Baffled by Barton

Baffled by Barton December 21, 2012

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.

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