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03/28/2018

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All this talk about repealing the Second Amendment is silly. Justice John Paul Stevens at his advanced age can be forgiven for missing the urinal on this one.

The Constitution was not written as a novel or a creative work of fiction. It was written by scholars and statesmen who had a full grasp of history and governance.

The Second Amendment was not something pulled out of thin air but a vital component of a Constitution that was guaranteeing everyone life, liberty, and happiness. What few realize is that the Second Amendment has a long history that goes back a lot farther than our Constitution that enshrined it.

The English Bill of Rights was adopted by the British Parliament in 1689, a century before the American Bill of Rights was adopted as part of our Constitution by our Congress in 1791. On December 16, 1689, the British Parliament addressed the issue of “subjects” being armed. Here’s what was contained in the British Bill of Rights:
 
[1] By causing several good subjects being Protestants to be disarmed at the same time when the Papists were both armed and employed contrary to law. …[2] That the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence (sic) suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law.” (Ref: George B. Adams and H. Morse Stephens, eds., Select Documents of English Constitutional History. New York; The MacMillan Company, 1927.)
 
So you see, much of this controversy goes right back to protestants but – and this is a big but – we received the right to bear arms only because somehow papists and fellow papists were already armed and employed contrary to law. Could this have been a perverse prelude to the equal protection concept of the 14th Amendment? We need to weigh all this in the culture of the time. By the end of the 17th century, most of the wars and battles between the Protestants and ‘papists’ were over even though the language still seemed rough and denigratory at times. I’m sure the MPs meant no insult to the papists and indeed they were willing to adjust British law to accommodate and allow all subjects, Protestants and papists, to own and bear arms.

Had a papist in 1688 or earlier in England and decided to come to a home to put a nice round ball of lead into a Protestant's heart, the MPs were saying, a year later, that Protestans now had the same right as I to arm themselves and to protect themselves.
 
A hundred years later, by the time Jefferson and the boys wrote the Declaration of Independence, it was over. Whatever passion might have existed at one time between the colonies and the mother country was finished, kaput, gone, zap, over and out! The Declaration laid old George III out in every which way, calling him a ‘tyrant’ and ‘unfit to be the ruler of a free people,’ etc. It must be remembered that at the time there was not universal agreement in the colonies that a break from England was necessary or prudent. Washington’s army was a bunch of untrained men willing to go up against the best trained and equipped military in the world at the time. I can just imagine the late-night arguments in the taverns in New York (formerly New Amsterdam). The Never-George types were just as numerous as the Never-Washington folks. One of the first encounters, the Battle of Long Island, saw the Brits drive Washington and his men off the island. Historians say that General Howe on the British side, permitted Washington and his ragtag army to escape, in order to appeal to the colonists and win over their support for giving up the dream of independence. It didn’t work. Four years later, Washington and his men were successful.
 
To get back to the Second Amendment, there can be little doubt that several things were going through the minds of the founders when they debated it and accepted it in the Bill of Rights. Surely, the English Bill of Rights  quoted above played heavily in this and it followed from the First Amendment’s freedoms that the issue of Protestant versus papist was no longer dispositive. The second thing that probably went though their minds was the very real possibility that a patriot family might be at risk from someone loyal to the King of England. Even though the war was over and the Brits had lost, there was growing sentiment for decades that it all might have been a mistake and that we should say we’re sorry and beg to be accepted back into the kingdom. And, of course there was the War of 1812 that probably put an end to whatever sentiment there was left in America to rejoin England.

Interesting, Fred. I was unaware of the Protestant vs. Catholic dynamic in England. The founders were doubtless very concerned about the prospect that only the government could have arms.

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