Americans’ Right to Own Firearms

The Citizen Versus the State

While it allows many controls, the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees to every responsible, law-abiding adult the right to own firearms.

To the political philosophers who influenced our Founding Fathers, arms possession by good people was crucial to a healthy society.  Thomas Paine foreshadowed current gun-lobby slogans (e.g., “When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”; “Nobody ever raped a .38”) when he wrote:

I am thus far a Quaker, that I would gladly argue with all the world to lay aside the use of arms, and settle matters by negotiation, but unless the whole will, the matter ends, and I take up my musket and thank Heaven He has put it in my power.

Our classically educated founders looked back to the Greek and Roman republics where good citizens were armed and prepared to man the walls when the tocsin signaled approaching danger.  They honored Aristotle’s teaching that free states depend on an armed citizenry, while tyrants “mistrust the people and therefore deprive them of their arms,” and that the confiscation of the Athenians’ personal arms had been instrumental to the tyrannies of the Pisistratids and the Thirty.

From Machiavelli, Harrington, Richardson, Sydney, Locke, Tench, and Coxe, the Founding Fathers took four points: First, the most fundamental right of man is self-defense, which...

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