In the first part of this essay (published earlier this week at Barbwire.com) I revisited the logic of the 2nd Amendment, in light of the terrorist attack in Sen Bernardino, Ca. What I wrote there may lead you to feel gloom and despair. But I hope it also leads you to protest. Your protest will bear witness to the American heart within you, which despises the mentality of helpless passivity and victimization some of our so-called “leaders” mean to impose upon us. It will bear witness against the assumption that, when enemies strike against our families, friends and neighbors, our own readiness, will and courage have no role to play in defending them.
Frederick Douglass famously proclaimed “Those who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” Truly in our time we are called upon to remember that those who would have safety must prepare themselves to secure it.
But instead of anything that seriously focuses on this preparation, we have leaders like Barack Obama, who pretend that our innocent lives will be made more secure once we are disarmed, by laws that will reassure would-be attackers of the fact that we are “soft targets,” universally vulnerable. During the reportage on the recent attack, I heard one commentator speculate that when Syed Farook first visited what was to be the scene of his terrorist atrocities, part of his purpose was to make sure that it was, in fact, a soft target, where people could be slaughtered without fear of armed opposition. What kind of dullness or stupidity leads American to believe we will be more secure when laws to deprive us of the means of self-defense have been successfully imposed by national dictatorship?
But we should ask, as well, what kind of thoughtless folly it takes to presume that simply assuring that more guns remain in the hands of our individual citizens (as the Constitution provides) will, by itself, be an effective defense? People who mean to speak accurately of the Second Amendment’s will stop ignoring the logical context it provides: “a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.” Well-regulated means well ruled. So, when it goes on to speak of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” the Second Amendment invokes the God-endowed unalienable right to life, which logically must include the means to do all that the laws of nature and of nature’s God allow to preserve it.
Such an exercise of right is freedom well ruled, meaning constrained by the commitment to do right as God gives us to understand it. It is unalienable right, endowed by God. It has nothing to do with licentious freedom, i.e., the specious right to wield weapons according to morally ambidextrous human whims and passions. Unlike too many of our present “leaders,” the representatives of the people during the founding era did not put their faith in weapons of war. They put their faith in God. They took to heart Christ’s warning that “those who take the sword, by the sword they will be utterly destroyed,” while he who lives by the Lord “though he has died, yet shall he live.”
The discipline of life that results from God’s rule gives rise to the courage to face death. But it does so by inculcating the understanding required to do right by the living, not by destroying or discouraging that understanding. The key to that understanding is the example of Christ, who exalted God’s will above his own, even in the face of death. His sacrifice in this respect appeared to involve surrendering to the power of death, but Christ’s subsequent resurrection proclaims that the surrender to God’s will is itself the true meaning of life, over which death has no power. In light of this proclamation, the defense of life is first of all a matter of respecting God’s will, as Christ did. No one really falls prey to death unless he fails to do so.
This respect for God’s will; this reliance upon His understanding, is the premise of all God-endowed right, including liberty. It is the rule or regulation required to sustain God’s permission to act, which every such right entails, including the right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment forbids the government from interfering with the activity by which the people implement their respect for life, which logically includes access to the means of doing so. But as it does so with a view to securing the freedom of action derived from God’s permission, the rule or regulation that sustains it must be established and maintained. Hence the connection with “a well-regulated militia.”
As I have said before, I say here again — the answer to terrorism is not the suspension of individual rights, and/or the consolidation of arms and power in the hands of tyrannical government. Instead, we need to return this nation to the acknowledgment of God endowed right that is the root of the moral self-discipline, by which alone self-government can be sustained. In light of that restored moral discipline, we must then restore and adapt the militia system, well-regulated and trained at the local (village, town, neighborhood) level, so that every able bodied person capable of bearing arms knows what they can and should do when their neighborhood, work place or any other public venue they frequent, faces a violent assault, by terrorists or any other violent predators.
To do right by the Second Amendment, we need more than individuals armed with guns. We need local communities armed with a plan to assure that every part of the militia will know exactly what to do with their arms wherever and whenever unlawful violence threatens the communities in which they live.