The Daily Caller

The Daily Caller

The right to keep and bear arms preceded the Second Amendment

Photo of AWR Hawkins, Ph.D.
AWR Hawkins, Ph.D.
Conservative Writer

A recent article in The New Yorker titled “American Battleground,” by Harvard’s Jill Lepore, has been gnawing at me ever since I critiqued it last week for The Daily Caller. As I wrote then, it is a convoluted piece of quasi-academic work that is intended to make gun owners question the founders’ position on private gun ownership and, if possible, open 21st-century American minds to the idea of more gun control.

Lepore does this via subtle and not-so-subtle attacks on the Second Amendment throughout the article. By attacking the Second Amendment, she hopes to somehow convince us that we really don’t have an individual right to keep and bear arms. Rather, we were only intended to have a right to form militias to use guns in that capacity when emergencies arise.

In an attempt to prove her point, she quotes FDR’s solicitor general, Robert H. Jackson:

[The Second Amendment] is restricted to the keeping and bearing of arms by the people collectively for their common defense and security, [and that right] is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state.

This brings me to what has been gnawing at me so badly for the past week. Lepore has made a mistake that’s all too common with anti-gunners and even with some staunch defenders of the Second Amendment. That mistake is to look at the Second Amendment as the source of our right to keep and bear arms.

You see, in Lepore’s mind, if she can just disprove the “perceived meaning” of the Second Amendment, gun owners across the country will sell their gun safes, throw away their ammo and let Obama collect all the guns so we can have safer streets. But in reality, the Second Amendment is only a reflection of the dictates “of nature and of nature’s God.”

Ultimately, we don’t have rights because the Bill of Rights says so. Rather, the Bill of Rights says so because we have rights intrinsic to our very beings: rights with which we were endowed by our Creator.

One of the reasons Lepore and her fellow academics don’t teach students about natural law anymore is that they don’t want students to understand that long before the U.S. government existed, God had endowed his creatures with rights. These rights were explained and defended at length by men like John Locke and William Blackstone long before ideas like the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights were even passing thoughts.

Recent Supreme Court decisions like District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010) have upheld and incorporated the Second Amendment. But what happens when an academic or two with the mindset of Lepore gets appointed to the Supreme Court and pro-Second Amendment decisions become a thing of the past? At that point it will be crucial that every American understands that our right to keep and bear arms does not rest in the Second Amendment, but in the God who endowed us with rights which the founders dutifully expressed in the Bill of Rights.

The bottom line: Had the Bill of Rights never been written, the fact that God endowed us with certain inalienable rights would remain a fact that academics like Lepore could never change.

AWR Hawkins is a conservative columnist who has written extensively on political issues for HumanEvents.com, Pajamas Media, Townhall.com, and Andrew Breitbart’s BigPeace.com, BigHollywood.com, BigGovernment.com, and BigJournalism.com. He holds a Ph.D. in U.S. military history from Texas Tech University, and was a visiting fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal in the summer of 2010. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.