Reply To: A new argument against the 2nd Amd.: Slavery


Most history about our right to bear arms relates to resistance to the British Crown, resistance to militias both in England and the colonies, and the assertion that we are endowed with individual rights, the source of which is higher than government, therefore unalienable.

The British Empire in that era was the largest the world has ever known and, in addition to the North American colonies, included colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, Canada, and the entire country of India. Those colonial subjects did not have the rights of Englishmen. A major issue leading to the colonialists declaring their independence from Britain was that they believed they were being denied the “Rights of Englishmen”.

The history of England is that of British subjects resisting the Central Authority, i.e. the Crown, a resistance that was formalized in the early 1200s with the Magna Carta and again in 1689 with the English Bill of Rights of 1689 – “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown”, which included this provision: “That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law”.

Militias were another issue. In the English Civil War of 1642 – 57 militias were formed by opposing groups and were, in effect, state-sanctioned paramilitary groups. To defend against such militias, the citizens required the ability to form their own armed militias and separate colonial militias existed when the Constitution was ratified.

George Mason was the founder who argued most strenuously for the 2nd amendment and presents us with a puzzling paradox. He intensely disliked and disapproved of the institution of slavery and argued against it, writing “[Slavery is a] slow Poison, which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People. Every Gentleman here is born a petty Tyrant …” And yet Mason was the largest slave holder in Virginia, second only to George Washington.

There may be an element of fact in the assertion that the 2nd amendment’s ratification was for the purpose of suppression of slaves, but it is far too simplistic to argue this was its sole purpose because that right has a long historical development in struggle against the Central Authority in England, i.e. the British Crown.

“The American Revolution” chapter of U.S. History to 1877 covers the issues that motivated the North American colonies to declare independence from the British Crown, central to which was the Rights of Englishmen.

And even if some individuals abuse a right, I don’t believe that should be an argument that it isn’t a human right. Think of all the instances when an armed citizenry might have prevented genocide perpetrated by government.

Here are a few instructive links.