Conservatives take a different view, one that is rooted in the nation’s foundational philosophy. The American premise is a theological premise: that all mean are endowed by their Creator — not the state — with certain unalienable rights. For our Founding Fathers, who were steeped in the Anglo-Protestant liberal tradition, this was not only the truth but the “self-evident” truth. The right to keep and bear arms, like the right to speak one’s mind, worship as one sees fit, and petition the state for redress of grievances, is not the king’s gift to give or to withhold — the matter was settled by no less an authority than God Himself. For those who are not of a religious cast of mind, the same conclusion can be arrived at through the tradition of natural law and natural rights, which the Christian liberals of the 18th century understood as complementary to their discernment of Divine intent. Whether one believes that man was created by God or by evolutionary processes, the conclusion ends up being the same: Man has reason, individual and corporate dignity, individual and corporate value, and these are not subject to revision by any prince, power, or potentate.

Put another way: The right to keep and bear arms would still be there without the Second Amendment. Like the right not to suffer political or religious repression, it exists with or without the law. It is an aspect of the human being, not an aspect of the governments that human beings institute among themselves. The state does not grant the right — the state exists because the right exists and needs protecting from time to time. The state protects our rights from criminals and marauders, and the Constitution protects our rights from their protectors.