Antecedents of the Second Amendment
Firearms Law and the Second Amendment, ch. 16 (2d ed. 2019)
43 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2019
Date Written: August 6, 2019
This Chapter provides a sample of the arguments that various philosophers have offered for or against arms possession, and about appropriate constraints on the use of arms. Many of the readings in this Chapter are part of the intellectual background of the Second Amendment. These include material from ancient Greece and Rome (Part B), the Judeo-Christian tradition (Part C), and European political philosophy (Part D). Other material, especially Part A, on ancient China, was unknown to the Americans who adopted the Second Amendment. Yet the same questions that concerned Confucians and Taoists have been at issue throughout history.
One key issue is personal ethics. Is it moral to use force, or deadly force, in self-defense? Does the answer depend on whether the attacker is an individual criminal or a governmental tyrant?
The other major question is the distribution of force. Because arms greatly amplify the user’s physical force, should government have a monopoly on arms possession and use?
One theme of this Chapter is the benefits and dangers of militias versus standing armies. Standing armies consist of full-time soldiers, usually but not always armed by the state. In contrast, a militia consists of soldiers who only serve for part of the year or in situations of necessity. The rest of the time, they maintain their civilian occupations as farmers, merchants, and so on. Usually they supply their own arms. A select militia is a hybrid in which militiamen are drawn from a small segment of the population and spend more (perhaps all) of their time soldiering and may depend on their militia pay for their livelihoods.
Keywords: self-defense, right to arms, Confucianism, Taoism, ancient Greece, ancient Rome, Judaism, Christianity, medieval thought, Bodin, Machiavelli
JEL Classification: K42, K14, Z12, Z18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation