Noah Shusterman wrote a stirring essay in the Washington Post on the history of the French Republic and the storming of the Bastille, and how that may have influenced America’s founders in writing the Bill of Rights, specifically the Second Amendment.
How could a society defend itself, though, without relying on professional soldiers? The 18th-century answer to standing armies was the citizens’ militia, in which all citizens were part-time militiamen. In any other society, freedom existed at the whim of the military leaders, but an armed, trained, and organized society depended only on itself. Hence the militia’s necessity to a free state.
He then destroyed his own point by veering off into the “well regulated militia” dry well in justifying trashing “the modern Second Amendment.
As a result, it has become harder to understand what these “well regulated militias” were and why they were “necessary for the security of the free state.” But the storming of the Bastille serves as a reminder that those who would haul out the founders to defend the modern Second Amendment would do well to remember how much American society has changed since the 1790s.
I say it reminds us even more why we need to aggressively defend individual liberty, including the right, and even the responsibility, of citizens to be armed.
This country has changed in technological advancement and our approach to many social problems–solving them with money and Uncle Sugar versus individual ingenuity. But it hasn’t changed in the fact that America alone stands against tyranny in the world.
As wonderful as the French Revolution and the storming of the Bastille were, we need only advance a decade to see where it led. The Revolution turned on itself, with 10,000 dead by execution, and Napoleon Bonaparte took over as dictator. France’s reliance on its professional army put it squarely into World War I, and handed the country to the Nazis in World War II.
America certainly has geographic advantages that make invasion of our home land rather impossible. And Switzerland also has some geographic protection, but that wasn’t the main reason Hitler refrained from invading that small nation. Multiple stories have circulated around the Internet (many apocryphal):
When the German Kaiser asked in 1912 what the quarter of a million Swiss militiamen would do if invaded by a half million German soldiers, a Swiss replied: shoot twice and go home. Switzerland also had a decentralized, direct democracy which could not be surrendered to a foreign enemy by a political elite.
There is some truth to the story about the Swiss. Each citizen owns a government-issued rifle, and is trained in the military of how to use it. Shooting is their national sport. No nation on earth would be insane enough to try to take and hold Switzerland.
It’s the same with America. Even if a foreign enemy forced a political surrender (yes, unthinkable but possible) by our government, each citizen would repel and resist the enemy. We are armed and dangerous.
The only argument against citizen ownership of guns is crime. Yet in states where legal gun ownership is highest, crime is lower than areas where gun ownership is lowest. Citizens who defend themselves against violent criminals aid and assist law enforcement over and over again.
Since the crime argument doesn’t hold water (though anti-gun activists keep trying to fudge numbers), they resort to Constitutional pretzeling, and essays on “a well-regulated militia.” These twisted arguments are simply not the intention of our founders in writing the Second Amendment.
The founders wanted individuals to have the right to bear arms–individually. Because at the time the militia is necessary, it will form, organically. Attempting to keep a well-regulated militia active at all times isn’t possible without a reason for it to organize. America, through our history, has at times eschewed a large professional army, and at times built one, and maintained it.
Discarding the possibility that our professional army would ever falter or turn against its citizens is incredibly short-sighted–and naïve. Our nation has already consolidated far too much power in the federal government. Arguing that an armed citizenry is unnecessary because our government is the essential will of the people is foolish and history shows that.
French history shows that.
The fact that 1789 is a long time ago doesn’t change human nature. Power still corrupts. An armed citizenry is a natural check against that power and corruption. Watch Europe over the next few decades and where it’s heading, then tell me we should all disarm. And don’t cite Japan, Australia and Canada as examples.
Japan is a homogenous island. Australia is a lightly populated isolated island. And Canada is a more pluralistic, lightly populated nation with the longest undefended border in the world and two oceans separating it from everywhere else. America is the bulwark against tyranny in the world, and the only way we can retain that power is by having an unconquerable, large, productive, democratic nation.
And that means an armed nation.
Bastille Day is a great reminder–and thank you Mr. Shusterman for your essay. But instead of reminding us to question why we need a personal right to own guns, we should be reminded why it’s more important than ever to defend that right.