On September 14, Salon ran a column attempting to discredit numerous aspects of America’s gun heritage, especially the contention that our Founding Fathers intended an armed citizenry to be a check against a tyrannical government.
Salon went about this by claiming that citizens of other countries–Switzerland, for example–have guns to help their government, rather than fight against it, thus demonstrating a more enlightened culture.
Salon also juxtaposed the American habit of buying a gun for home defense with the motivations for having a gun in Switzerland, saying, “The gun owners in Switzerland aren’t armed in order to repel a home invasion by criminals.” Again, a more enlightened culture there than here, apparently.
Taking on the idea that America’s Founding Fathers intended the citizenry to be armed to repel tyranny, the article argued that American gun owners justify this claim by appealing to a Thomas Jefferson quote “that is apocryphal” and, therefore, an insufficient basis for claims regarding founding intentions and/or principles.
What Salon failed to do was deal with numerous other statements on gun ownership set forth by other Founding Fathers, and none more clearly than James Madison–the author of the Constitution.
In Federalist 46, Madison described “the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.” He showed that an armed society was part of an enlightened one, and that it was so because the citizens thereof had the ability to defend themselves against government tyranny and overreach.
Madison explained that in instances where a central government became tyrannical, an armed citizenry–together with “subordinate governments to which the people are attached”–provided a framework in which the people could rally to defend their lives and liberty. The people wound band together in “militias”–officers being “appointed” by those local, “subordinate governments,”and their banding together would be meaningful because the people were armed.
Note: it is the private possession of firearms that makes banding together forceful. This is why Madison lauded Americans’ “advantage of being armed.”
That the people would possess such power–the very power to check a tyrannical government–is easily understood via an honest reading of Madison’s writing. He explained that “ultimate authority … resides in the people alone.” All authority held by government is a secondary authority; a derivative power flows from the people and ultimately rests in the people alone.
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter: @AWRHawkins. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.