One of the first people to ever write a study of the U.S. Constitution believed the Second Amendment had everything to do with self-defense, and not militias. St. George Tucker wrote on the issue all the way back in 1803 in his work View of the Constitution of the United States, calling the right of the people to keep and bear arms a hallmark of liberty (emphasis mine):
This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty…The right of self defense is the first law of nature: in most government it has been the study of rules to confirm this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color of pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.
That’s going to be a disappointment to everyone saying the Second Amendment only refers to muskets and/or militias (especially those “sitting in” on the House floor). Tucker isn’t suggesting only certain people (militia members) should own weapons; he’s saying everyone has the right to own a gun (whether it’s a musket, pistol, AR-15, etc.). He may even be suggesting letting people own weapons will keep the government from using the army to attack civilians in the name of tyranny (what’s the use of a pistol if those who are attacking you are using AR-15’s).
It’s here where Tucker shows just how limited the government was supposed to be, when he compares our Second Amendment with the English law it was based on.
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 authorize 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.
This shows the Founding Fathers were interested in civilians being able to protect themselves from others. Damon Root at Reason (who deserves a massive h/t for mentioning Tucker’s analysis in the first place) wrote earlier this week how Anti-Federalists were extremely concerned about losing the ability to own weapons.
For example, Anti-Federalists at the New Hampshire ratification convention wanted it made clear that, “Congress shall never disarm any Citizen unless such as are or have been in Actual Rebellion.” Anti-Federalists at the Massachusetts ratification convention wanted the Constitution to “be never construed…to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable, from keeping their own arms.”
Meanwhile, in the Anti-Federalist stronghold of Pennsylvania, critics at that state’s ratification convention wanted the Constitution to declare, “that the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and their own State, or the United States, or for the purpose of killing game; and no law shall be passed for disarming the people or any of them, unless for crimes committed, or real danger of public injury from individuals.”
It would be nice if more Democrats (and some Republicans) would be willing to actually read what early Americans were worried about. People like Congressmen John Lewis and Jerrold Nadler seem more willing to use histrionic rhetoric instead of actually looking at logic. Via Politico:
“How many more mothers? How many more fathers need to shed tears of grief before we do something?” Lewis continued, his voice rising in intensity. “Give us a vote. Let us vote. We came here to do our job. We came here to work.”
A short while later, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the House “is drenched in blood and the only way we can cleanse it is if the speaker of the House allows us to vote on this legislation.”
“Every day that we don’t commit to a vote, the blood is on the leadership of this House,” Nadler added.
It’s awful whenever a mass shooting or terrorist attack happens. It’s horrific seeing family crying on TV as they try to come to grips with what happened. But gun control advocates are forgetting (whether intentionally or not) is what the nation was founded on and Tucker’s analysis of the Constitution shows how strongly the Founders believed in the right to bear arms. If Nadler, Lewis, and the rest of the Democrats don’t want to own an AR-15, that’s fine. If they want to start lobbying family members/security detail/neighbors to not own one, that’s fine too. Just don’t force the heavy hand of government to determine what thing someone can or can’t own. That’s the tyranny the Founding Fathers (specifically the Anti-Federalists) were worried about.