by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Amid the ongoing national debate about Second Amendment rights, Jay Cost offers National Review Online readers historical perspective.
The Bill of Rights was the means by which the Federalist supporters of the Constitution managed to mollify a critical mass of Anti-Federalist skeptics. The deal was straightforward: Ratify the Constitution in the state conventions, and the new Congress will offer a more fulsome enumeration of rights than is found in the core document (Article I, Section 9).
So, understanding the Bill of Rights means understanding a bit about the Anti-Federalists. Many of their objections to the new Constitution centered around the way it did not protect true republican government — or rule of, by, and for the people. …
… This framework — simultaneously limiting the government and empowering the citizenry — is a good way to understand the Second Amendment and its cousin the Third Amendment. The Constitution gave the president the executive control over the armed services, but this lent itself to anxieties about “standing armies,” or permanent military establishments. …
… Of course, we in 2018 do not have the same worries about standing armies that Americans had in 1789. Our military is deferential to the civil authority, and is a model of courage and discipline. Just as important, the United States is wealthy enough to support it now, which it most certainly was not in 1789.
Yet this does not, in my judgment, render the Second Amendment a historical anachronism. It is not consistent with a limited, republican government for law enforcement to take over every aspect of civil defense, broadly understood to include internal dangers (from insurrection to crime) as well as external foes. That would require a massive kind of police/surveillance state. At a certain point, individuals in a republic need to defend themselves and their neighbors. Even though its prefatory clause speaks only about the militia, in spirit the Second Amendment protects this right — just as the First Amendment does not mention the Internet but protects this column.