Before I go to bed (who am I fooling, I’ll stay up and read Cryptonomicon until midnight again) I thought I’d post this essay that won me membership priviledges over at AR15.com a few months ago. It was short due to the 8,000 character limit for single posts to that forum. This should be an interesting exercise in HTML coding…
What is a “Right”?
Webster’s has several definitions:
1: qualities (as adherence to duty or obedience to lawful authority) that together constitute the ideal of moral propriety or merit moral approval
2: something to which one has a just claim: as a: the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled b: the interest that one has in a piece of property – often used in plural (mineral rights)
3: something that one may properly claim as due
All accurate, but incomplete. In speaking of the “Rights of the People” we refer to definitions 2 and 3, “something that one may properly claim as due” or “to which one is justly entitled.” Some would add “endowed by the Creator.” What about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Robert Heinlein wrote about those in his 1959 novel Starship Troopers:
“Life? What ‘right’ to life has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is the least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.
“The third ‘right’ – the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.”
So, what of the “right to keep and bear arms?” Like all “Rights of the People” the right to arms is a social construct – a declaration by a society of what is “right and proper,” and generally agreed to by the population. A society is, by definition, a group with similar beliefs. The enumerated right to arms is historically a fairly new, and a very rare one. Throughout history, the strong have made the rules and the weak have lived under them. Our English ancestors won a limited right to arms from the nobility through centuries of fighting their battles for them. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights proclaimed “That the subjects which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law.”
When our forefathers wrote the Constitution and debated on our Bill of Rights, they looked at their own recent past and at what England had done with that law, and concluded that it provided too much opportunity for interference. In St. George Tucker’s American Blackstone 1803 review of American law, he wrote:
“In England, the people have been disarmed, generally, under the specious pretext of preserving the game: a never failing lure to bring over the landed aristocracy to support any measure, under that mask, though calculated for very different purposes. True it is, their bill of rights seems at first view to counteract this policy: but the right of bearing arms is confined to protestants, and the words suitable to their condition and degree, have been interpreted to authorise the prohibition of keeping a gun or other engine for the destruction of game, to any farmer, or inferior tradesman, or other person not qualified to kill game. So that not one man in five hundred can keep a gun in his house without being subject to a penalty.”
Thus then, as now, government worked to retain the exclusive use of armed force.
Our founders intended to prevent this. Their wording was simpler:
“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.”
The meaning of these words went essentially unquestioned for a hundred years. There were questions about just who the People were, but not what “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed” meant. The 1857 Dred Scott decision looked at the question of who “the People” were, and declared that slaves and former slaves could not be “the People” because:
(Citizenship) “would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
Then we fought a war, in no small part to determine just who “the People” were.
What followed was another ninety years of bad laws aimed at keeping slaves and sons of slaves disarmed “for the public safety.” Laws to keep “those people” from being armed were introduced across the nation. The 14th Amendment was passed to ensure equal protection under the law for all, but the courts played along. U.S. v. Cruikshank in 1875 told us that the job of the federal government was to ensure all citizens received equal rights under the law, but the states were free to pass laws restricting the enumerated right to arms – at least to certain undesirables. In 1939, U.S. v. Miller proclaimed that the arms protected under the Second Amendment were somehow only those of military usefulness, but subsequent decisions using Miller as precedent proclaimed that Miller said that there was no individual right to arms. Once again, government worked to restrict arms to “those like us” – and then, later, “those like us” meant “those with power.” Inevitably, our system of government – established by the people, for the people – has become more and more “us versus them.” The “useful idiots” who fear guns, and the powerful who use them band together to change the meaning of the right to arms in the public mind.
A “right” is what the majority of a society believes it is.
What good is a “right to keep and bear arms” if it gets you put in jail? What good is a “right to keep and bear arms” if using a firearm to defend yourself or someone else results in the loss of your freedom, or at least your property? What good is a “right to keep and bear arms” when you live in a city that denies you the ability to keep a gun in your home for self protection?
This is a battle for public opinion, make no mistake.
It is a battle the powerful and their useful idiots have been winning.
Your rights are meaningless when the system under which you live does not recognize them. Or worse, scorns them.
If you want to keep your rights, it is up to YOU to fight for them. Liberty is NEVER unalienable. You must always fight for it.
“If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without blood shed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves.”
(Yup, this HTML stuff is going to take a while to get good at.)