“Governments are afraid to trust the people with arms”

James Madison was a student of history. And this quote, from Federalist 46 – is no exception. He recognized, like so many others in the founding generation, that the individual, natural right to self-defense – is the greatest threat to tyranny.

But, to the founders, there were actually FOUR main reasons – or purposes – for the 2nd Amendment. While a lot of gun rights supporters and organizations often get 1, 2 or 3 of them, few – if any – are aware of all four.

I covered all four in some detail in this Path to Liberty podcast episode from our archives. Find it at this link, or read on to get an overview of what was covered.

  1. It guarantees the states a militia power of their own to balance the military power of the federal government.

The founders didn’t put any of these four in order of importance, but reading the ratification debates will quickly show how essential this one was to them. This was an outgrowth of their almost universal opposition to – and disdain for – large, permanent standing armies.

Here’s how Madison put it:

“As the greatest danger to liberty is from large standing armies, it is best to prevent them by an effectual provision for a good militia.”

On the Anti-Federalist side, Federal Farmer summed up the same view:

“A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves, and render regular troops in a great measure unnecessary.”

As Patrick Henry put it, “The great object is, that every man be armed”

In short – a heavily armed population – helps prevent the “greatest threat to liberty.” 

  1. It helps promote the individual, natural right of self-defense.

The 2nd Amendment doesn’t GIVE anyone rights. It reaffirms rights that are ours by the nature of our birth.

James Wilson put it like this:

“The defence of one’s self, justly called the primary law of nature, is not, nor can it be abrogated by any regulation of municipal law.”

Of course, the gun-grabbers want you to believe this natural right should be limited to weapons from the 18th century only. But as Rob Natelson noted:

The Second Amendment cannot be limited to muskets and flintlocks any more than the power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce can be limited to trade in sailing ships and horse-drawn wagons. … the right to keep and bear arms must include the free use of modern technology appropriate for self-defense.

  1. It was adopted to support the people defending against foreign invasion.

And it’s essential at this point to mention the 2nd Amendment’s preamble, “well regulated militia.”

Gun grabbers want you to believe that regulated has to be used in a modern sense. When governments “regulate” something today, they’re saying something can’t be done without their permission, if at all.

But in 18th century language and context, a “well regulated militia” meant a “well-trained militia.”

Patrick Henry considered an armed population essential to liberty and safety:

“The militia, sir, is our ultimate safety. We can have no security without it.”

And George Mason considered the entire body of the people to be part of the militia:

“I ask, Who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”

Natelson summed it up like this:

So all men of military age should be well-trained in weapons so that America survives as a free country.

Well, what weapons? Obviously, the muskets and single-shot rifles in use when the Second Amendment was adopted are no longer sufficient to do the job. Today the Second Amendment protects a range of weapons appropriate for citizen militias resisting foreign invaders and tyrannical politicians.

That’s just how Tench Coxe put it as well:

“Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American”

That brings us to 4 – Defense against domestic tyrants.

Madison, the author of the first draft of the 2nd Amendment, was heavily influenced by writers like Aristotle and DeLolme. The former noted that the disarmed are the slaves of the armed. And the latter pointed out that,

“The Power of the People is not when they strike, but when they keep in awe. It is when they can overthrow every thing, that they never need to move; and Manlius [a Roman consul] included all in four words, when he said to the People of Rome, Ostendite bellum, pacem habebitis. [Look toward war, and you shall have peace]

That’s their way of saying “a good offense is the best defense.”

To Madison and the other founders, the widespread ownership of firearms – including those used by the military – helps preserve freedom, and usually without the need to use them.

Putting it all together, Roger Sherman may have summed it up best:

“It is the privilege of every citizen, and one of his most essential rights, to bear arms, and to resist every attack upon his liberty or property, by whomsoever made.”

Michael Boldin