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Inherent Right to Self Defense Part I: Setting the Precedent

[Denizenne Commentary - Kat]

Several posts around the web and at the Castle have naturally stirred my historical and philosophical side to iterate (or re-iterate) an idea that seems lost or ignored whenever we discuss the right to own a gun. Keeping in mind that I am neither a Constitutional scholar nor a lawyer, this thesis is based on a layman's (lay woman's) reading of our founding documents to establish the "inherent right to self defense" and its effects on the "right to bear arms". This will be broken into a several part series.

Part I: Setting the Precedent

The Constitution cannot be read or understood without reading and understanding the Declaration of independence. Nor can we understand the Declaration without comprehending the historical precedents set by the founders. In all things, without history, without the Declaration, the Constitution, the laws of this land and its form of government are empty, easily changed or disposable by any tyrannical government or despotic individual who can gain power and use the "law" to maintain that power and oppress the people (see, Venezuela).

(continued in flash traffic)

Without a good understanding of the Declaration, the Second Amendment which reads:

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.

...would easily be construed to mean that "the people" could only be armed for the purpose of forming a "militia" which could only be called up in defense of "the state" (ie, in times of war to defend the land or to defend the government as the Constitution states, that is a responsibility of congress). The type and quantity of arms could be controlled by the state based on its preferences for what "arms" such a "well regulated militia" would "keep". Their "right" to "keep and bear arms" would be limited to that which was necessary to carry out those limited duties.

We know that only a government sponsored, armed and led militia could not have been the actual preference of our founding fathers because it would have negated the very precedent they set. This precedent showed that individuals had armed themselves and formed their own voluntary militias within their communities without direct control, organization or supply from a central government power. Those "militias" once acted as local defenses against marauding natives and foreign invasion while the individuals would use their arms to hunt food, protect livestock, and defend their homes and persons against any person or animal that could cause injury or death.

When the government claiming power (England) came to collect those weapons and ammunition from a small village, the "militia" fought back. It was the "shot heard round the world." But, for those men, it meant more than revolution. After years of frontier living and a decade of the French and Indian Wars, they understood that, if the government took their arms, not only would they be vulnerable to oppression from the government, they would be defenseless against all other dangers: invasion, captivity, starvation and death.

They understood this vulnerability was compounded by their circumstances. There were barely a million people spread out over hundreds of thousands of square miles across thirteen colonies. Most of these people were miles and days away from any immediate military or constabulary assistance. Many communities did not have a physician. Food and supplies took days to arrive if they did not provide it for themselves or within their own communities. Not to mention that communicating any problems could take hours, days and even weeks.

Today, it would seem that modern technology and advancements in transportation, communication, food processing, medicine, governance, law enforcement and a standing military has negated many of these dangers. Urbanization and the presence of police and emergency services, only a phone call away, has convinced many that danger is far away and help near by. Thus, the need for citizens to defend themselves has diminished in equal amount to the diminished time and distance of assistance.

The great urban societies of our day have been convinced of the superiority of their conscience, morality, law and capabilities above that of those founding patriots and their rather rusticated lives. The irony of that perceived superiority cannot be understated. Even applying simple scientific philosophies and mathematics, the greater the urbanization, the greater the population, the more closely the population lives, the more diverse its ideas and opinions, the more likely there is friction. The more friction, the more heat. The more heat, the more likely an explosion or violent reaction.

As our society in general has grown more accustomed to the "rule of law" they have also become more submissive to the idea that the organs of law, such as government, judiciary and police, are the primary defenders of life and personal property. Apparently immune to the fact that the "law" as written words may guide society, but is rarely effective as a pro-active force, regardless of how many laws are enacted to the contrary. The law is usually re-active and most effective in a post-event scenario, discovering the perpetrators and punishing or proscribing those who have broken its tenets.

Those who enforce it are outnumbered in society by almost 1:4000 ratio. In fact, not much higher than the ratio our fore fathers lived with in their own days and no where near the ability to actively defend every citizen in every location in every event. Criminals rarely wait for the interference or arbitration of any officer of the law or courts. Death can be instantaneous and, as it has been for eternity, irreversible.

It seems, the more we are convinced of this great collective conscience and submission to the law and its enforcers, the more submissive we are to the immorality of crime and the less we feel the need to participate through reporting crimes, providing information or accepting jury duty. The less individuals feel responsible for their own defense, the less they feel responsible for the safety and defense of their neighbors, their community and the greater public. Accepting, of course, to demand more laws and more from those few who are officially tasked with that function. Neither changing the probabilities of violent crime nor insuring safety for all.

While we debate the existence of an inherent right to self defense, it seems equally immoral to demand every citizen be submissive to the conflated idealism of the "rule of law" unto their serious injury or death. In fact, it is a demand for self-sacrifice that is above and beyond any demand for sacrifice a society should demand. The idea that an individual should give up their right to live and defend that life, from either the state, any organization or other individual, was antithetical to the ideas of the founders of this democracy.

This supposed difference in action and conscience was neither due to any real rusticity the founders lived under nor from a lack of refined morality. Many claim that society has grown philosophically, socially and morally since the days of these rebels and frontiersmen. Yet, the writers and philosophers most often quoted, referenced and imitated in discussion of freedom and democracy are the writers and philosophers of the "Age of Enlightenment"; the age of our founders.

It was these writers and philosophers who were read and debated in their day. It was these writers and philosophers who influenced the writings and thoughts of these founders from the personal to the national public documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. All of which shows a very refined sense of morality, a strong inclination to codify the responsibilities of the state and its citizens as well as balancing the needs of the state against the rights of individuals. There they found the individual's rights trumped the needs of the government.


" ... Yet, the writers and philosophers most often quoted, referenced and imitated in discussion of freedom and democracy are the writers and philosophers of the "Age of Enlightenment"; the age of our founders. ..." Exactly. Philosophers and writers such as Locke, Burke, Hume, Hobbes, de Tocqueville, Descartes, Montesquieu, Hutcheson, etc. etc. I'd argue that those within the "Scottish Enlightenment", a subset of the larger European Enlightenment, were some of the most influential on the Founders. Many of these figures were heavily influenced, in turn, by their own historical oppression under British occupation and struggles for independence from the English Crown, and even to a large degree by their experiences and participation in Scottish Freemasonry.
OUTSTANDING! Well written, pithy. I concur with everypoint. Great talking points and with your permission I will draw on your eloquence when debating the issue with the knucklheads on the left.
I think this starts off really well but gets kinda sloppy later. It's hard to see just what your overall point is in concluding. Regarding the constitution and declaration. Of course they can be read or understood separately. The point you are presumably making is whether they should be. So this is the actual text. The right to keep and bear arms is clear enough to me. I have taken it to be two separate statements. However, it is something they have put the two concepts together. There is a chance it means the version you originally give (the limited right to bear arms within the militia) is correct but perhaps it is something else? It also seems to me the US is missing it's well regulated militia. From what I understand a militia is not the Military and the militia's I have heard the US can boast are far from well regulated. They have given no limit on the kind of arms nor the people that can wield them. I think you've given a very good rundown on how the thinking on guns came about. One thing I do see through the recent mall murders is this. Through US gun laws or his own means he had a gun to perform the murders. Perhaps an argument for gun control. It took 6 minutes for 'law' as police to arrive which was after he had killed all those people and himself. ie like in the movies far far too late. If there was someone in that mall armed and courageous enough perhaps the man might have been killed or stopped earlier. It's a strong argument for guns NRA style. The counterargument is just how many mall lunatics have been stopped by such means so far with the free right to bear arms laws the US enjoys? I think a lot of it comes down to the US sense of self and responsibility. Selfishness is an accusation leveled at US citizens and esp. government from many places around the world. An aspect of 'antiamercianism' as it is called. In truth, the US has a high degree of individuality beyond even Australia, a celebration of individual empowerment and significance. And it's been very good for the US and her citizens. But one of the prices is the weakening of group mentality. A rise in yes selfishness and a loss of a sense of external responsibility. How many at a mall during such murders had a gun but did nothing but protect themselves with it? The US military bucks the trend to a degree. So do other things. I see in the US group minded concepts very much challenged today. Recruitment challenges, family challenges, for example. I view your talk of philosophers and writers a bit off base. Those are talked about in the US only. I haven't even heard of the names listed by fdcol63. The beginning of your great nation is a focus. It's quite understandable the ones that wrote during this time are also focused on. I am very much a believer in the perfectibility concept not perfection a la glass case. The writers and philosophers were presumably great people but you have to do even better from their foundation.
Swift? Locke? Never heard of them? That's Canada for ya'! Seriously, though, I believe we are on the same point, but from a different aspect a bit. I wrote:
The less individuals feel responsible for their own defense, the less they feel responsible for the safety and defense of their neighbors, their community and the greater public. Accepting, of course, to demand more laws and more from those few who are officially tasked with that function. Neither changing the probabilities of violent crime nor insuring safety for all.
There is "individuality" and then there is isolation from others and our society. This isolation tends towards the idea that everybody's problems are their own, so why get involved? Or, we're too busy. Or whatever the excuse of the day is. Not to turn this into a discussion on religion, but I do wonder sometimes if this is partially a result of technology and partially the result of a loss of faith and belief in "Christian" values (or whatever religious values). There is something to be said for people who believe in their individuality, but take into consideration the admonishment to give more than you receive, etc. However, I would reject the idea as the need for "group think". though I think that was a misnomer on your part for the idea you were trying to convey. The reality is, though we discuss gun rights and America as a "gun nation", that's really not true in respect to the greater urban populations. I would bet that guns are owned by less than 1 in 100 citizens and carried by even less. Even though Concealed Weapons Carry permits are available, there is a huge mind set in the US that believes that guns are tools of "criminals", that law abiding citizens don't need to own or carry them and that some how, some where, the law and its enforcers are all that's necessary to keep us safe. That being my point. The more we think our safety is the job of someone else, the less likely we are to see the safety of others as our responsibility. If you want to know, I think this also has a great deal to do with who joins the police, the fire department and the military. I think it drives recruitment numbers. I think it drives how people are recruited. Recruiting is rarely couched in the terms of pride in country and defense, but is about benefits and individual empowerment. Our entire society has turned on its head. That is exactly why a crazy gunman can walk into a mall and fire off round after round, killing 10 and wounding many. Everyone probably thought it was someone else's job to stop him. Odds are, people were all cowering somewhere or, at the most, calling the police. As you note, it took them six minutes to get there.
PS..I have other parts to follow up and may be why it seems a little choppy at the end. I was trying to find a good place to cut it off so it didn't get over long and the Armorer kill me for killing his bandwidth The next set actually deals with the words in the Declaration, how they reflect this "refined sense of morality" and are pretty explicit in regards to "inherent rights". Third set is connecting the Declaration and Constitution more fully. You are correct that the documents are "separate". They were written eleven years apart. But, one thing people rarely understand is that the constitution is written based on the contents of the Declaration. I mean to say that the concepts outlined and the specific grievances directly relate to articles and amendments in the constitution. Thus, you are correct, I mean to say they should not be read separately as if one had no bearing on the other. If we do, then everything written in the Constitution can be turned on its head.
Um, Kat - Trias would be *Terra Australis*, eh?
" ... Those [philosophers] are talked about in the US only. I haven't even heard of the names listed by fdcol63. ..." Wow. This could be the cause of much of Europe and Australia's inability to understand America and rememebr Europe's history .... and why Europeans tend to repeat their own mistakes. bad and apologies to Trias and the Canadians, whichever feels the most aggrieved for mistaking Trias for Canadian. But, I have to echo Burke? Locke? Swift? Hobbes? What do they teach for philosophy down there?
" ... What do they teach for philosophy down there? ..." kat, they teach Marx, Engels, Rousseau, Lenin, Trotsky, Hegel, Sartre, Chomsky, Sonntag, etc etc. LOL
The group mindedness i meant means, well, thinking of the group as well as yourself. Being mindful of the group? Much like hmm a mother is mindful of their child? Oh Canadians are ok once you get over the whole maple moose Quebecoise Frankophile thing. Still they like beer, are lumped with the same hopeless royalty system and live at temperatures I'd die for right now. You know it's a good point on my philosophical blindness. Maybe others here in Australia have heard those names and understood their ways and I'm speaking for myself far too much. Even though I know the name of Marx I have no clue what his ideas were nor how much of it made up Communism as practiced. Now that my eyes are open my cogs are spinning. Or crunching. Whatever. I do have a fairly robust formal education. No really. But it's totally devoid of Philosophy. Philosophy is not taught at schools and only rather limited courses take the subject at university (read college). I could be an abberation. Maybe others get the education or delve into it themselves but I suspect that isn't going to be very many. Maybe understanding philosophy could be useful. But I don't know if i have the mental focus i once had and these things are unlikely to be easily digested and certainly I'd have to read yet more material I disagree with. You gun totin conservatives were hard enough a challenge. In another sense these names are cited almost like demigods. Kinda disturbing if you ask me. I dunno. I best stop rambling. I feel ripped off.
" ... and certainly I'd have to read yet more material I disagree with. ..." ROFLMA! Well, we certainly wouldn't want that! LOL Gosh, it's almost as if there's a REASON you guys didn't learn about this stuff. Perhaps the writings of these philosophers challenged the political ideologies and beliefs of your educators, who impacted your own educations and belief system? Just a thought.
In another sense these names are cited almost like demigods. Kinda disturbing if you ask me. I dunno. I best stop rambling. I feel ripped off.
Not demigods, but they resonate with our history and, knowing they shaped our history through their ideas, become as important as Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration or as important as the Civil War and the abolitionists, etc, etc, etc It's that whole "you don't know where you're going if you don't know where you've been" idea. I rather see it as which guiding principles will we adhere to. Hobbes ideas on the Leviathan state seem too close to modern fascism and communism. Neither seem particularly appealing and the idea that we are drifting that way makes ME disturbed. I see it as a potential danger for democracy and freedom as much as I have ever seen fascism and communism in the same light. Maybe it is better looked at as having points of reference on the map and, looking back, discovering you have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Well Kat from what you describe Hobbes method reminds me of taliban etc. It's like a rehash of the 'good ol days'