The right to bear arms protects all other freedoms

Posted July 23, 2009, at 6:01 p.m.

Thanks to Ron Jarvella’s column, “The right to bear arms is a relic” (BDN, July 10), the Second Amendment pot is simmering once again. The writer might be well- intentioned in his commitment to disarmament, but as an argument, his essay contains serious flaws. It floats upon supposition and it contradicts fact.

Mr. Jarvella’s essay begins by suggesting that “it might be helpful to understand the intent of those who wrote our Constitution and this particular amendment.” He tells us that “the authors [of the Constitution] were all Englishmen, educated in English tradition and law.”

Actually, the founding fathers were colonials, steeped in the traditions of independence of thought and action, fostered by the conditions of life in a relatively uncivilized new land. That mindset, preserved in the Amendments to the Constitution, demonstrates their awareness of the need to preserve freedom at all costs.

Mr. Jarvella concludes by saying, “It is no longer necessary for private citizens to keep and bear arms in defense of our communities or our country.” Whoa! Not so. In fact, during World War II, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto told the Japanese High Command, as they considered an attack on America, “You cannot invade the mainland United States, for there is a rifle behind every blade of grass.”

But defense against invasion is only part of the rationale for personal armament. Rather obviously, another valid reason to possess arms is for self-protection. And in their letters to the editor on July 20, both Michael McEwen and Jack Gagnon spoke eloquently to that right.

A bit of scholarship, however, reveals that the primary reason for the Second Amendment was to ensure that freedom would prevail — no matter what. Let’s not forget that the creation of this new republic was a magnificent experiment.

Nobody knew whether it would succeed or it would fail. And the authors of the Constitution were determined that the citizenry would possess the means to seize control of the new government if it turned sour and as oppressive as the one they’d just defeated. As evidence, consider these statements.

“If the representatives betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in that original right of self-defense, which is paramount to all positive forms of government … the citizens must rush tumultuously to arms without concert, without system, without resource, except in their courage and despair.” — Alexander Hamilton

“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.” — Thomas Jefferson

“The said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.” — Samuel Adams

“[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … [where] the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” — James Madison

“The right [of the people] to keep and bear arms is the last resort to protect themselves against the tyranny of government.” — Thomas Jefferson

The Founding Fathers understood the risk of creation — creation of a republic predicated upon freedoms, rather specific freedoms; thus, the Bill of Rights. They also understood the relationship among these freedoms. That’s why the individual freedom — yes, the right — to keep and bear arms appears so early in that document.

I believe that, gradually, in the last two centuries, we Americans have lost sight of the fact that without the Second, the other Amendments could never exist. As Benjamin Franklin observed, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Warren D. Southworth Sr. of Searsport, is retired from Eastern Maine Community College. He is a Master Maine Guide.

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