Reader commentary on why arms were singled out
Reader Chris Caserta has some thoughts on why "arms," an item of property, were singled out for protection in the Bill of Rights. (I suppose we could say presses were, too, except that "freedom of the press" is really more like "freedom to publish"). I've put his thoughts in extended remarks, below.
I am not, by any stretch of the imagination an expert on the second amendment, or really any part of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights for that matter, but I do notice something peculiar about the second amendment, something that sets it apart from everything else in the BOR. The first amendment freedom of speech is conceptual; speech is an idea or a thought that is expressed in some manner. True, free speech has a tangible form if you express it in writing. However, all our rights except one are basically intangible; they pertain to an idea not to a physical solid thing.
The second amendment affirms our right to possess something made by the hands of man. A firearm isn’t a word, or a sense of security, or a freedom from some injustice, it is a physical object. The second amendment stands alone in the BOR in this regard. There were many objects in use at the time the BOR was written. The framers saw no need to guarantee the right to own a horse, for example, even though one’s livelihood could very well depend on one. They were also silent on land ownership, and we certainly have a right to that.
So why did the framers think that the possession of a certain thing was of such importance that it warranted articulation it in the supreme law of the land? The obvious answer is that they saw weaponry as not just an offensive tool, but as a defensive necessity. A government is comprised of individual people, and while a government certainly needs arms to protect its existence and its people, more so do the individual people themselves. If the individuals cease to exist, and I’m not speaking only of death, but also the loss of their individuality, freedom, and security, then who is there to govern? If there are no people, there is no need for government.
When the framers compiled the rights of the people for the purpose of publishing, they were focused on human rights that preexisted the government. These rights all find their beginnings in the ethereal; communications, religion, security, privacy- these are all concepts that free people believe define their being. In other words, if you took from a person their capability of self expression, removed their ability to worship, violated their privacy, and subjected them to a life of fear, what would remain? Does such a condition describe a “free people” or slaves? Even while the body may live on in misery, the person is dead. So again, if there are no people, there is no need for government.
So why the specific mention of arms and the carry thereof? The constitutional framers were men of vision but by no means were they utopians. The right to arms is not necessary to the survival of a free people, absent the presence of evil. They recognized that there is wickedness and that wickedness can manifest itself in many forms, even from the very government they were collectively attempting to define. In a utopia, malevolence can be defeated by its opposite; good. In the real world, however, evil in any form does not recognize peace or surrender. The best we can ever hope to do is meet it in battle and triumph when it presents itself. In other words, we can win the battles individually, but there can never be an end to the war. You can imprison a mugger, but there will be another along to take his place in due time. An ally across the sea today could well be your enemy tomorrow.
So now we have the constitutional framers composing a document that expresses several concepts that they believe define the state of a free person. They acknowledge that the list is not all inclusive, but nevertheless they believe that certain ideas are of such importance that they need to be recorded. They had both historical knowledge and forethought to recognize that the people, to remain free people, would necessitate the declaration of certain core rights, and to declare to the newly formed government that these rights were inviolate.
None of us individually can hope to prevail against evil in any organized form. Against foreign invaders, and even our own government if it were to attempt to enslave us, we have the militia. Against local criminals we can size our militia according to the threat, one person or ten, whatever it takes Thus the framers recognized that the security of the whole free people was served by the banding together of them into armed groups; the militia. The right of those people to not only possess, but carry their arms, was not to be violated, and certainly not by one of the potential sources of evil, a powerful government.
Arms are the tool of last resort, the equalizer against those who would try to injure us or threaten the concepts that we see as necessary to define us as free. For this reason the framers sought to sternly limit the government’s ability to restrict the people’s access to arms. The second amendment stands alone in protecting our right to possess a physical thing, a tangible product that allows us to battle evil in all its forms and preserve the definition of a free living being.