Why the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is Important to You

By Rich Mason, Bartlett, TN
Copyright 1999, 2000 - All Rights Reserved.
May be reprinted, retransmitted, and broadcast on a not-for-profit basis.

"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." -- Second Amendment, United States Constitution

"That the citizens of this State have a right to keep and to bear arms for their common defense; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms with a view to prevent crime." -- Tennessee Constitution, Article I - Declaration of Rights, Section 26

Across our nation a debate rages about "gun control". This euphemism glosses over the fact that what is being debated is one of the most precious guarantors of liberty, the right to keep and bear arms. At the heart of this debate is not whether the right to keep and bears arms is an individual right or not, but at its core the debate is over the primacy of the individual over the primacy of the government. This debate rages because many, too many, in this country have forgotten, or, worse, have never been educated in, the nature of our rights.

Government and liberty are natural adversaries. The founders of our nation understood this. With that understanding in mind they crafted a Constitution and a Bill of Rights designed to limit the power of government and guarantee the rights of the people. The rights that they intended to protect were those written about in the Declaration of Independence and other un-enumerated rights, e.g. the natural, inalienable rights of man.

The Basis of Our Rights:

Point 1: Government does not grant rights. If we were to assign to government the authority to grant rights, then we would also have to acknowledge the government's power to take rights away. Surely, we can all see the dangers of allowing governments formed by men being in the position of assigning our rights to us. Today's right would be tomorrow's crime. Such is the quixotic nature of mankind. The reason we have a Republic and not a pure democracy is because the founders of this country understood the tyrannical nature of a pure democracy. Rather than trusting the wisdom of men, our founders looked to another source as the basis of our rights… the Creator of the Universe.

Let us examine this quote from the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness..."

Our Founding Fathers stated unequivocally that our rights came not from men, nor governments, but from our Creator. Since our rights are from our Creator and therefore preceded the founding of this country, the government has no authority to deprive us of our rights no matter how unpopular they might become with the government, or even the majority of the people. The Declaration of Independence continues:

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,..."

and continues:

"That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness...."

It is clear from the above that our government does not grant us our rights, but rather was formed to ensure our rights; and when our government fails in its duties to effectively secure our rights, we have the right to abolish that government and form a new one that will effectively ensure our rights.

Point 2: The Constitution is a Limitation on the Power of Government and the Bill of Rights is not an inclusive listing of personal rights. While the Bill of Rights enumerates certain rights, the oft-overlooked 9th Amendment to the Constitution states:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

The Bill of Rights is not intended to be an inclusive statement of our rights. All of our rights are to be equally protected under the Constitution, whether enumerated or not. The Constitution, in general, and Bill of Rights, in particular, are intended to be limitations upon the power of the federal government.

Point 3: The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is an Inviolable Personal Right. It is clear from the words of the men who founded this country that the right to "keep and bear arms" is an inviolable personal right and that there are good reasons for it to exist and to be protected by the Second Amendment. This is not a subject for debate, except for those ignorant of our history or those that purposely wish to debase the American citizenry under the tyranny of government and ultimately into subjugation. Anyone who holds the position that the American people do not possess an individual right to keep and bear arms, or that it may be legislated away through gun control laws, is ignorant of the basis upon which this country was founded; including the means by which the founders intended for us to maintain our personal liberties.

"This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty .... The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction" -- St. George Tucker, Judge of the Virginia Supreme Court and U.S. District Court of Virginia in Blackstone Commentaries, 1803

"That the Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe on the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent ‘the people’ of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms… " -- Samuel Adams in arguing for a Bill of Rights, from the book "Massachusetts," Pierce & Hale, 1850 pg. 86-87

"The great principle is that every man be armed.... everyone who is able may have a gun." -- Patrick Henry

"As civil rulers, not having their duty to the people duly before them, may attempt to tyrannize, and as the military forces which must be occasionally raised to defend our country, might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens, the people are confirmed by the article in their right to keep and bear their private arms." -- Tench Coxe in "Remarks on the First Part of the Amendments to the Federal Constitution," under the pseudonym "A Pennsylvanian" in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette, June 18, 1789.

"Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." -- Jefferson's "Commonplace Book," 1774-1776, quoting from On Crimes and Punishment, by criminologist Cesare Beccaria, 1764

"[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation...(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms." -- James Madison, Federalist, No. 46.

Point 4: The Arms of a Free People. The arms referred to by the Second Amendment and the founders of this country are the arms necessary for the free people of America to be able to hold their governments unbridled appetite for power in check and to resist invaders when called upon to serve in the militia in defense of our country, state or community. If the arms of the soldiers of this era are automatic rifles, machine guns and sub-machine guns then it is the right, in fact the obligation, for the citizens of this country to possess such arms themselves. It is laughable on its face, as some have stated, that the Second Amendment would grant to us the right to only have flintlocks or muskets, such weapons as were in use at the time of our countries founding, to defend ourselves against an armed force raised by the government to oppress us, or to defend against an invading enemy. This would be the same as saying, concerning the First Amendment, that the press could only use the printing technology that existed at the time of the Revolution while the government could use movies, television, radio, modern printing presses, the Internet and any other means of communications that it desired. A ridiculous thought isn't it? If it's ridiculous for the First Amendment, why is it any less ridiculous for the Second Amendment? Our rights are not "frozen in a moment of time", they are eternal rights and we are free to use our ingenuity to advance the technology to ensure those rights. If anything, we have the rights to limit the governments use of technology, not the other way around.

Surely, our founding fathers meant for us to have arms that would allow us to meaningfully resist, better yet, deter the government from any attempt at tyranny. No doubt this is a shocking position to the ignorant masses that have been lied to by their government, the press and the educational institutions of this country that our Second Amendment right exists only so we can have single shot sporting arms for such purposes as hunting, target shooting, etc., or that the Second Amendment is a right of the states to maintain armed militias. The following quotes ably put to rest both of these specious arguments:

"The whole of that Bill [of Rights] is a declaration of the right of the people at large or considered as individuals...[I]t establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of." -- Albert Gallatin to Alexander Addison, Oct 7, 1789, MS. in N.Y. Hist. Soc.-A.G. Papers, 2

"Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people." -- Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788

"...What country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this 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 if 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 its natural manure...." -- Thomas Jefferson: Letter to Colonel Smith, Nov. 13, 1787

"...to disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them..." -- George Mason, 3 Elliot, Debates at 380

Second and First Amendment Paralleled

If you are in doubt about whether the Second Amendment is still valid and important to you, even if you choose not to own a gun, consider this:

If the government were to pass legislation to limit your First Amendment right to criticize the government in any form, would you be upset? Would you consider your rights had been unconstitutionally infringed? Would you still feel free? Of course you would be upset and, no, you wouldn’t still be free, because one of the bedrock's of our freedom is the ability to freely speak our minds on any subject, particularly criticizing those we have elected to govern us. It is the basis upon which this country was founded, and when we lose that right, we stop being citizens and become subjects.

While you may not have considered it in the same light, the Second Amendment is just as important as the First Amendment. We must support the Second Amendment, with the same fervor that we support the First Amendment. Why? Because our liberties were won at the point of a gun, and the sad reality of this world is that ultimately they can only be maintained at the point of a gun.

Let me ask you this? When the government outlaws free speech, what will you do to oppose it? Write letters of protest? No, that's now against the law. Protest in the streets? No, that's now against the law too. When speech is suppressed and tyranny reigns, only the sound of the gun will be heard. This seems extreme to today's pampered, cowed society, but in the end it will be the only means left to protect the First Amendment when the government finds it inconvenient for us to exercise our right of free speech and religion. However, if our guns have been confiscated, or simply limited to weapons ineffective against an oppressing government, then how will we restore our liberties? The answer, of course, is we won't be able to.

If you think that such a situation can’t happen then you have failed to learn the lessons of history. We must all guard jealously the rights we are endowed with by our Creator…ALL of them, not just the ones we like, from the tyranny of government control.

The Price of Liberty

Our founding fathers, legislators and justices have spoken eloquently upon the subject of liberty, the need to be prepared to defend our liberty; particularly from our own government.

"If you love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." -- Samuel Adams 1776

"They that give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

"God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it." -- Daniel Webster

"...for it is a truth, which the experience of all ages has attested, that the people are commonly most in danger when the means of ensuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion." -- Alexander Hamilton

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent . . . the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." -- Justice Louis Brandeis -- Olmstead vs. United States, United States Supreme Court, 1928

Supporting Quotes

The founders of our country, quoted below, make it quite clear that Americans possess an inherent right to keep and bear arms and that their main fear for our liberties came not from external forces, but from the very government they were in the process of founding. Any citizen who does not understand this need read no further to begin to gain the knowledge necessary to know why it is not only our right, but our responsibility, to be armed.

"A free people ought...to be armed..." -- George Washington, speech of Jan. 7, 1790 in the Boston Independent Chronicle, Jan. 14, 1790

"Resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature which I have never surrendered to the public by the compact of society, and which perhaps, I could not surrender if I would." -- John Adams, Boston Gazette, Sept. 5, 1763,reprinted in 3 The Works of John Adams 438 (Charles F. Adams ed., 1851)

"The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed." -- Alexander Hamilton, the Federalist Papers at 1848

"The right of the people to keep and bear...arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms is the best and most natural defense of a free country..." -- James Madison, 1 Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789)

"Are we at last brought to such a humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in our possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?" -- Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot Debates 168-169

"The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by rule of construction be conceived to give Congress the power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretense by a state legislature. But if in blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both." -- William Rawle, 1825; considered academically to be an expert commentator on the Constitution. He was offered the position of the first Attorney General of the United States, by President Washington


From the words of the founders of this country it is clear that the gun control laws enacted in this country are unconstitutional infringements upon our liberties and it is our right and responsibility to oppose, by arms if necessary, the tyranny of our own government. How great a folly it would be if we were to allow the very instrument of tyranny, government, to control whether we have the right to the means to resist tyranny! This is the folly, and danger, of gun control. If we will not put our press under the control of the government, why should we be willing to put the control of our arms, the means to defend the press and our liberties, under the control of the government? The answer is clear, we should not!

When the government attempts to limit the freedom of the free press through censorship, the press, the people, and the courts properly repulse it. When the government limits the right of the people to keep and bear arms, it is engaging in another form of censorship, referred to the by the euphemism of "gun control". Let us call gun control what it is, an infringement of one of our natural and enumerated rights. Just as we correctly withstand government censorship of the press, so should we also resist the government’s attempt to control the right to keep and bear arms. Examples of such governmental tyranny on our right to keep and bear arms abound. We should not accept any limitation on any of our rights. One lesson we have learned from history is that when one right is infringed it emboldens the tyrant to attempt to infringe upon other rights as well.

The great men who founded this country trusted us to be the arbiter of our own fate by giving us a Constitution designed to limit the power of government. These great men trusted us to live our lives responsibly, free from the tyranny of government. Why don’t we trust ourselves, indeed demand of ourselves, to continue to do so? Upon such choices as face us today are our liberties, and that of our posterity, poised in the balance.

Two final thoughts:

"One man with courage is a majority." -- Thomas Jefferson

"You need only reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." -- Charles A. Beard

Be that courageous citizen.

Selected quotes of interest:

"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is argument of tyrants. It is the creed of slaves." -- William Pitt in the House of Commons November 18, 1783

"...Arms like laws discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The balance of power is the scale of peace." --Thomas Paine

"However controversial the meaning of the Second Amendment is today, it was clear enough to the generation of 1789. The amendment assured to the people "...their private arms, ..." said and article which received James Madison's approval and was the only analysis available to Congress when it voted. Subsequent contemporaneous analysis is epitomized by the first American commentary on the writings of William Blackstone. Where Blackstone described arms for personal defense as among the "...absolute rights of individuals..." at common law, his eighteenth century American editor commented that this right had been constitutionalized by the Second Amendment. Early constitutional commentators, including Joseph Story, William Rawle and Thomas M. Cooley, described the amendment in terms of a republican philosophical tradition stemming from Aristotle's observation that basic to tyrants is a "...mistrust of the people; hense they deprive them of arms." Political theorists from Cicero to John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rouseau also held arms possession to be symbolic of personal freedom and vital to the virtuous, self reliant citizenry (defending itself from encroachment by outlaws, tyrants and foreign invaders alike) that they deemed indispensable to poplar government.." -- Don B. Kates, Jr., Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, MacMillan Publishing Co, NY, 1986

"Disperse, you rebels -- Damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!" -- Maj. John Pitcairn, Lexington, Massachusetts, April 19, 1775

"The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all the world would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside...Horrid mischief would ensue were one half the world deprived the use of them..." -- Thomas Paine, I Writings of Thomas Paine at 56 (1894)

"...for it is a truth, which the experience of all ages has attested, that the people are commonly most in danger when the means of ensuring their rights are in the possession of those of whom they entertain the least suspicion." -- Alexander Hamilton

"An armed republic submits less easily to the rule of one of its citizens than a republic armed by foreign forces. Rome and Sparta were for many centuries well-armed and free. The Swiss are well-armed and enjoy great freedom. Among other evils caused by being disarmed, it renders you contemptible. It is not reasonable to suppose that one who is armed will obey willingly one who is unarmed; or that any unarmed man will remain safe among armed servants." -- Machiavelli -- The Prince; Chapter 17

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." -- Edmund Burke

"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation's." -- James Madison

"Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword because the whole body of people are armed and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States..." -- Noah Webster

We established however some, although not all its [self-government] important principles . The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; -- Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright, 1824. Memorial Edition 16:45, Lipscomb and Bergh, editors.

Selected quotes of interest from the enemies of liberty:

"One man with a gun can control 100 without one. ... Make mass searches and hold executions for found arms," --V.I. Lenin.

"If the opposition disarms, well and good. If it refuses to disarm, we shall disarm it ourselves," -- Joseph Stalin

...We're going to hammer guns on the anvil of relentless legislative strategy. We're going to beat guns into submission!" -- Rep. (now Sen.) Charles Schumer

"Banning guns is an idea whose time has come." -- U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden

"Banning guns addresses a fundamental right of all Americans to feel safe." -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein

"We're going to have to take one step at a time, and the first step is necessarily given the political realities-going to be very modest...So then we'll have to start working again to strengthen the law, and then again to strengthen the next law, and maybe again and again...Our ultimate goal-total control of handguns in the US-is going to take time....the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors -- totally illegal." -- Pete Shields, Chairman Emeritus, Handgun Control, Inc. ("The New Yorker", July 26, 1976)

If it was up to me, no one but law enforcement officers would own hand guns... -- Chicago Mayor Richard Daley Federal Gun Legislation Press Conference in Washington, D.C., November 13, 1998

In fact, the assault weapons ban will have no significant effect either on the crime rate or on personal security. Nonetheless, it is a good idea . . . . Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation. -- Charles Krauthammer, Disarm the Citizenry. But Not Yet, Washington Post, Apr. 5, 1996