What the Second Amendment Means to Me
September 1st, 2006
Ethics, too, are nothing but reverence for life. That is what gives me the fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, promoting, and enhancing life, and that destroying, injuring, and limiting life are evil.
— Albert Schweitzer
It might seem strange to some to begin an essay about the Second Amendment with a quote about “ethics”, “reverence for life”, “morality.” After all, don’t guns destroy life? How could they possibly enhance it?
Consider for a moment that: the remarkable men who gave us our Constitution and the first ten amendments we call the Bill of Rights had a definite purpose in mind. They wished to establish an ethical form of government that would spring from an inner core of morality in each individual who would participate in it.
The Founders had direct experience with government, and were aware of too many other governments, that showed little reverence for life. They understood clearly that unrestrained government too easily and recklessly destroys, injures, and limits life. And government often feels no constraint on its tendency to do those things because its subjects are unarmed. These noble men were intent upon bequeathing to their heirs a limited government that would be bound
by the Natural Law that springs from the Creator of all to maintain, promote, and enhance life.
They spoke and wrote frequently about the sanctity of life. In the Second Amendment they enshrined their conviction that the people should have the means to protect and defend not only themselves and their families but the larger community too from common criminals and thugs. They also knew that an armed citizenry would be a formidable deterrent to the tendency of any
government to disregard the lives and liberties of the people who were its essence.
The Founders believed rights reside in the people, because the Creator endowed individuals, not government, with those rights. Legitimate government springs from the people collectively, as they establish and ordain a system of community in order to protect fundamental rights from those scoundrels among them who would suspend, infringe, or abrogate their rights. Some have said that the Second Amendment provides the teeth that puts the fear of the people in the heart of any would-be tyrant. Guns in the hands of the people also puts the fear into the hearts of criminals and gives each citizen the means to respond to threats from an equal footing.
If, as America’s Founders suggested, our rights emanate from humankind’s Creator, who established Natural Law, then our rights truly are indefeasible. Government, accountable to the people who established it, is inferior to the Creator who established Natural Law. And so that government that argues with our rights, argues with the Creator who endowed us with those rights. It goes beyond a mere disagreement among men or women, liberals or conservatives, Republicans or Democrats.
Furthermore, Natural Law cannot be established by humanity collectively. If it were, it would not be law but simply the whim of the current collective will. Our Second Amendment right is not subject to majoritarian caprice, since it emanates not from government or even The People, but from an entity superior to both of these, namely, the Creator. If rights do not emanate from the Creator, then they depend upon humans for their legitimacy. And if that be the case, then the question of whether those rights are valid degenerates into a debate among human individuals or groups, any of whom can claim equal validity with any other.
We are a people descended from stalwarts who determined to establish their rule of government solidly on the basis of law rather than that of monarchs, dictators, tyrants. Clearly, part of the reason for the Second Amendment was to assure that the ultimate protection against usurpation by such tyrants resided in the hands of the people themselves, specifically in their right to keep and bear arms, which was not to be infringed.
The rights expressed in the first ten amendments to our Constitution cannot be alienated from us. They cannot be abrogated for they are superior to the people themselves, emanating as they do form the Creator. And so they are also superior to government, which is inferior to the people who ordained it.
That government which pretends to mitigate or dilute our rights has no legal standing from which to do so.
The Bill of Rights does not establish those rights expressed therein. It simply, albeit eloquently, acknowledges and gives words to these rights that predate any government, back through antiquity and forward through the farthest reaches of humanity on this earth.
Remember the words:
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.