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In my column last week, I argued the needs-based defense of the Second Amendment by conservatives had failed to adequately repel attacks on gun rights through the years; a situation that looks only to deteriorate with both Congress and the White House controlled by Democrats. And, with the news last week that President Joe Biden was ready to move on sweeping gun control proposals, conservatives have no time to waste in adjusting tactics.
The only lasting, effective way to defend the Second Amendment is to view it as our Founding Fathers did; not as a utilitarian concept, which it necessarily becomes when considered as a “needs-based” right, but as a God-given, natural right of all mankind. Framing the Second Amendment in this original context completely changes the playing field from that on which the debate rages today, according to which it is the responsibility of citizens to prove why they need firearms in the face of government restrictions. Instead, when considered in its proper and historic context, it is the government that should be required to show verifiable cause to justify taking firearms away. This distinction makes all the difference, and clearly undergirded the crafting of our founding documents.
John Adams, one of the brightest luminaries of America’s Founding, stated that “resistance to sudden violence, for the preservation not only of my person, my limbs, and life, but of my property, is an indisputable right of nature.” Samuel Adams then defined this “duty of self-preservation” as the “right to support and defend them in the best manner [the colonists] can.” Without question, the Founders believed self-preservation as one of man’s most sacred natural rights, and the Second Amendment was designed and purposed to ensure government does not encroach on it. For many decades following our independence, the Amendment did just that.
Tragically, the notion of government restricting citizens’ access to firearms (“gun control”) originating in the mid-19th Century as a means to disarm freed black citizens, exploded in the latter decades of the 20th Century as Democrats came to see exploiting gun violence as an effective tool for gaining political capital. Other cultural factors as well played a part in the surge of gun control legislation and regulations, such as pressure from police departments unwilling to share the burden of public safety with responsibly armed citizens, the “war on drugs” launched in the late 1960s, and the three-decades-long crime wave starting in that same decade. More recently, a spate of mass shootings, which understandably shock our sensibilities as humans, has made gun rights more vulnerable than ever.
These cultural factors have been made all the worse by society’s weakened understanding of gun rights as a fundamental natural right, which opened the door to so-called “common sense” restrictions that increasingly conditioned citizens to believe such encroachments were not just tolerable but were the responsibility of government to make in the first place. There was no way a needs-based defense of the Second Amendment could survive this changing cultural perception of gun rights, especially with the emotional manipulation of gun violence having been mastered by Democrats across all sectors of our society — in government, in the media, and in education.
Fighting these challenges is where the natural rights defense of the Second Amendment proves its worth. Not only is this defense more philosophically consistent with the origins of gun rights in America, but using it actually helps educate Americans on the Second Amendment’s origins. By reawakening citizens to their natural right of self-preservation, and reminding them the Second Amendment ensures, as Sam Adams described, that citizens can protect themselves “in the best manner” they believe, conservatives will find new allies to bolster their efforts to reject the Left’s gun control gambits, and in so doing begin to reclaim freedoms stolen from them by government over the past century.
The historic rise in gun purchases in 2020, spurred by civil unrest, COVID-19, and a threat of gun control from a potential Democrat victory in November, proves that Americans still cherish their natural right to self-preservation, even if not understanding the full constitutional underpinning for its preservation. For the sake of the future of gun rights in America, conservatives must seize the moment and channel the great Charlton Heston in asserting that Americans will only surrender this God-given right when it is pried “from their cold, dead hands.”
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.