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“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 Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Let us, for a moment, consider the myth that has become a nearly sacred creed among those who oppose any type of restrictions on guns in this country: that the founding fathers enacted the Second Amendment to provide “the people” with a check on a potentially tyrannical government.
This argument has been used for years by groups like the National Rifle Association to justify inaction on public safety measures despite the extraordinary bloodletting that has become the hallmark of America in recent decades. In 2019, for the first time, guns became the leading cause of death for young people in America, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, and there is no sign that’s going to change any time soon.
We are told by opponents of gun safety legislation that while such deaths are tragic, they nonetheless represent the high price of liberty.
Yet, the Second Amendment was never enacted to protect the people from the government. As the language makes plain, it was to enable the people to protect the government, most likely from foreign threats, which were very real at the time of the Constitution’s enactment.
That’s not to suggest that Americans should have no right to bear arms, but that was long seen as a provisional right given through the political process, not through the Constitution, and that it is subject to significant regulation.
But let’s set that question aside for now and consider the larger issue behind the myth that widespread gun ownership in this country is critical to ensuring liberty. The idea suggests that at some theoretical point, certain Americans will decide the government is tyrannical and will turn their guns against it, thereby ensuring the continuation of liberty for all of us.
So, realistically, who will be in this vanguard of supposed patriots defending our liberty? Most likely, the same groups that attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The Proud Boys. The Oathkeepers, and others. White supremacists. Neo-Nazis. The Ku Klux Klan. Virtually by definition, the groups leading the charge would be those who are most radicalized, since they will be the first to detect signs of “tyranny,” even if it is only in their imaginations. Keep in mind, a free and fair 2020 election was “tyranny” in the minds of many on the far right when the result wasn’t to their liking.
So, how exactly would a new and truly free America be birthed under such a scenario? Do we all expect the Proud Boys and Girls to lay down their weapons once they’ve seized control of the government? Do we expect them to call for representatives from all across the country to journey to Washington for a national Kumbaya sit-down to thoughtfully craft a new Constitution? Here’s some news. That’s not how it would play out. Any government formed in the wake of such a revolution would bear little relationship to a democracy and it’s one that would oppress far more Americans than it would ever free.
And that’s the optimistic scenario. Keep in mind, there are 50 states and many if not most are unlikely to pledge fealty to a bunch of armed radicals. The more likely outcome of any such “revolution” would be a civil war that would lead to the deaths of millions of Americans. Indeed, that’s something that many of the so-called patriots on the far right say they are itching for. And it’s not to spark a rebirth of liberty. It’s to kill people of color, Jews, and others they believe are trying to “replace” them.
It turns out, our founding fathers actually had a plan for preventing tyranny. It was called “The Rule of Law,” and it was predicated on putting America first, rather than our own wills or egos. They laid out a separation of government powers to ensure that no one person could become a tyrant and while it hasn’t always been perfect, it’s worked pretty well for more than 230 years.
It even worked when a wannabe tyrant named Donald J. Trump tried to throw out the Constitution and hold onto power despite the expressed will of a free people.
Our nation’s founders weren’t perfect, but they were thoughtful and well-read, and they did not, under any circumstances, believe that Americans would be well-served by allowing gangs of armed, pretend patriots to run amok in grandiose schemes of overthrowing the government. Indeed, this whole notion, upon which gun advocates have staked so much of their claim to unchecked access to any weapon of choice, is patently absurd. It bears no relationship to history or reality. Our founding fathers were a whole lot smarter than that.
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