Long ago, Aristotle stated the defensive disadvantage bestowed upon man by nature. In Parts of Animals, he observed that "the structure of man is . . . worse than that of any other animal," he being "barefoot, unclothed, and void of any weapon of force." However, man's superior brain allowed him to craft his own defenses.
As Aristotle noted, man's hand was "as good as a talon, or a claw, or a horn." Furthermore, the hand could be "a spear or a sword, or any other weapon or tool . . . because it can seize and hold them all." The need for self-defense from all potential threats was forced upon man at his creation.
Western political thought, from ancient Greece to the Enlightenment, theorized that the basic animal instinct of man to adapt and survive threats in his physical environment also formed part of the body of "natural rights" endowed at birth that allowed man to protect himself from ever-changing, complex, and sometimes threatening social intercourse.
The list of potential threats has changed little across time and space. As philosophers from Cicero to John Locke would agree, the number one threat to man has never been wild beasts or criminals lurking in dark shadows; it is, always has been, and always will be, tyrants and governments. More specifically, the most dangerous government to life, liberty, and property was never the government halfway around the world; it was the one in your own backyard.
Colonial Americans learned this first-hand. They were Englishmen by birth and their rights, according to the common law and English constitutional history, were guaranteed as far back as Magna Carta (signed 1215). Although "their" government was across the Atlantic Ocean in London, colonial governments were under the direct control of the crown and Parliament. After the French and Indian War, Americans began to realize the contempt government held for their rights.
Parliament incurred enormous debt to defeat the French. Since a good portion was expended to defend the colonial frontier, the American colonists were expected to pay their "fair share." The taxes assessed on the Americans were far less than those assessed on those living in England, but the Americans were a different breed than their brethren across the pond.
Englishmen by this time had been conditioned, like many modern Americans, to accept increasing levels of taxation as the normal course of life and the cost of empire. Unlike residents of "merry old England," where everything was positively "jolly good," colonial Americans were defiant and outright belligerent towards a government they saw as increasingly tyrannical.
The American colonists had tolerated years of oppression before they finally started shooting at their oppressors. The English had placed increasing numbers of troops in the colonies to ensure the Americans paid their share of tribute to the English treasury. To the smarter colonists, this was a clear intent to reduce them to the status of slaves. The proper response to such oppression, one that would repulse most contemporary Americans, was a complementary application of force.
The colonists had been storing arms in anticipation of the growing threat posed by their government. The first shots of the American Revolution were fired in response to a column of British regulars trying to seize some of these arms. In essence, the American independence movement was initiated by a government attempt at gun control.
The men who faced off against the British that day stood together to defy tyranny but carried their arms as individuals. Had any one of those men been similarly threatened by government forces in his own home, he would have had an equal right to defend his liberties, his person, his family, and his property with like force. In eighteenth-century America, such a response against attempted oppression would have been academic. To many contemporary Americans, the individuals who fired upon the British, representatives of the government attempting to enforce the law, would be likened to terrorists.
Such skewed thinking permeates modern understanding of basic liberties, the right to bear arms being foremost among them. Although uncomfortable and even unconscionable for many to accept today, the existence of all other rights still hinges on the existence of the right to bear arms.
Try imagining how much free speech, freedom of the press, protection from unreasonable searches and seizures, or protection from cruel and unusual punishment would exist if government knew with absolute certainty that the American people were completely disarmed. If you think that having a moral man in the White House who professes belief in God would guarantee your rights in the absence of the right to bear arms, you expect what Thomas Jefferson said about freedom co-existing with an ignorant populace: "what never was and never will be." As Patrick Henry said of the "jewel" of liberty, "nothing will preserve it but downright force."
An individual does not even have to possess arms to ensure that his rights are secure from government oppression. I benefit because enough of my neighbors might possess arms. Project this over an entire population such as the United States and the number of firearms in the hands of individual citizens runs into the tens of millions.
If we liken government to one massively empowered criminal, which in reality it is, such a heavily armed population effects the same behavior in government as concealed carry laws do for the average street thug. Not knowing which of his potential victims might blow him away if he assaults them, he is forced to reduce his criminal intentions. Similarly, not knowing how far it can push the limits of oppressive laws and confiscatory taxation before some segment of the population rises up in rebellion, government enacts alternatives to protect itself from potentially angry citizens bearing arms.
Despite the clear wording of the 2nd Amendment, that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed," government still infringes upon this fundamental liberty. Waiting periods, ownership restrictions, and registration requirements all cripple the individual and place him at the mercy of his own government, much like declawing and dehorning animals in nature would place them at the mercy of predators.
Instinct and genetics endow animals with the means to defend against threats in nature. History, experience, and a superior mind do likewise for man. Except his threats far exceed those of the natural world; he has government trying to declaw, dehorn, and disarm him. For man to succumb to tyranny without a fight would be a violation of his nature.
February 3, 2004