The Second Amendment As A Right That Preserves All Others
Let us start by being very clear – no one supports a riot, a violent protest, or a lawless country. Therefore, in light of the Washington D.C. uprising at the Capital of the United States of America which left five people dead, let us reflect on the words of the Architect of the Declaration of Independence. In a 1787 letter regarding the Massachusetts Rebellion, Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Stephens Smith, the son-in-law of John Adams:
“God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people can not be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13 states independent 11 years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it’s liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”
In relation President Elect Joe Biden stated, “Those who say ‘The tree of liberty is watered with the blood of patriots,’ a great line, well, guess what? The fact is, if you’re going to take on the government, you need an F-15 with Hellfire missiles. There is no way an AK-47 is going to take care of you.”
Recently, many have proposed a gun control bill titled the ”Plan to End Gun Violence.” The plan would end online gun sales, expand the federal background check system, and hold firearm manufacturers accountable for gun crimes committed by others. Many may say that this is what is needed to prevent the uprisings like the one we witnessed at the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021; however I propose to you a different perspective.
December 16, 1773: American colonists, frustrated and angry at Britain for imposing “taxation without representation,” dumped 342 chests of tea, imported by the British East India Company into the harbor. The event was the first major act of defiance to British rule over the colonists. It showed Great Britain that Americans wouldn’t take taxation and tyranny sitting down, and rallied American patriots across the 13 colonies to fight for independence. Now called the Boston Tea Party and the start of the American Revolution.
October 16, 1859: Abolitionist John Brown leads a small group on a raid against a federal armory in Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), in an attempt to start an armed revolt of enslaved people and destroy the institution of slavery. Now called the Raid on Harper’s Ferry and what many consider the start of the Civil War and the Emancipation of Slaves in the United States.
The Second Amendment was not limited in scope at the time of inception, in part because it was put in place as a bulwark against the despotism and tyranny that could arise out of an all-powerful government and standing army. Any cursory review of the writings of many of the founding fathers would support that.
However, we don’t need to hearken back to the colonial era to understand the importance of the Second Amendment. One of America’s most revered Democratic Presidents, John F Kennedy, stressed the importance of an armed citizenry during a commemorative message on Roosevelt Day in 1961:
“In my own native state of Massachusetts, the battle for American freedom was begun by the thousands of farmers and tradesmen who made up the Minute Men―citizens who were ready to defend their liberty at a moment’s notice. Today we need a nation of minute men; citizens who are not only prepared to take up arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as a basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom. The cause of liberty, the cause of America, cannot succeed with any lesser effort.”
It’s important to note that JFK preserved the link between the “Minute Men” of America’s Revolutionary period and ordinary modern-day American citizens. Unfortunately, that linkage tends to be broken whenever there is a debate over the “true meaning” of the Second Amendment.
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” the text reads.
Proponents of gun control tend to focus on the first half of the Second Amendment, citing the phrase “a well regulated Militia,” and believe the right to keep and bear arms should only be exercised through “official” state-run (and regulated) military organizations such as today’s National Guard.
Second Amendment supporters, on the other hand, tend to quote the latter half of the amendment a bit more, stressing “the right of the people” to keep and bear arms.
Like Kennedy, there is a need to parse the Second Amendment. Understanding the entire text, and its roots in American History, is essential to making the argument for individual as well as collective gun ownership.
With that in mind, securing our individual rights has always been inextricably linked to our ability to collectively defend them. We need look no further than Samuel Adams.
“Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: First a right to life, secondly to liberty, and thirdly to property; together with the right to defend them in the best manner they can,” said Adams.
This sentiment has become even more relevant today as we struggle through the events of January 6, 2021. Is this an act of Patriotism or Insurrection? Is this a protest in the “People’s House” or an act of treason in the Government’s Capital? Is this an attack on liberty or in the defense of liberty? The answer lies in the perspective of those viewing it and participating in it. However, against this backdrop, to suggest the Second Amendment should be further restricted would surely concern many historical champions of liberty.
The great American social reformer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who having escaped the horrors of (government-sanctioned) slavery, understood the vital role firearms played in preserving individual freedom.
“…the liberties of the American people were dependent upon the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box; that without these no class of people could live and flourish in this country,” Douglass wrote in his autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.
It has been said that these three boxes, combined with the “soap box“ of free speech, make up the foundational rights of a free people.
The best work we can do as a free people is secure the rights capable of securing all others. While no one should condone the death of another, or a blatant violation of another’s God given rights, please understand that a singular perspective will lead to blindness of all others. As a law firm and as attorneys, it is often our job to advocate for those who may not be liked. It is our job to defend action that may not be accepted. It is our job to be the shield to defend that which many cannot accept. The only way to do that is to remove the blinders of singular perspective and assert the glasses of open mindedness.