Polemics & Exchanges

On Guns and Rights

While I entirely agree with Roger McGrath’s contention in his essay in defense of gun rights (“A God-Given Natural Right,” Views, October 2003) that “an armed citizenry is essential to the preservation of freedom and democracy,” I do not agree that “the Second Amendment, like the First, recognizes a God-given, natural right of the people” to keep and bear arms.  Rather, it codified an ancestral and customary right that belonged to Americans by virtue of their colonial charters and former status as British subjects.  Americans have a constitutional right to gun ownership, just as they have a constitutional right to vote.  They have no natural right to these, however, as no such right exists.

Burke denounced “the rights of man” as a “metaphysical doctrine” that “exposed the sure inheritance” of his countrymen to the winds of philosophic speculation.  He much preferred to speak of “the rights of Englishmen” and the rights of “civil social man,” which are “to be settled by convention.”  “As liberties and restrictions vary with time and circumstances and admit to infinite modifications, they cannot be settled upon any abstract rule.”

The Christian writer Simone Weil believed that the doctrine...

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