Opinion

The Second Amendment through the looking glass

Adam Bates Policy Analyst, Cato Institute Project on Criminal Justice

To hear the Obama administration tell it, the only citizenry on earth that should not have access to weapons is the one whose founding document guarantees access to weapons.

The United States has, since its inception, been one of very few nations in history to acknowledge that the security of a free state is dependent upon the ability of the citizenry to defend itself against the insidious machinations of its government. The founders codified this self-evident truth in the U.S. Constitution twice: first by refusing to enumerate any power of the government to restrict private arms and second by explicitly protecting the individual right to keep and bear arms in the Second Amendment.

While authoritarian elements in America have incessantly sought and occasionally secured infringements on the right to bear arms (sometimes even with the complicity of so-called gun rights advocates), the American citizenry continues to be the best-armed on earth. Despite the best efforts of the anti-gun forces, the recent trends have been promising, both in terms of the number of firearms in private hands and the number of states liberalizing their gun regulations. For its part, the U.S. government has long tacitly acknowledged the virtue of an armed citizenry by spending billions of tax dollars arming foreign insurgencies against their own governments.

Enter the Obama administration and the sordid turn of this narrative.

Barack Obama entered office in 2009 to hysterical (though at the time speculative) fears that he would reveal himself to be a brazen and formidable enemy of the right to bear arms. In the interceding five years, his administration has done much to justify the hysteria. From an attorney general caught on camera advocating “brainwashing” people to surrender their rights, to the revelation that the ATF hoped to use the Fast and Furious debacle to advance anti-gun regulations, to Barack Obama personally exploiting every tragedy he could find to rail against the right to bear arms, the Obama administration has by and large lived up to its billing as one of the more anti-Second Amendment administrations in history.

While hypocrisy on gun rights is nothing new for the Obama administration, the recent announcement that the administration will be ramping up efforts to arm the Syrian resistance is nothing less than a testament to the contempt this administration has for the American people and our revolutionary liberty.

If President Obama simply believed (as has been suggested) that non-government actors should not be allowed to own guns at all, that would be one thing. But arming the Syrian resistance against its government proves he doesn’t believe that.

If President Obama simply believed that firearms should be kept out of the hands of dangerous or unknown quantities, as his demand for universal background checks would suggest, it would be understandable (if still intolerable). But his decision to ship military hardware to religious militants with ties to al-Qaeda without any hope of controlling the weapons once they’re distributed proves he doesn’t believe that either (it also proves he is not much of a student of history, but that’s for another article).

Logic thus compels us to conclude that Barack Obama accepts the principle that an armed citizenry is necessary to the security of a free state; he just doesn’t accept it about the American citizenry, notwithstanding even the oath he swore to a Constitution which explicitly declares it.

Are the American people so bereft of virtue compared to the Syrians and Libyans as to justify our disarmament even as they’re shipped crates of weapons? Or is the American government so inherently virtuous compared to every other government on earth that the American people are uniquely without need of protection from it?

Regardless of which of these things Barack Obama believes, it is not his call to make. The Constitution rejects both the idea that the American citizenry doesn’t deserve protection and the idea that the American government doesn’t deserve suspicion.

From the moment that America spoke herself into existence, its people have understood that a defenseless citizenry is an oppressed citizenry. By arming insurgencies abroad, Barack Obama has inadvertently acknowledged as much. Indeed, the fact that the Obama administration is more comfortable putting weapons of war in the hands of theocrats and cannibals than allowing the American people to defend themselves proves the very premise that Barack Obama’s domestic policy rejects: that the American government is not to be trusted and that the American people are not to be left defenseless against it.

Adam Bates received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Miami (FL) in 2007, and a J.D. and M.A. in Middle Eastern & North African Studies from the University of Michigan in 2011. Follow him on Twitter.