbery, and bloodshed.” So since there are some individuals who engage in criminal behavior, therefore the rights of law-abiding citizens must be “abridged”.
One could just as well argue: For the most criminal and vicious members of society, the rational of “protecting” the U.S. would be a convenient justification for straight-up aggression, war, and mass murder. But you don’t see Nuckols arguing for the disarmament of the U.S. government. And this is the same mass-murdering government that engages in constant wars and destroys nations that we are supposed to turn to in order to solve the problem of violence for us? This is lunacy.
[A]s we debate the role of firearms in our society, it makes no sense to be sidetracked by the impossible and dangerous idea that a heavily armed citizenry is the ultimate safeguard of liberty in America.
Hmm… Let’s see what the Founders had to say about that…
“No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” — Thomas Jefferson, Draft of the Virginia Constitution, June 1776
“Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command: for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. 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. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealousy will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.” — Noah Webster, “Examination of the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution”, October 10, 1787
“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.” — Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787
“If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense … against the usurpations of the national rulers…. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms….” — Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 28, December 26, 1787
“[I]f circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens.” — Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist No. 29, January 9, 1788
“[R]egular troops, and select corps, ought not to be kept up without evident necessity…. A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render regular troops in a great measure unnecessary…. [T]o preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them….” — Richard Henry Lee, Letters from the Federal Farmer, No. XVIII, January 25, 1788
“[T]he ultimate authority, wherever the derivative may be found, resides in the people alone…. [S]hould an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, … the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; … and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter. But ambitious encroachments of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted. One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the dread of a foreign, yoke…. The only refuge left for those who prophesy the downfall of the State governments is the visionary supposition that the federal government may previously accumulate a military force for the projects of ambition…. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twenty-fifth part of the number able to bear arms. This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men. To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops…. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to posses the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves, who could collect the national will, and direct the national force; and of officers appointed out of the militia, by these governments and attached both to them and to the militia, it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned, in spite of the legions which surround it.” — James Madison, The Federalist No. 46, January 29, 1788
“And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress … to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms….” — Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, February 6, 1788
“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American…. [T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.” — Tench Coxe, The Pennsylvania Gazette, February 20, 1788
“The most effectual way to guard against a standing army, is to render it unnecessary. The most effectual way to render it unnecessary, is to give the general government full power to call forth the militia, and exert the whole natural strength of the Union, when necessary. Thus you will furnish the people with sure and certain protection, without recurring to this evil…” — James Madison, Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 14, 1788
“The militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it…. The great object is, that every man be armed.” — Patrick Henry, Ibid.
“Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually, by totally disusing and neglecting the militia.” — George Mason, Ibid.
“We are told, we are afraid to trust ourselves; that our own representatives — Congress — will not exercise their powers oppressively; that we shall not enslave ourselves; that the militia cannot enslave themselves, &c. Who has enslaved France, Spain, Germany, Turkey, and other countries which groan under tyranny? They have been enslaved by the hands of their own people. If it will be so in America, it will be only as it has been every where else.” — Patrick Henry, Virginia Ratifying Convention, June 16, 1788
“As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms.” — Tench Coxe, “Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution”, Philadelphia Federal Gazette , June 18, 1789
“What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. Now, it must be evident, that, under this provision, together with their other powers, Congress could take such measures with respect to a militia, as to make a standing army necessary. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” — Elbridge Gerry, House of Representatives, August 17, 1789
“A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined….” — George Washington, State of the Union Address, January 8, 1790
But what did they know? Such defiance of history and common sense! All those old dead guys must have been just a bunch of fringe conspiracy theorists.