June 16, 2002

CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER DON B. KATES has a good oped on the Second Amendment in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today. Key quotes:

The Founding Fathers’ ideas would group them today with the National Rifle Association’s most militant members. “One loves to possess arms,” Thomas Jefferson wrote George Washington on June 19, 1796. James Madison assured his fellow countrymen they need not fear their government “because [you have] the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”

All other founders who discussed guns agreed. If any disagreed, writes professor William Van Alstyne, former member of the national board of the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the great figures in modern American constitutional law, “it remains one of the most closely guarded secrets of the eighteenth century, for no known writing from the period” says so.

Before the modern gun-control debate, no one denied that the amendment guarantees an individual right. In a 183-page review of all 19th-century references, criminologist David Kopel found not one denial. A typical explanation was that which a great Supreme Court justice offered in an 1834 book on the Constitution: “One of the ordinary modes by which tyrants accomplish their purpose without resistance is by disarming the people and making it an offense to keep arms.”

Our founders were steeped in the belief of classical political philosophy that only an armed people could maintain their liberty.

Indeed. And with the growth of the Homeland Security apparatus, this lesson becomes more important, both as a source of security against tyranny, and as a way for the federal government to reassure people that it has no intention of becoming tyrannical.

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