The debates on the Second Amendment never cease, but when was the last time you heard an insight that hasn’t been repeated a thousand times before? Penn and Teller’s interpretation was something new to me (Maynard), and I’ll share it here.
The Second Amendment is short and sweet:
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
But what exactly does that mean? The latter portion is perfectly clear and inarguable to anyone who hasn’t gone to grad school, but the introductory phrase about the militia may give reasonable people pause. What is the connection between the right of the people to bear arms and the state militia? Would the Founders have allowed a citizen to be stripped of his right to bear arms because he was not attached to a state militia, or something like that? It’s a question we should be able to answer.
Penn and Teller acknowledge that the Founders did indeed attach the right of the individual to bear arms to the necessity of the state militia existing and bearing arms, but the relationship is the inverse of what the anti-arms people allege. I’ll explain in my words and then let the boys speak for themselves.
Flashback to the Concord Hymn. You’ll remember these lines:
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
This is the story of the Battles of Lexington and Concord. In brief, the British marched to seize colonial weapons and thus nip the nascent revolution in the bud. The colonists declined to be disarmed, and instead shot back, and the British retreated.
The Second Amendment was written in living memory of Lexington and Concord. The Founders knew that the state must necessarily maintain an armed militia. And the Founders knew from world history and their personal history that a tyrant seeks a disarmed and impotent people; an imbalance of power that assures that the state can overwhelm the people if it chooses to do so.
In this context, the preface of the Second Amendment’s reference to the state militia isn’t a manner of supporting the state militia; it’s a cautionary check that the people will always have the ability to oppose the state militia. The Concord Hymn would have it that those that shot back against the British army were “embattled farmers”. Got it? Farmers! The people!
In other words, the meaning isn’t “The state militia must exist and be armed, so therefore you are allowed to be armed so you can help.” It’s “The state militia must exist and be armed, so therefore you must be armed to prevent that militia from having a monopoly of power.”
Or, by analogy, “There will always be wolves in the forest; therefore the forest residents must be allowed to arm themselves.” You arm yourself to protect yourself from wolves, not to join them.
Okay, I’ll shut up and let Messieurs Penn and Teller speak for themselves. Ninety worthy seconds. (Warning: The f-word is utilized.)
I’m curious…is this new to anyone other than me? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?