The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Proponents of the Second Amendment frequently argue that the Second Amendment is meant to protect the rights of the people against tyrannical government, to defend themselves and others, to hunt and other recreational activities, and/or to defend the nation in the case of foreign invasion.
History suggests that each of these purposes is partially correct, but that the right of the people to defend themselves, or self-defense, is the primary origins of the Second Amendment, and that the other purposes are derivatives of the unalienable right to self-defense.
The natural and human right to self-defense predates the founding of the United States by millennia, the origins of which can be found in ancient Israel, Greece and the ancient Roman Empire. The right to self-defense was articulated throughout European history up to and including colonial times.
In ancient Israel, the Torah did not merely create a right to self-defense but created “a duty to defend oneself and others.” Ancient Greece did not create a duty but did protect the right of the people to use up to lethal force to ward off “the attack of a burglar, a highwayman or some other criminal.” Roman law granted, in late fourth century A.D., “to all persons the unrestricted power to defend themselves Let (the attacker) suffer the death which he threatened and incur that which he intended.”
Scholars throughout European history have consistently articulated the natural and unalienable human right of self-defense. Ancient Roman law even protected the right of an individual to self-defense against a soldier who was acting unlawfully. The 16th-century Swedish scholar and professor of law Samuel Pufendorf articulated many of the earlier views when he repeatedly “argued that the right, duty, and practice of self-defense — at the personal level and at the national level — are essential for the preservation of society, both locally and globally.” Pufendorf further argued that “'(self-defense) is a thing of more ancient date than any Civil (Government) .’ And accordingly, no state could legitimately forbid self-defense.”
The unalienable right of self-defense necessarily includes and protects the means of that self-defense or the right to keep and bear arms. Israeli, Greek and Roman laws, by necessity, protected the right to keep and bear arms/weapons. Without the means to defend yourself a right to self-defense is meaningless. The right to self-defense includes the right to defend yourself against an invading force, a tyrannical government, or another individual.
Further, the right to self-defense predates any modern government and exists outside of government. Many wrongly assume that the U.S. Constitution created the right to bear arms, but the Constitution only guarantees the pre-existing right will not be infringed. Self-defense backed by the Declaration of Independence’s rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness existed prior to the founding of the United States, it even predates the European colonization of America.
The Second Amendment is meant to ensure that the people always have the means to defend themselves against any force that aspires to take away your life or liberty, and further to defend themselves from physical harm. An attempt to limit or deny the right to bear arms or the right to self-defense is an attack on the core rights to life and liberty that makes a free people.
Daniel Eyre is a student at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School and Marriot School of Management.