Second Amendment Rights

Dr Alan Keyes

I am a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment. The 2nd Amendment is still in the Constitution of the United States, contrary to what some elites would like us to believe.

And the 2nd Amendment was not put into the Constitution by the Founders merely to allow us to intimidate burglars, or hunt rabbits to our hearts’ content. This is not to say that hunting rabbits and turkeys for the family dinner, or defending against dangers, were not anticipated uses for firearms, particularly on the frontier–this is true.

But above all, the Founders added the 2nd Amendment so that when, after a long train of abuses, a government evinces a methodical design upon our natural rights, we will have the means to protect and recover our rights. That is why the right to keep and bear arms was included in the Bill of Rights.

In fact, if we make the judgment that our rights are being systematically violated, we have not merely the right, but the duty, to resist and overthrow the power responsible. That duty requires that we maintain the material capacity to resist tyranny, if necessary, something that it is very hard to do if the government has all the weapons. A strong case can be made, therefore, that it is a fundamental DUTY of the free citizen to keep and bear arms.

In our time there have been many folks who don’t like to be reminded of all this. And they try, in their painful way, to pretend that the word “people” in the 2nd Amendment means something there that it doesn’t mean in any one of the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. They say that, for some odd reason, the Founders had a lapse, and instead of putting in “states” they put in “people.” And so it refers to a right inherent in the state government.

This position is incoherent, and has been disproved by every piece of legitimate historical research. For example, at one point in Jefferson’s letters he is talking about the militia, and he writes “militia, every able-bodied man in the state . . . (every man capable of carrying arms).” That was the militia. It had nothing to do with the state government. The words “well-regulated” had something to do with organizing that militia and drilling it in the style of the 19th century, but ‘militia’ itself referred to the able-bodied citizens of the state or commonwealth – not to the state government.

It would make no sense whatsoever to restrict the right to keep and bear arms to state governments, since the principle on which our policy is based, as stated in the Declaration, recognizes that any government, at any level, can become oppressive of our rights. And we must be prepared to defend ourselves against its abuses.

But the movement against 2nd Amendment rights is not just a threat to our capacity to defend ourselves physically against tyranny. It is also part of the much more general assault on the very notion that human beings are capable of moral responsibility. Consider, for example, the phony assertion that certain weapons should be banned because ‘they have no purpose except to kill people.’ This debate is not about certain kinds of weapons that kill people; all kinds of weapons can kill. It is people that kill people, and they can use countless kinds of weapons to do so, if killing is in their hearts.

So let’s get down to the real issue: are we grownups, or are we children? If we are grownups, then we have the capacity to control our will even in the face of passion, and to be responsible for the exercise of our natural rights. If we are only children, then all the dangerous toys must be controlled by the government. But this ‘solution’ implies that we can trust government with a monopoly on guns, even though we cannot trust ourselves with them. This is not a ‘solution’ I trust.

Advocates of banning guns substitute things for people, but this approach won’t wash. It is the human moral will that saves us from violence, not the presence or absence of weapons. We should reject utterly the absurd theory that weapons are the cause of violence.

Anyone who is serious about controlling violence must recognize that it can only be done by rooting violence out of the human heart. That’s why I don’t understand those who say ‘save us from guns,’ even while they cling to the coldly violent doctrine that human life has no worth except what they ‘choose’ to assign to it.

If we want to end violence in our land, we must warm the hearts of this people with a renewed dedication to the God-given equality of all human beings. We must recapture the noble view of man as capable of moral responsibility, and self-restraint. Purify the heart and we will not have to worry about the misuse of weapons.

It is the business of the citizen to preserve justice in his heart, and the material capacity, including arms, to resist tyranny. These things constitute our character as a free people, which it is our duty to maintain. If we want to hold on to our heritage of liberty, we must first and foremost strengthen our confidence in our own moral capacity, and encourage such confidence in our fellow citizens. Only a people confident that it can behave like grown-ups will be justified in asserting its right to keep and bear arms, because it will be a people responsible to use them only in defense of ourselves and our liberty.

But if we want that to be true, then we shall have to return, as a people, to that same humble subjection to the authority of true moral principle that characterized our Founders, and that characterized every generation of Americans, until now. We must regain control of ourselves.

Most deeply, then, the assertion of 2nd Amendment rights is the assertion that we intend to control ourselves, and submit to the moral order that God has decreed must govern our lives – hence why I like wearing pro-2nd Amendment apparel.  And just as we have no right to shirk our duty to submit to that moral order, so we have no right to shirk our duty to preserve unto ourselves the material means to discipline our government, if necessary, so that it remains a fit instrument for the self-government of a free people.

Dr Alan Keyes
Republican candidate for the President of the US election 2000 

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