The Second Amendment Is Not Enough To Prevent Tyranny
Following the horrific Parkland shooting, the political left has proposed a wide variety of gun control measures, ranging from banning the popular AR-15 rifle, up to a complete repeal of the Second Amendment.
If the Second Amendment only exists for personal defense, a repeal may be worthwhile. It is difficult to deny that removing all guns from the populace would limit the frequency of mass shootings. Most compassionate people would be willing to sacrifice their own guns if doing so could prevent school shootings with no further consequences.
The American Founders however, understood the right to bear arms was important not just for individuals, but for society as a whole, as a check against a tyrannical government.
In Federalist 46 James Madison noted, “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.”
In Madison’s philosophy, the right to bear arms served as an essential bulwark in our system of checks and balances. Just as the legislature checks the power of the executive, an armed citizenry could guard against governmental “enterprises of ambition.” This is not a notion to be scoffed at, as modern history is replete with examples of democracies sliding into tyranny.
Madison continued, “The governments [of Europe] are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone [the people of Europe] would not be able to shake off their yokes. But were the people to possess the additional advantages of local governments chosen by themselves...it may be affirmed with the greatest assurance, that the throne of every tyranny in Europe would be speedily overturned in spite of the legions which surround it.”
What must be recognized is that Madison did not consider guns alone to be an effective solution to the problem of government’s tendency towards tyranny. Rather, subordinate state and local governments needed to be chosen by the people, and granted enough autonomy so as to allow them to shape the “national will.” Both arms, and limited government, serve as essential aspects of the American experiment.
It is true that the removal of all firearms in the U.S. (however improbable), may considerably curtail mass casualty attacks. But this is not reality, and the long term consequences brought about through a repeal would cripple a crucial aspect of the balance of power. It is an absolute necessity for the citizens of the United States to check the power of our Federal Government and it’s “legions which surround it.” However, defenders of gun rights would do well to remember Madison’s assertion of the importance of local power in government. Losing sight of that, while protecting the Second Amendment, could still cost the country dearly.