In my essay Thoughts on Small Arms and Liberty, which was the 3rd essay of my March 2016 book Putnam Liberty Notes and also was reprinted as the 23rd essay of my August 2016 book As America Fades, I discussed the purpose of the 2nd Amendment from the Founder’s viewpoint. In my sequel essay More Thoughts on Small Arms and Liberty, which was published as the 24th essay of As America Fades, I took the subject a somewhat different direction –that of basic firearms safety and personal preparation for tyranny or chaos.
I am going to take this 2nd Amendment essay a totally different direction. This essay is going to examine the words of the 2nd Amendment, and that of several state constitutions. For brevity’s sake, I shall abbreviate the phrase Right to Keep and Bear Arms as RKBA.
The 2nd Amendment was ratified along with nine others to form what is (unofficially) termed the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. It, along with the other nine amendments, were ratified on December 15, 1791. The text of the 2nd Amendment is the following:
“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”.
It is clear. The people, the citizens of the states, have a right to own and carry arms –a right that is not to be infringed upon whatsoever. One part of the reason for this was to maintain a state militia –which could defend its borders from marauding Indians –and an out of control national government.
Interestingly, Webster’s 1828 dictionary gives the verb “bear” 19 definitions. The third definition is the following “To wear; to bear as a mark of authority or distinction; as, to bear a sword, a badge, a name; to bear arms in a coat”. Bearing arms in a coat sounds like carrying a concealed weapon.
Also of import is the term “arms”. The first definition of arms in Webster’s 1828 dictionary is: “Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body”. It was written broadly enough to cover all conventional arms such as firearms and edged weapons –and also body armor.
Let us now consider some of the state RKBA statues. The original (1816) and current (1851) constitutions of my home state of Indiana both have an RKBA clause. The original (no longer in effect) 1816 constitution states the following:
“That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves, and the State; and that the military shall be kept in strict subordination to the civil power”.
The current (1851 with amendments) constitution of Indiana dropped the military restrictions and simply states the following:
“The people shall have a right to bear arms, for the defense of themselves and the State”.
Wyoming’s constitutional guarantee, enacted in 1889, states the following:
“The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and of the state shall not be denied”.
Montana’s constitutional guarantee, enacted in 1889 and kept by the 1972 constitution, states the following:
“The right of any person to keep or bear arms in defense of his own home, person, and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall not be called in question, but nothing herein contained shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons”.
The state guarantees of the RKBA are sometimes perhaps clearer worded that the 2nd Amendment. With the above quoted statues from Indiana, Montana, and Wyoming, it is clear that there is both an individual right and a collective (aka militia duty) right.
While it would perhaps be stunning to modern urbanized Americans, the private ownership of all types of small arms for both personal defense and militia duty was not only common place, but legally protected when the U.S.A. and the majority of its states were set up. Not all state RKBA provisions mentioned the militia, and some specifically allowed the regulation of the carrying of concealed weapons.
It appears that the first restrictions of the RKBA were state laws against concealed carry. (I support the right to both open and conceal carry). Several states –such as Montana, Wyoming, and Kentucky- currently allow open carry of handguns without a permit, but require a permit for concealed carry. Indiana, in violation of its constitution, requires a permit for both.
In fact, it used to be common for gentlemen –not just frontiersmen- to be armed in public. For example, have you ever seen paintings of George Washington, as the 1796 one by Gilbert Stuart, showing Washington wearing private/civilian clothes –and a sword!
Regarding history, a few years ago I read Clayton E. Cramer’s 2006 book Armed America The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie. Cramer’s Armed America gives an in-depth coverage of firearms usage, ownership, and laws from Colonial America to the American Revolution period to the early Republic. It is worth reading, and I may end up rereading and reviewing it here on this blog in the future.
About a decade ago, I read and greatly enjoyed David T. Hardy’s little book Origins and Development of the Second Amendment. I liked it enough to refer back to it a few times over the years. It is a 95 page, hardback work published by Blacksmith Corporation of Chino Valley, Arizona back in 1986. As it is now long out of print, I do not intend to review it on this blog, but used copies might still be located for those of my readers who are interested.
But I have ignored the primary issue of the matter. That issue is the origin of rights! While morally existent, the right to life, liberty, and property are little more than a meaningless fantasy without the means to defend them. If government passed a law requiring a permit to breath air, would that make breathing without a permit wrong? Of course not!
Governments have no authority to remove, or even infringe on, God given rights. God grants rights to man; government laws such as the 2nd Amendment and the state RKBA guarantees quoted in this essay are merely an acknowledgment of a preexisting God given right. The government is not a god; it does not dispense rights.
That being said, wicked governments do attempt to infringe upon our God given rights, viewing our rights as a mere privilege granted by the state and subject to its whims and regulations. This is illegitimate.
When you have a government that acts to restrict –or even abolish- one’s God given right to own and carry firearms without any governmental restriction, what does one do? I suppose that the answer to that depends on one’s religious and political beliefs, the level of repression, and upon the tactical situation one finds himself in.
My personal stance is that I have complied with the unconstitutional laws, but I will go no farther. All of my firearms are legal by current Federal and Indiana state laws. I do have a current Indiana “License To Carry Handgun” issued by the ISP.
But I will go no farther. If laws are passed requiring registration or surrender of firearms, or certain types of firearms, I will not comply. A freeman must draw a line somewhere, a line that he does not cross. If the government becomes tyrannical enough, and enough men still consider themselves free, things get “interesting”.
One cannot escape Federal laws, only obey or resist. State laws are a little different. If one lives in a state where one cannot own certain types of firearms, high capacity magazines, or carry a handgun in public –perhaps one should consider moving to a freer state?
Though I was born in the hospital in Paoli, Indiana and have lived my entire thirty three years here in rural Orange County, I have considered moving to a state with more freedom, including recognizing legal open carry without a permit required. Basically, the less people in a state, the freer the laws –in regards to firearms and other things.
I hope this essay has given patriots and liberty advocates some information to consider concerning our rights, and the government’s legal assault on them.
Copyright © 2016 by Joseph Charles Putnam of Orange County, Indiana. All rights reserved.