Liberty Letters, Elbridge Gerry, 1789
The House again resolved itself into a committee, Mr. Boudinot in the chair, on the proposed amendments to the constitution. The third clause of the fourth proposition in the report was taken into consideration, being as follows: “A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms.”
Mr. Gerry: This declaration of rights, I take it, is intended to secure the people against the mal-administration of the Government; if we could suppose that, in all cases, the rights of the people would be attended to, the occasion for guards of this kind would be removed. Now, I am apprehensive, sir, that this clause would give an opportunity to the people in power to destroy the constitution itself. They can declare who are those religiously scrupulous, and prevent them from bearing arms.
What, sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. Now, it must be evident, that, under this provision, together with their other powers, Congress could take such measures with respect to a militia, as to make a standing army necessary. Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins. This was actually done by Great Britain at the commencement of the late revolution. They used every means in their power to prevent the establishment of an effective militia to the eastward. The Assembly of Massachusetts, seeing the rapid progress that administration were making to divest them of their inherent privileges, endeavored to counteract them by the organization of the militia; but they were always defeated by the influence of the Crown.
Recommended read on the Second Amendment, Wayne LaPierre’s, Guns, Crime, and Freedom (with Foreword by Tom Clancy).
Source: Elbridge Gerry, 20 August 1789, U.S. House of Representatives, discussion on a proposed amendment to the Constitution protecting the right to bear arms on the federal level (the state governments already protected this right). The right to bear arms was already protected under all 13 of the state constitutions, consistent with the unalienable right to to self-defense or that fundamental right that legitimizes government in the first place – or in other words, consistent with the understanding that government is but an aid to individuals (or families) on the community, state, and national level to each man’s right to protect his life, liberty, and property.
Liberty Letters is a project of The Moral Liberal’s, Editor in Chief, Steve Farrell. Copyright © 2012 Steve Farrell.