Thursday, July 26, 2012

Firearms and Original Intent

I had a discussion on a social media site, and felt the results were something I'd like to share here, as well as be able to reference.  The discussion was about a statement that the current situation in the U.S. with regard to firearms is not what the founders intended.  They hadn't anticipated our times or technology.

I've often said the Founders based the Constitution not on contemporary political theory of the 1700's, but on the immutable principles of human nature. Thus, they didn't need to foresee technological advances. They knew humanity doesn't really change. Throughout time, human government has always trended toward the creation of a wealthy, privileged political class living off the labor of the common people. The best governments restrict that trend through careful limits on government power and popular involvement in the government.

So, what of guns in that light? Guns are the last line of defense of our rights. Remember, the colonists exhausted every other recourse before they squeezed off the first shots of the revolution. They sought redress, not bloodshed. Not only would they expect the same for us, but just as they did, they'd anticipate that we would vehemently resist any attempt to remove that final safeguard, that last place of resort.  They'd also insist that we should have the means to resist even the best equipped tyrannical government if, heaven forbid, the situation came to that.

Further, the intentions of the founders are important in understanding the issue, but not in determining the status of the right itself because the right to bear arms, just as the right to free speech*, was a common law right that predated the Constitution and was not granted by it, but rather guaranteed by it. That is, it is an unalienable right.  If we really want to get to the founders' intents, we can look to their further writings and see they meant for the right to keep and bear arms to protect us from all forms of tyranny, whether tyranny of criminals, tyranny of government, or the tyranny of hunger. It matters not the source of the tyranny, only that they meant us to always be equipped to resist it first with debate, but ultimately if necessary, by force.

*The concept of freedom of speech quite clearly predated the Constitution, as did the right to self-defense.  Benjamin Franklin commented on the freedom to express one's thoughts as a fundamental principle for any free country a half century before the 1st Amendment was introduced:

"This sacred privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own." The full letter is available here.


tom said...

"I've often said the Founders based the Constitution not on contemporary political theory of the 1700's, but on the immutable principles of human nature."

I guess I'm curious as to why you would bother to make a dichotomy out of this. Obviously, guys like Madison, Jefferson et al. had political theories and they formulated those theories in the 1700s. So they based the constitution and the institutions of U.S. government on political theories of the 18th century. All you need to say further is that those political theories of the 18th century were by and large correct.

Mark said...

Uh, they borrowed from Locke and Cicero as well, (not to mention the Bible). Are you familiar with the sources they drew from?

tom said...

Of course. But the sentence says "Not x, but y." You can base what you put into x (political theories of the 18th century formulated by the founders) on the writings of Cicero, Locke or whatever, but I don't see why x can't also be y, no matter what it's based on.

tom said...

Thinking about it a little further, I suppose that it wouldn't quite be just to call, for instance, heliocentrism "a 16th-century idea", though it is that. Anyway, I think it's easier to just say that something is correct.