Stephen P. Halbrook’s The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms is a history lesson in freedom.
The book should be considered required reading for Americans who want a better understanding of how our Founders viewed gun rights and why they protected such rights with an amendment to the Constitution.
The Founders’ Second Amendment is a history book. It begins with British efforts to disarm the colonists, whom the crown wished to control, and ends with the adoption of the Second Amendment and an examination of what our Founders intended in using the word “militia.”
As the reader flips through page upon page the truth of Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV bears down, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In other words, Colonial history proves to be a period in which a far-away government threatens again and again to disarm the people, while the people hold fast to their understanding that being armed is key to being free.
For example, when the colonists refused to abide the 1774 Intolerable Acts, which were handed down to punish rejection of taxation via the Boston Tea Party, the crown moved to curtail colonial access to ammunition supplies. And as General Thomas Gage made plans to divert gun powder from the colonists “Redcoats were…beginning to seize firearms.” The message was clear–if the colonists would not willingly abide by the Intolerable Acts then force would be applied to secure obedience.
The prospect of the use of military force to enforce the Intolerable Acts galvanized [colonists] as never before. An assembly of inhabitants in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, bluntly resolved: “That in the event of Great Britain attempting to force unjust laws on us by the strength of arms, our cause we leave to heaven and our rifles.”
Already etched in the colonial psyche was the understanding that they possessed guns to fight off a tyrannical threat against their freedom. And Halbrook traces this understanding as it develops in the face of other threats from the crown and, eventually, from concern that the newly created U.S. government could prove also pose a threat to the most basic of freedoms. These things coalesce in the conviction that some type of bulwark had to be put in place.
Halbrook shows the circuitous path of discussion and passionate debate that finally birthed the Second Amendment. He quotes Patrick Henry speaking at the Virginia Convention June 9, 1788, objecting to any Congressional power to erect forts and/or magazines in various states. Henry was confounded by the impression that arms and ammunition would be under control of a distant body instead of the people themselves. Henry said:
Are we are last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our own possession and our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
Halbrook shows that Henry’s viewpoint was broadly shared; that firearms in the hands of the people are the surest protection against abuses by governments foreign or domestic. For if Congress held the arms for the people, they could deny access to arms when they were most needed to repel tyranny.
Virginia ratified the Constitution while making clear that a protection against any infringement of certain rights–including the right to keep and bear arms–was expected.
As Halbrook covers the drafting of the Second Amendment and its adoption, he takes pains to show the Founding Fathers’ views on the rights it protected. For example, he included a quote from Samuel Adams–spoken during the Massachusetts convention–wherein Adams said, “The…Constitution can never be construed to authorize Congress…to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.”
Through the pages of the Founders’ Second Amendment readers see that the right to keep and bear arms was integral to the worldview of those who fought for this nation and framed its Constitution. And because of the importance of that right–and the fact that it existed before the United States was even a dream in the mind of Jefferson–readers recognize our Founders’ special challenge was protecting the right from the machinations of the very government set forth in the Constitution.
The Second Amendment is a bulwark for freedom.
AWR Hawkins is an award-winning Second Amendment columnist for Breitbart News and the writer/curator of Down Range with AWR Hawkins, a weekly newsletter focused on all things Second Amendment, also for Breitbart News. He is the political analyst for Armed American Radio. Follow him on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign up to get Down Range at breitbart.com/downrange.