Many, perhaps most Americans are familiar with the Second Amendment to our Constitution — if not the precise phrasing, at least the key operative language confirming the “right to keep and bear arms.” Debates rage over the extent of that individual “right,” especially in the wake of a mass murder involving a firearm. These debates will continue, regardless of their relevance to particular situations, and usually obscuring rather than revealing solutions to the actual criminal activities.
What little substantive consideration of the Second Amendment may arise in debates about whether its language “allows” an individual to possess a particular firearm or caliber of ammunition, may even touch on the history of the Amendment.
An historic defense of the Second Amendment might even note that one of the very first armed confrontations between the American Colonies and British “Red Coats,” at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, transpired because the British were attempting to prevent the colonial citizens from accessing their stores of rifles and gunpowder. As presented in depth by noted firearms experts such as David Kopel, denying access to these tools for resistance to British rule became a primary goal of the Crown in the two years leading to the Declaration of Independence.
All this is important in constructing an historically sound argument in defense of why the Second Amendment’s language appears in the Bill of Rights. But the critical factor, which reveals why the Amendment is as relevant and important today as in 1791 when it was ratified, comes in answer to the following inquiry: “Where does responsibility ultimately lie for protection of an individual’s life and their rights?”
If the answer to that fundamental question is that such responsibility lies with the government and not the individual, then there would not be – would not have been – any reason to incorporate the individual right to keep and bear a firearm in the Constitution. But the guarantee of such right is there, and it is there for a reason.
Our Founders, based on personal experience and on a profound understanding of human nature and of governments, knew that it is the individual who bears ultimate responsibility for the protection of their person and of their rights as persons in a free society.
This is a fact of human nature, but it also reflects the reality that, no matter how big and powerful a government may become, it cannot and can never protect every person at all times, much less all of their rights as human beings. This is why the Second Amendment appears in our Constitution; as protective of the fundamental right of self-defense and self-preservation.
The ratification of the Second Amendment in 1791 is hardly the last word reflecting this principle.
In recent years, federal courts, including no less an authority than the Supreme Court of the United States, have held that the government, and specifically, the police, bear no legal responsibility to protect individuals against violent acts. Law enforcement can investigate such violence and may have authority to constrain criminal behavior depending on the circumstances and location (such as at government facilities), but protecting individuals is not and never has been the responsibility of the government.
This is why the right of each law abiding person to possess a firearm is so vital and why it is as important today as it was when our government was formed. Human nature and the nature of government do not fundamentally change over time. Criminal acts and downright evil existed in 1791 just as in today’s era, whether in Columbine, Uvalde, Buffalo, or anywhere else in this vast and otherwise beautiful land we call America.
When the chips are down, and when that evil we hope never to have to confront presents itself, each one of us becomes the “last best hope” for ourselves, our children, and our God-given rights. That hope will be snuffed out if we ever permit the Left to repeal the Second Amendment to our Constitution.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.