The Second Amendment: It’s about more than Guns

In light of this pivotal election, the gun control debate has once more been revived with a new sense of urgency, a new passion for action.  Politicians on the left call gun restriction our duty; those on the right remain stalwart in their assertion that an American’s right “to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

Americans are met with a parade of cherry-picked statistics and emotional prevarications presented as irrefutable proof (never mind that said statistics are usually derived from societies vastly different than our own, and emotion-based pleas are often totally divergent from reality), but rarely has the underlying problem and its dire implications been fully addressed.

Proponents of gun rights invariably point to the literal text of the Bill of Rights.  Seared into their memories, stamped on their hearts, many will often repeat verbatim the Second Amendment’s final few words: “the right of the people, to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  But in order to read the Constitution, one must first know its philosophical bulwark: the Declaration of Independence. 

The Constitution and the Declaration are parts of the same whole; each document supports the other, neither fully able to prescribe just government on its own.  Packed into the Declaration is an exposition of key tenets to American self-government, the Constitution a practical manifestation of these principles. To understand the nature of government, one must first understand the nature of man: the task fulfilled by the Declaration.

The Declaration’s second paragraph begins by providing a basis for man’s natural rights, and thus the corresponding Bill of Rights, and herein lies the Founders’ theory of human nature: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” (emphasis mine).

This oft-repeated, but rarely extrapolated phrase is of utmost importance to man’s natural rights; without it, the American Revolution would have been all for naught.  As Aquinas defined it, a proposition is self-evident if, and only if, the predicate is included in the essence of the subject.  That is, the proposition “God is good” is a self-evident truth, because “goodness” (the predicate) is included in the very definition of “God” (the subject)—and one need not be a theist to acknowledge this as true.  Thus, the “self-evidence” of the truths described in Declaration is not mere flowery bloviation, but a timeless maxim, a simple yet paradigmatic analysis of human nature itself, providing the foundation for self-government. 

In light of the definition of “self-evident,” these unalienable rights are not only essential to but also assumed by man’s nature, they are included in the very definition of man, so that they cannot be separated from man if he is to remain man as such.  These rights are inherent in the nature God bestowed upon man; they do not exist as gifts of society or rewards for civility.  Their divine dimension precludes worldly invalidation, and hence they are fundamentally unalienable if man is to remain man and God is to remain God.  To invalidate any of these rights is to reverse the roles of God and man, so that man imposes his will on other men, so that in doing so he rejects the unalterable nature created by God, and instead substitutes his own.

Therefore, to encroach on these rights is encroach on man himself; to abrogate them is to fundamentally abrogate man, so that he is no longer man as such but something else entirely.  As Aristotle taught that an eyeball without the power of sight is not truly an eye, so too is man precluded from the full essence of his humanity if he is not secure in his rights—not merely as a citizen, but as a human being.  The end of government, therefore is to enhance these natural rights.  Though government regulation ought generally to be regarded with suspicion, it should be judged by a simple test: will the proposed legislation enhance man’s natural rights and his ability to enjoy them freely, or will it curtail them?

There are many logical arguments against gun control, as history seems to undeniably repudiate the notion of an unarmed populace enjoying lasting security.  No serious student of the American Founding can argue that the Second Amendment was not meant to be an individual right, and there exists little to no empirical vindication of the call for restricted gun ownership when examining crime rates.  Books have been written on these points, but simply repeating statistics or historical examples often falls on deaf ears.  So the next time an anti-gun crusader smugly asks “Why on earth would anyone NEED an AR-15?!”, realize this: what is at stake is far more pivotal, far more sacred, than any weapon.  What is at stake is the American understanding of man himself.  Nullification of man’s fundamental right to keep and bear arms will advance not the salvation of man, not the liberation of man, but the dissolution of man. 


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