The Right to Life and to Bear Arms

Mascot Owl Facing LeftThe right to life is the most fundamental natural right. When a life ends, all other questions of rights go moot.

As long as there are people around who have little or no respect for the lives of others, who think to break and plunder and steal, or to seek revenge for real or imagined wrongs, just so long will we need to exercise the natural right of self-defense. But let’s go a little deeper with this. Many citizens question the right of fellow citizens to carry guns around. Here’s the basis I see for that right.

The Right to Life

Let’s talk about a beaver and ask this question: Does a beaver have the right to cut down trees to make a lodge and a dam and provide food for himself and family?  We could say no, of course, but that would end the beaver’s life. These are natural rights because they find their source in the thing that owns the rights. These rights cannot be separated from their owner without significant damage. Thus, they are inalienable.

To make that point very clear, we can consider a stone for a moment. It is impossible to remove a stone’s right to the space it occupies without destruction of the stone. That is the stone’s property right. And it is inherent or inalienable.

So back to the inalienable right to life. Let’s ask if the beaver has a right to life. The answer is a resounding “Duh!”. So given that right, we ask the next question. If a wolf attacks the beaver or even one of its kits, does the beaver have the right to counter-attack? And what if the wolf gets killed in the process?

Muzzle Loading PistolIt is obvious that a human being has an inalienable right to life and  the attendant right of self-defense. Self-defense can be done several ways, but none of them are as effective as a gun. In fact, just showing the gun often ends the attack.

Many people have an aversion to guns, but statistics show that citizens with legal permits to carry a concealed weapon have the best record of all. Even trained policemen accidentally kill more people than such citizens. In spite of this fact, I am afraid that most citizens would be more uneasy if they could see the concealed weapons carried by their neighbors. Meanwhile, we cannot be safer than to be surrounded by such citizens.

The Militia

The second amendment seems to justify its prohibition of federal gun control by saying: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, …”. Many people reason that this prohibition extends only to our military forces. Our new constitution went into effect on March 4, 1789. Three years later, on May 8, 1792, Congress passed the Militia Act of 1992 which defined the militia thus:

That each and every free able-bodied white male citizen of the respective States, resident therein, who is or shall be of age of eighteen years, and under the age of forty-five years (except as is herein after excepted) shall severally and respectively be enrolled in the militia, 1

The Authority to Write Gun Laws

There are 102 major legislative bodies in the United States, and 100 of them have authority to write gun laws. The two that are prohibited by the second amendment are the US Senate and the US House of Representatives.

The Extensive Study by the U. S. Senate

The US Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, an arm of the Senate Judiciary Committee, executed an in-depth study (136 pages, 82,000 words) of the issues that was published in February, 1982. The study was titled “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms”, and its Preface begins thus:

“To 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, Virginia delegate to the Continental Congress, initiator of the Declaration of Independence, and member of the first Senate, which passed the Bill of Rights. )

We live in a day where our surroundings are ever more like those of early England with scoundrels and ruffians, buglers and thieves everywhere active. That make this report more impressive and a lengthy historical treatment all the more relevant. It includes these fascinating words:

“While a great many of the Saxon rights were abridged following the Norman conquest, the right and duty of arms possession was retained. Under the Assize of Arms of 1181, ‘the whole community of freeman between ages of 15 and 40 were required by law to possess certain arms, which were arranged in proportion to [the extent of] their possessions. They were required twice a year to demonstrate to Royal officials that they were appropriately armed.” [In 1253 another law required all citizens, even the serfs between ages 15 and 60 to be armed.]
“In 1285, Edward I commanded that all persons … who can afford them shall keep bows and arrows. In 1369, the King ordered that the sheriffs of London require all citizens at leisure time on holidays to use in their recreation bowes and arrows and to stop all other games which might distract them from this practice.”
“Fathers were required by law [Under the Tudor Kings ] to purchase bows and arrows for their sons between the age of 7 and 14 and to train them in longbow use…”
“In the [American] colonies, availability of hunting and need for defense led to armament statutes comparable to those of the early Saxon times. In 1623, Virginia forbade its colonists to travel unless they were ‘well armed’; … in 1673 its laws provided that a citizen who claimed he was too poor to purchase a firearm would have one purchased for him by the government …”

What the Founders Were Thinking

Many have argued that times have changed so we don’t need the ordinary citizen to be armed anymore. Such claims beg the question, “What were the Founders thinking anyway.” Fortunately, we have excellent records of some of their thinking. One particular essay published in 1788, stands out: Federalist Paper No. 46. James Madison, often referred to as the “Father of the Constitution”, is thought to have written this paper in which the author says:

“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.”

The writer juxtaposed the federal army against the people’s militia and showed that the army would not be able to overpower the militia because the latter would have far superior firepower. This is a clear separation of the standing army and the militia which also defines both terms. He says further:

“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.”

The Several States Have Authority

Finally, let me mention that the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution declares that federal government powers are limited to those granted in the document and that all others are left to the states and the people. Just to make that especially obvious regarding weapons, the Second Amendment prohibits any federal infringement of the right to bear arms. Those issues were to be addressed by the states — which could choose to let the counties and cities address those questions. The federal government cannot control citizen’s arms without violating the Constitution.

There are provisions for amending the Constitution, but unconstitutional legislation is destructive to the rule of law, which, of course, is the only basis of a peaceful society.

1 The Militia Act of 1792

Jackson Pemberton
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