The right of the people to keep and bear Howitzers


Very effective against jack rabbits.


As I write, President Obama is about to unveil a set of proposals intended to diminish gun-related violence in the United States.  It seemed to me that it might be worthwhile, in that light, to post the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which will presumably continue to play a role in discussions on this topic:


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.


That’s it.


I find it worthy of note that the text says nothing whatever about hunters and hunting.  In fact, it says nothing about home protection and crime.


It’s talking about national security.


I suppose that one could go in at least two diametrically opposed directions with this:


One could argue that it’s only about institutions like the National Guard, and that private gun ownership for quail shooting and for warding off burglars is, at best, peripherally relevant.


Or one could argue that, since it’s effectively about military concerns, justifications for limitations on, or even bans of, assault rifles and high capacity magazines on the grounds that “hunters don’t need them” are wholly irrelevant to the Second Amendment’s as yet unrepealed declaration that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” and do not overrule it.


It should be noted that I’m not a hunter, and that (though I own a few, and have fired them) I’m not particularly interested in guns.  I am, however, somewhat skeptical of many gun control proposals, having doubts about both their constitutionality and their effectiveness.


I may have more to say on this topic.



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  • Raymond Takashi Swenson

    The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1789, less than 15 years after the Revolutionary War began with an attempt by British soldiers to confiscate the arms and ammunition of the community at Concord, Massachusetts. Being able to keep arms in defiance of government soldiers was very much on the minds of the members of Congress and the state legislators who enacted the Second Amendment. That right was exercised again during the Civil War and stands in the background as a deterrent against government tyranny and mob chaos, such as the 1992 Los Angeles riots. For over a decade America has been in an explicit declared war against Jihadist terrorists, including free lancers like Major Nidal Hassan, who think they are serving Islam when they murder American women and children. Especially as governments admit their inability to actively guard us against all such attacks, the original right to defend ourselves, from those who want to take away our liberty through violence or threats of violence, continues to illuminate the wisdom of the founding generation of Americans who fought in the Revolution against Britain, and established the Second Amendment.

    • Stephen Smoot

      I agree Raymond. We should interpret the Second Amendment in its historical, original context.

      Which is why I fully support bringing back state and private citizen militias and arming them to the teeth with flintlock muskets and cannons, so as to ensure that foreign powers won’t oppress American citizens.

      After all, it’s not like we have a multi-billion (trillion?) dollar military organization with the world’s greatest military technology to do that for us. When Kate Middleton and Prince William come charging with the Redcoats, I’ll sure be happy to have my AR-15 at my side to do the job the Marines, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army couldn’t do.

      • kap

        Stephen – the reason for the bill of rights in the first place is to innumerate untouchable, inalienable, individual rights, which the constitution guaranteed by contract government would not try to infringe upon.

        Let that sink in for a bit, that the founders saw the innumeration of these rights as preventing government tyranny. The very government they were setting up, they were concerned at some point could be come tyrannical, so they decided it would be wise to list some (but not all) concrete rights that the new government could not touch.

        I am very much concerned that government of the people, is increasingly become “the government who regulates the people”. It may sound crazy to you, but there are many examples of politicans, bureaucrats, employees, etc. in the government lying to citizens with deadly results. Within many people’s life time, our government went from a “live and let live” to literally rounding people up and placing them in camps — with the consent of vast majorities of the population.

        There is no reason why we should grant ever increasing monopoly power over the credible use of force to the government. We don’t have to run around like a paranoid group of chickens screaming the sky is falling (nor do we have to paint our opponents as such) because we very wisely acknowledge that it’s possible for things to go wrong in our government.

        Societies can fall a part for a lot of reasons, mob mentalities can break out in difficult circumstances, etc etc. It would be wisdom to have a prudent, wise group of citizens who were prepared and willing to act within their own sphere without depending on the employ of the state or federal government to do so.

        As a side note, the founders also didn’t say anything about a frigate, blunderbuss or grapeshot. The first amendment also says nothing about television, radio or laser printers so if we used your intelligent philosophy as a guiding principle, we’d only have a free press if it was typeset on a press.

        On a side note, I have several firearms, not because I “need” them (and carry on a regular basis). I own them hoping I never need them.

        • Stephen Smoot

          “As a side note, the founders also didn’t say anything about a frigate, blunderbuss or grapeshot. The first amendment also says nothing about television, radio or laser printers so if we used your intelligent philosophy as a guiding principle, we’d only have a free press if it was typeset on a press.”

          You people realize I was being sarcastic, right?

          I was mocking the inconsistent arguing for a historical reading of the 2nd Amendment while at the same time trying to transpose the 2nd Amendment into a modern context. It seems to me you can do both in some instances, but not with the 2nd Amendment.

  • Gerald Smith

    Stephen, the concept was to ensure the people were as well armed as any enemy may be armed. In Revolutionary War days, it was the musket. Today, it means having better weaponry available. So, your statement is a non sequitur.

    The real issue here, as it was for those proposing the Bill of Rights, is that this is to be a free nation with a very limited federal government. Freedom means people accept the risks involved in being free, but it keeps government from being the tyrant. I fear a tyrant government much more than what weapons my neighbors have in their homes.

    Switzerland is a nation of assault weapons. All people from 18-55 are part of the ready reserve. Each is assigned an assault weapon to keep at home. They do not have the problems we have here, simply because all are trained properly and the expectations for weapon safety is taught in boot camp to everyone. Did we have these mass murders by assault weapons back in the days when everyone learned to use a weapon, such as in times of the draft?

    The real problem is that we have allowed government to corrupt people and the family structure, until there is no self responsibility. Without self responsibility, freedom is an almost impossible goal.

    • Stephen Smoot

      “So, your statement is a non sequitur.”

      I think it’s actually spelled “sarcasm”.

      Look, there may be good arguments for letting someone own as many assault rifles as they can get their trigger-happy fingers on. (I haven’t really seen any, but I suppose they’re out there . . . somewhere.) But this notion that we as citizens need guns to protect ourselves from an oppressive government or foreign powers? Well, I don’t buy it. Maybe in the 18th century. Not in the 21st. I also don’t buy this notion that we can just put all the blame on the government for why we as a society have so much gun violence. It’s a silly cop out. We need to own up to the facts that, at least, 1) we have a culture that glorifies violence (and no, that’s not the government’s fault) and 2) we allow too many people too much access to weapons they shouldn’t be using without a very good reason and after strict training.

      I’m not saying we completely revoke the Second Amendment, but until NRA folk can give me a good enough reason why they should be allowed to own assault weapons without resorting to the circular arguments that “the 2nd Amendment says so”, I remain unsympathetic to their cause.

      • kap

        Stephen –
        I think it’s great you don’t buy it. That’s called the market place of ideas. Now, since you don’t thing the 2nd Amendment is needed for a nation in the 21st century, take the appropriate legal steps to repeal the amendment and encourage your fellow citizens to vote for you. You’d never be successful, but even if you were, I think sadly we’d all regret it.

        “I don’t buy it” is not a good enough reason to suspend my rights. I don’t buy a lot of things. It doesn’t mean I want to make what was once perfectly legitimate and legal to be now illegal for law abiding citizens.

        No one should have to take your opinion for the fact that we are all enlightened nor your opinion that our society is so robust against attack, catastrophe, disease, tyranny, etc. that they may never be needed.
        In the mean time, if you or those who think like you ever need help in a dire, but thankfully unlikely situation, and I’m around I will continue to make myself prepared to help you.

    • Lucy Mcgee

      The average citizens of this nation will hopefully never be as well armed as our standing army. We have enough gun violence without our citizenry trying to keep up with our military industrial complex.

      The people who should be in deep discussion right now are the mental health professionals and our police since they are the ones who deal with violence each and every day. One has to wonder how much better off our nation would be were we to divert funds from endless wars overseas to addressing the multitude of minor wars going on every day in our cities and towns. There are people who need help and sadly aren’t getting it. People who are healthy, happy and reasonably prosperous and in good mental health do not commit gun crimes. Religious leaders need do more, as do state and local governments. That would be money well spent.

    • kap

      I do just want to correct the Switzerland misunderstanding that spreads around. The Swiss have compulsory military service for men, and they have to keep their weapons at home. This means at some point every man has kept their assault rifle at home as a part of their military service
      (at any given time its about 120+k in a nation of 8million).

      Incidentally, in 2007, the Swiss left political party decided they apparently no longer wanted to be the poster boy for right wing groups in the US, and mandated that the soldiers could keep their weapon at home, but not their ammunition.

      So up until 2007, there was no problem keeping ammo at home, and in response to their being no problem, they tightened the rules and prevented the soldiers from keeping their ammo at home. Never let normalcy go to waste!

      • Mark Jasinski

        Well, in case of a surprise attack they could their guns as clubs.

  • Greg Smith

    You forgot the Canadian shock troops, Smoot. We burned the White House once, we’ll do it again. Bring Timbits.

  • Rosemary N. Palmer

    I do not think people should buy assault weapons on the grounds they need them for hunting. And I’m not at all persuaded that anyone through age 30 who is living at home or on government assistance and doesn’t have a job that is self-supporting should be allowed to own a gun without the approval of whomever is taking care of them. But I also believe that since the second amendment was intended to protect us from our government, that the people need to be able to buy the same weapons that the government has and may use against its citizens. (Yes I do think it reasonable to prohibit someone from storing their howitzer and ammo in neighbors which would be blown up if some weapon malfunctioned, so I wouldn’t have a problem of prohibiting the display and use (including practicing at gun ranges) of assault weapons in cities.) But outlawing them, I think not.
    On another issue, you’ll recall that the supreme court curtailed the commerce clause last year. Why aren’t we also making the argument that the right to control weapons is NOT rightfully the role of Congress or a president (though interstate sale of them might be), but rather, the states? After all aren’t states better able to determine what a militia is or needs?

  • Nathan

    An interesting article arguing that the 2nd Amendment was never intended to be limited to just militias, but rather applied to individuals:

    Stephen Smoot: Until NRA folk can give me a good enough reason why they should be allowed to own assault weapons …

    Stephen, the American principle is “innocent until proven guilty.” The burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate why it must coerce people to give up their property, not on the individual to demonstrate why he should exercise his rights to retain that property. In other words, the government doesn’t “allow” us to own anything; the people “allow” the government to coerce their neighbors when the circumstances warrant it. So it’s the gun-banners who must be expected to produce the compelling reasons, not the owners.

    • danpeterson

      Excellent post.

    • Stephen Smoot

      You’re right. The principle is “innocent until proven guilty”. So the questions becomes how many Sandy Hook incidents do you want to allow until the ownership of military style assault weapons is proven “guilty”? The humor of The Onion captures it perfectly, here:,28352/

      “The burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate why it must coerce people to give up their property”

      In this case, the government doesn’t have to demonstrate anything. We the people have done this ourselves. It wasn’t government agents who shot up Sandy Hook with an AR-15 and two handguns, after all.

      In the mean time, Nathan, do you know where I could pick up a couple surface-to-air missiles? I really don’t need them for any justifiable reason, they’re extremely dangerous to own, and if they got into the hands of a psychopath who knows what sort of damage could be done. But hey! Innocent until proven guilty, right?

  • joe etheridge

    all this talk about “assault weapons” and “mass killings”? FWIW…..the term “assault weapon” has very little to do with the weapon(s) in question degree of lethality….. as a .223 or 5.56 rifle of/or choice, or a 9mm, .40…etc whatever pistol & caliber you chose no matter the magazine capacity is not a highly lethal package unless in the hands of a very proficient operator. The nut cases using these weapons to cause harm & death in these “mass killings” are doing so from an “image” standpoint that has been overdramatized by movie & TV, media…etc. and i’m not blaming movie or TV…etc for those peoples actions, just the delusional premise that to inflict maximum damage to human life these are the weapons of choice by “experts”, or whomever? if these nut cases really knew & understood weaponry…..the fatalities & injured numbers in these past calamities would pale by comparison.

    these “assault weapons” & their ammo that these nut cases normally use are not cheap, comparatively speaking to what is available nearly anywhere in Anytown, USA for pennies on the dollars that they have spent! they are striving for an “image” personified by a somewhat recent sub-movie culture, not for obtainable death & destruction in reality.

    we could delve into the “comparisons” spoken about as to weaponry, but feel it better not to on a public forum.

    just know that these nut cases obviously are working from limited weaponry knowledge. AND, MAKE NO MISTAKE….there are advisors inside the DC Beltway that inform our “leaders” on this issue. which makes it obvious that these political pleas for “assault weapon” bans,,,,,are an outright backdoor deal at un-arming the American Citizen. thus making the road to throwing out the whole United States Constitution less bumpy or “lethal”???