Context is Important
Critics of the Second Amendment like to take it in isolation. For example, they like to pretend that it only covers muskets. They like to suggest that it is only for a militia. And they love to suggest, time and again, that our forefathers could not ever have imagined automatic weapons. All of these arguments are patently silly as anyone who knows any history at all knows well. But perhaps the most important thing about this revisionist history view of the Second Amendment is that it ignores its placement in the Constitution, and also, its true purpose.
Primacy is the concept that we mention what is important to us first. So if we ask someone where they might like to go to dinner, and we hear “Outback Steakhouse, or maybe Chipotle,” we can be pretty sure their first choice is the first one they mentioned. There is no reason to believe that this bedrock psychological principle did not apply in 1779. So we can assume that the very first thing that our ancestors sought to enshrine with Constitutional protection was the right to freely associate and speak freely on any subject. Justice Brandeis said:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357, 376 (1927). In other words, the founding fathers sought to establish that ideas are the coin of the realm, and that public discussion is a good thing, even if it upsets the few (or the many). Ideas spur change, and without change, growth cannot occur.
A Bodyguard for Truth
During the middle of World War II Winston Churchill said “in wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” Churchill enjoyed great favor for winning that war, but over time his country turned on him, replacing him with folks far more liberal. Sadly, that trend has continued to the point that Britain today is beginning to look a lot more like pre-war Nazi Germany that post-war Britain. Consider these current issues reported by the news:
- The Director of the Crown Prosecution Service said “People all over the world are questioning how those in positions of power can counter the kinds of extreme views that are increasingly being aired,” she wrote, “and how societies might do more to prevent such opinions from gestating in the first place.”
- The British Secretary of Defense, Gavin Williamson, created a “National Security Communications Unit” and its goal is to track down and stop internet trolls. But, who decides what is trolling, what is offensive, and what is not?
- A British celebrity, Ursula Presgrave was found guilty in London of “malicious communication.” Her crimes? To have written on Facebook some rather awful things about the disabled and having memes on her phone that mocked the disabled.
- And then there’s this: American’s detained because of a planned (not GIVEN, but PLANNED speech that MIGHT upset Muslims)
In other words, the thought police have been given free rein in Britain to go after offensive speech. But, in this effort to stop material obviously in bad taste, as above, it has also been given free rein to attack that element of society that tells the truth about things like the nations of Islam, and their brutal treatment of women and gays. Have opinions that go against the ridiculous notion that Islam is a “religion of peace?” Well, you are not going to get away with that! Criticizing this protected religion in Britain could, if you were caught, result in a prison sentence. Why? Because Britons don’t want to offend Muslims.
Whatcha Gonna Do…
How can Britain get away with this? Easy. The Brits have surrendered their firearms. The populace is easily contained. If you don’t like things, for God’s sake don’t complain about it out loud there. You’ll go to jail. It is exactly the kind of mindless abuse of government authority that resulted in the American Revolution. And, its worth noting, once again, its based on religious persecution … of Christians.
In the U.S. Constitution, the truth expressed in the free exercise clause of the First Amendment, also has a bodyguard. That bodyguard is the Second Amendment. It is there to protect every American’s right to be armed, to be a citizen, not a subject, to have a lawful voice in government and even to speak hateful ideas. No one likes the Westboro Baptist Church, and even extreme fundamentalists do not endorse their views. But the Supreme Court protected their right to protest at funerals of service members, not because the court agreed with them, but because to preserve the right of free speech for all, it must be preserved even for those who would abuse the truth and offend the whole of us.
The American Ideal
Hate speech, online speech codes, rules of propriety for college students, and the like are anathema to the American ideals. Justice Brandeis said this:
They [the founding fathers] recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.
Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced.
That this is enshrined in American law is what prevents the overzealous from trouncing the rights of the many in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of the few. Simply put, the rights enshrined in the First Amendment would be meaningless without the Second:
Me: Islam is evil!
State: You can’t say that!
Me: First Amendment
State: We won’t let you say that!
Me: Come and stop me!
The last sentence only has force because the state knows it cannot stop me, because I am armed, and because the Constitution protects my right to petition for redress of grievances as well as oppose unlawful force used against me.
This is what the anti-NRA crowd never understands: it isn’t all about the Second Amendment. It is about all of our constitutional freedoms. We are only one gun-confiscation order away from a totalitarian state. And as long as we have the means and will to resist this kind of government encroachment, we remain a free people.
The moment we lose that right, we’re just slaves.