This article was orginally published by The Abbeville Institute. It is reprinted here with the organization's permission.
By: Michael Martin
These days, we see many politicians pushing relentlessly for gun control. In the wake of recent mass shootings, several so-called “conservatives” have shown their true colors by demonizing gun owners and misrepresenting the facts on the issue.
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called critics of red flag laws “libertarians” and stated that “the Second Amendment is not a suicide pact.” Marco Rubio also just published a New York Times piece pushing for bi-partisan support, and Donald Trump has even reportedly considered implementing a social credit score system, similar to the Chinese, in order to determine who can buy guns.
At the end of the day, are any of these proposals really so different from the radical leftists that want to take guns by federal confiscation or buy-back?
What all of these politicians seemingly fail to realize is that the Second Amendment is a carefully crafted, creator-endowed right that took centuries to form. Its revocation could lead to disaster and would go against everything the Southern tradition stands for.
THE LEGAL AND HISTORIC ORIGINS OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT
The debates surrounding armed citizenry go back to ancient times. Plato, for example, wrote in his Republic that oligarchies form out of an interest to protect their own wealth and typically used armed force to do so. Plato did not fully trust the masses, however, and preferred a system under a philosopher king, where citizens were provided arms for military exercise once a month and used weapons solely at the command of the state. In Laws, Plato also stated that “techniques of fighting…are skills which all citizens, male and female, must take care to acquire” despite the fact that most of his writings ultimately supported authoritarian government.
Plato’s student, Aristotle, conceived a polity with each citizen legislating, bearing arms, and working. Aristotle believed it was dangerous for arms bearing to be entrusted to one class only, such as in the case of standing armies. In Politics, he argued that the armed forces of a king should not be “strong enough to overpower…the whole population” and that “it is quite normal for the same persons to be found bearing arms and tilling the soil.” Finally, Aristotle argued that a tyrant typically wants “to keep his subjects poor, so that they may not be able to afford the cost of protecting themselves by arms and be so occupied with their daily tasks that they have no time for rebellion.”
In ancient Rome, the transition from republic to empire led to the near end of armed citizenry and the emergence of a standing army. The disarming of the citizenry paved the way for the rise of tyranny in Rome. While Caesar was fighting in the Gallic Wars, he made it a point to receive all weapons and hostages from the Gauls and according to Caesar’s own accounts, he “cut off the hands of all who had borne arms” and “slew a great number of them and stripped all of their arms.” The Senate became concerned over Caesar’s growing power and attempted to force a disbanding of his army before eventually assassinating him. Cicero, who was a defender of the republic and the right to bear arms, wrote De officiis, a piece that defended the murder of Caesar as a justifiable tyrannicide, and predicted that tyrants who rule by armed force will be eventually overthrown.
The Roman experience taught the importance of an armed population to philosophers and politicians like Niccolo Machiavelli. According to Machiavelli, the Romans lost much of their liberty because of Caesar’s conquests and development of a professional army. In the early sixteenth century, Machiavelli led a citizen militia and believed in properly arming, exercising, and disciplining his men. He went on to write in The Art of War that the biggest danger to society was a tyrant that had “nobody to deal with but an unarmed and defenseless multitude.” Machiavelli also practiced physical conditioning with infantry and advocating “using the crossbow, longbow, and harquebus” and even recommended accustoming youth to a weapon.
THE SOUTH AND THE RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS
Machiavelli’s insistence on armed citizenry and light exercise shows some resemblance to the later thought of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Peter Carr in 1785:
“Give about two (hours), every day, to exercise…As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind…Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.”
Even though common law and the English Bill of Rights in 1689 generally gave Englishmen the right have arms, all men were still subjects. The seeds for the concept of a creator-endowed right to bear arms were planted by Southern men like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and George Mason. Washington and Mason formed the Fairfax County Militia Association in 1774, apart from the royal governor, because these men felt “Threat’ned with the Destruction of our Civil-rights, & Liberty,” and by 1775 Mason had stated the militia was necessary to protect “our ancient Laws and Liberty.” It was further required that each militia member keep “one Pound of Gunpowder, four Pounds of Lead, one Dozen Gun-Flints, & a pair of Bullett-Moulds, with a Cartouch Box, or a powder-horn, and Bag for Balls.”
The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, written by Mason, stated “that a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the People, trained to Arms, is the proper, natural and safe Defence of a free state.” Jefferson, in a proposed draft of the Virginia Constitution, attempted to complete this thought by saying “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms” and indicted the King of England for keeping standing armies in the Declaration of Independence. North Carolina’s Declaration of Rights in 1776 also stated that “the people have a right to bear arms, for the defense of the State.” One final example can be found in Richard Henry Lee’s Letters from the Federal Farmer, which indicated Lee’s preference for armed citizenry:
“It is true, the yeomanry of the country possess the lands, the weight of property, possess arms, and are too strong a body of men to be openly offended…therefore, it is urged…that men who shall govern will not dare pay any disrespect to their opinions.”
To this day, the South continues to be the cradle of gun ownership. According to the 2019 number of registered weapons in the United States, by state, most of the guns are in the South. Alabama has the highest percentage of gun permit holders at 22%, while Florida, Georgia, and Texas each have over one million permit holders. Why is the media in the United States condemning gun owners when our country has more guns than every other country in the world, but our nation does not even rank in the top 10 when it comes to deaths from gun violence? The whole issue becomes muddied when you consider that there are states like California, which has some of the strictest gun laws but has seen 20 mass shootings since 1982 – more than any other state.
Red flag laws are not a proper solution to gun violence in America. While the parameters of the law differ slightly from state to state, the basic idea is that people can be reported to authorities for any kind of behavior that is interpreted as dangerous. In the case of a social credit score, it could be that a person’s online interactions do not conform to the mainstream narratives. Maybe you could be flagged because you fly a Confederate flag on your land or have your Sons of Confederate Veterans sticker on your bumper. The possibilities are endless. Just say “no” to red flag laws, because outlawing guns will obviously not stop criminals from using them.
Michael Martin is a teacher, writer, and historian with experience working in both public and private schools. He currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife and daughter, where he specializes in early Virginia history, genealogy, and the emerging field of sensory history.