Baffled by Barton

David Barton continues to insist that America’s founding fathers were members of the Tea Party. Now he’s talking about the second amendment:

As always, I’m baffled by Barton. Where the hell is he getting the idea that the founders talked about the “Biblical right of self defense”? The whole idea of Biblical rights is a modern invention that requires twisting the text. I’ll let Biblical scholars deal with that idea, but where the hell is Barton finding quotes from the founders calling the second amendment a Biblical right?

But even further, Barton is imagining that the second amendment means what the NRA wants it to mean: the right of the individual to have weapons in order to protect themselves from all threats, including the government. It’s a weird kind of argument, since it means that conservatives are looking for government sanction in their wish to resist the government.

Anyway, was this the intent of the second amendment? Let’s look at James Madison’s original draft:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the hest security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

That last part equates “bearing arms” with “military service,” which is problematic if you think that owning guns is your protection against the military. The revised version that we have in the Constitution moves the second clause to the front, making the “well regulated militia” the scope of the amendment. Militias were and are organized, official military groups, not an uprising of individuals opposed to the government.

In Federalist #28 Hamilton actually makes this part of his argument for federalism:

If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no resource left but in the exertion of that original right of self-defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government, and which against the usurpations of the national rulers, may be exerted with infinitely better prospect of success than against those of the rulers of an individual state. In a single state, if the persons intrusted with supreme power become usurpers, the different parcels, subdivisions, or districts of which it consists, having no distinct government in each, can take no regular measures for defense. The citizens must rush tumultuously to arms, without concert, without system, without resource; except in their courage and despair. The usurpers, clothed with the forms of legal authority, can too often crush the opposition in embryo.

The solution is to have both a national government and state government, which can check one another in their drive for power. Without these organizing systems to back them, the citizens have very little chance of defeating a tyrannical government. Hamilton, at least, had very little confidence in the individual – “without concert, without system, without resource” – being able to resist, no matter how well armed.

So once again, the idea that the second amendment was considered to be a “Biblical right” to self defense, allowing the individual to stockpile arms against the standing army, just doesn’t seem to add up.

  • blotonthelandscape

    So here’s an idea then… national service. Any time after the age of 18 (so allowing for college/grad school/whatever), spend two years on minimum wage, in boot camp, patrolling the borders and performing local tours of duty (but no foreign fighting). If you wish to abstain from national service for any reason, you revoke your right to bear arms, and pay no other consequence. Until you have completed your second year, you are not entitled to bear arms.

    The military could then provide a special two-year program which teaches people not only how to properly use a weapon, but also citizenship, co-operation and discipline, and all of the other good things that go with military training.

    This seems like a consistent interpretation of Madison’s quote.

    • Paul

      If you look at the constitution it only allows the government to have a Navy as a permanent force and doubtless this is because it takes time to build ships and train sailors and officers while average people at the time were able to shoot guns and the constitution calls for them having a rifle and a certain amount of powder and bullets as well as practice with them, who could be called up by the states to protect the country and the states. Because this was a common skill they did not feel there was a need for a standing army. Of course since then military weapons have become much more powerful and sophisticated and we now have a standing army supplemented by reserve and national guard troops who train regularly.

      Israel and Switzerland both require training as you suggest and the people keep and maintain their military guns so they can be rapidly called up when needed.

      Arguing about versions of the amendment that were not accepted is a red herring. As still happens today many versions of any piece of legislation may be proposed before the final version is accepted.

      For now, the supreme court’s ruling is that the 2nd amendment specifically grants that right to individual citizens. The flurry of new gun laws after the Newtown shootings will be judged up against the supreme court’s ruling.

      The intent of some of those who supported the 2nd amendment was to leave the people with a means to oppose an out of control government though I agree with most who have looked at the problem and do not see the current laws allowing citizens to oppose the forces of the government because that would involve being able to have weapons on par with the government’s weapons. I don’t see that happening without an even broader ruling that would repeal the 1934 national firearms act along with most of the other federal gun laws passed since then. The goal of some of the founding fathers was to create a right to revolution just as they had just done. The terms of the Declaration of Independence makes that clear.

      I don’t support the idea of a revolution but I do feel that weapons suitable to defend our homes and families and to hold off criminals until the police arrive should be allowed. One of my favorite quotes is “when seconds counts the police are only minutes away”. I think it is much less likely for criminals to attack people who are legally armed.

      In the 80′s Morton Grove Illinois voted to ban handguns. The Kennesaw Georgia City Council saw this as the wrong move and passed an ordinance requiring heads of households to have a gun. People who have moral or religious objections are exempt. Since then Morton Grove maintains the high crime rate that their ordinance sought to control has remained high while Kennesaw saw their violent crime rate decline and has remained low. Ask yourself, if you are a criminal would you choose to rob a home where guns are banned or a community where guns are required? It comes back to one basic rule about gun laws, law abiding people will obey the law, criminals won’t.

  • vasaroti

    Any national service should be done right after high school, and I darn sure don’t want armed teens on our borders or anywhere near me. (I presume you would not have them facing down Mexican drug cartels unarmed.) Send them out to take part in environmental restoration projects. We’d have a better nation if they were compelled to learn personal finance skills, competent child care and nutrition, not firearm use. What would we do with high school dropouts? Teen parents or teens whose income or labor is needed by the family?
    I was in the Army for 12 years, and while I did learn to be responsible in a variety of ways, I honestly can’t say I learned anything about citizenship, the nuts and bolts of how our system of government operates. I think the military is possibly the last group I’d want to instruct my teen in citizenship – maybe Rachel Maddow could put together a curriculum.

    Keep in mind, when you take a two-year chunk out of a young person’s life, a lot of technical, language, and other skills will evaporate. Anyone moving on to college would be burdened with another year of courses to bring them back up to college readiness. Of course, if a young person doesn’t have a passion to go into some particular field of study or career path, a year or two of community or national service may help them sort things out. Keep in mind that mandatory service is most closely associated with the USSR- look up dedovschina.

    Just as firearms are no longer ‘the only game in town’ in warfare, I think we’re going to see more and more non-lethal tools available to law enforcement and civilians.

    • blotonthelandscape

      heh, yeah, I was being at least partially silly with my suggestion; your version of national service I think would be a great thing; I know they do it in Nigeria. But it’s moot when it comes to the whole guns question, so I didn’t bring i up. Technically after “boot camp” the kids could be put to good use in that way.

      Forgot about the drug problems on the border of the US. Probably not the best place to send kids…

  • mb

    The Constitution also designates that the President is the commander in chief of the “militia.” So all these militia types who are allegedly ready to defend us against a government run wild are required, by the Constitution, to take orders from the head of that government.

  • Lester Ballard

    His ass. He pulls his ideas, dripping shit, out of his ass.

    • Zotz


  • Michael Mock

    “So once again, the idea that the second amendment was considered to be a “Biblical right” to self defense, allowing the individual to stockpile arms against the standing army, just doesn’t seem to add up.”

    Hey! Quit trying to inject your facts into my LARP!

  • FO

    Again, if these people are genuinely afraid of the government taking too much power, they are looking in the completely wrong way.
    From the top of my head, none of them rose in arms when the President gave himself the right to command the execution, without trial, of US Citizens.
    They are either liars or stupid, or more likely a creative blend of the two.

  • grumpygirl

    Bat shit crazy, that’s what they are.

  • Troutbane

    I always wondered why if they want to be able to defend themselves against the government, why they aren’t insistent on reducing military spending. It seems the ones who want to fight the government are the same ones who want the government to increase its ability to kill them back.

    • FO

      This is actually a pretty good point.


    As a historian, David Barton is like a “doctor”…..who never went to medical school. He might as well be calling himself an astronaut.