Antecedents of the Second Amendment

Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy ch. 16 (2d ed. 2020).

58 Pages Posted: 9 Aug 2019 Last revised: 17 Jul 2020

See all articles by Nicholas James Johnson

Nicholas James Johnson

Fordham University School of Law

David B. Kopel

Independence Institute; Denver University - Sturm College of Law; Cato Institute

George A. Mocsary

University of Wyoming College of Law

E. Gregory Wallace

Campbell University School of Law

Date Written: July 16, 2020

Abstract

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

Johnson, Nicholas James and Kopel, David B. and Mocsary, George A. and Wallace, E. Gregory, Antecedents of the Second Amendment (July 16, 2020). Firearms Law and the Second Amendment: Regulation, Rights, and Policy ch. 16 (2d ed. 2020)., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3433345 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3433345

Nicholas James Johnson

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

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David B. Kopel (Contact Author)

Independence Institute ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.davekopel.org

Denver University - Sturm College of Law

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HOME PAGE: http://www.davekopel.org

Cato Institute ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://https://www.cato.org/people/david-kopel

George A. Mocsary

University of Wyoming College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 3035
Laramie, WY 82071
United States

E. Gregory Wallace

Campbell University School of Law ( email )

225 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
United States

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