Politicians and news personalities and other talking heads will often tell you that you shouldn’t have a gun. They’ll tell you that guns don’t need to be useful beyond the narrow scope of hunting and personal defense. They’ll tell you that the Second Amendment must have limits so that criminals and maniacs and terrorists can’t have high-capacity magazines and machine guns.
But hunting and self-defense are two secondary reasons why the government isn’t permitted to infringe on your right, as an American citizen, to bear arms. In fact, let’s review the exact text of the Second Amendment right now:
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.
It doesn’t say anything about hunting. It doesn’t say anything about personal defense either. It contains two major parts: a justification of the right, and an unqualified declaration of the right.
The justification explains that the importance of this right is that it allows for local, organized defense (though nowhere does it restrict the right to this purpose). It is not referring to the National Guard of each state. It is referring to civilians maintaining the ability to organize themselves into effective military units if the need should arise.
The declaration does not specify what kind of arms, nor does it provide any room for exception to the rule. The word infringe does not include any connotation of flexibility. It means, “to encroach upon,” with its origins in a Latin word meaning “to damage, break off.” Any baby-step in the direction of restricting possession and carrying of arms of any kind is an infringement of the right.
It is not an oversight that the amendment was written this way. The founders of the United States were rebels and revolutionaries. Access to weapons is what allowed them to defend their country from the theft and oppression of George III.
It’s important to note here that monarchy was a very long-standing form of government as of the late 18th century. The founders were educated people who were facing massive disillusionment with a system that had been in place from time immemorial. The Second Amendment is a recognition that even the most trusted, powerful institutions around us can turn out be destructive elements that need to be stood down. They knew it could happen even in this well-considered arrangement they had created themselves.
That is why the people of the United States have a right—second only to free speech, free religion, free assembly, and redress of grievances—to own and to carry weapons of their choosing, with no limits. Everything from slingshots to missiles to laser rifles is forbidden to the government to restrict. And that right exists primarily so that we may defend ourselves against the government if it becomes necessary, with the same level of force that the government can employ.
Unless you’ve been living in a hole for the past few decades, there’s no way you could not have noticed the government’s complete impunity in its actions. There’s no way you could not have noticed that, year after year, it looks a lot more like a permanent ruling class than any kind of democracy. There’s no way you could not have noticed that something has gone awry with the founders’ great experiment.
Governments cannot be trusted to correct themselves once they’ve gone bad. Human history does not contain many examples of that. Governing bodies exist to last indefinitely, so that’s what they do—preserve the structure of rule. Sometimes, when they’re acting badly enough, that preservation can take some really ugly forms. It can kill and destroy with an unimaginable ferocity. Human history is filled with examples of this.
Unarmed citizens command no authority and present potential government thugs no deterrent to abuse. Armed citizens represent a power to be reckoned with; any large-scale assault upon them risks running into effective resistance.
No one is saying you should keep an automatic rifle loaded under your bed, ready and waiting to be brought into battle. There’s no call to attack the government. There’s no need to join a militia if you don’t want to.
But you should have a gun, and you should learn to use, store, and maintain it properly. You should assert and protect your and your fellow citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. And you should never forget why.