The Right to Self-Defense


In all the noise caused by the Obama administration’s direct assault on the right of every person to keep and bear arms, the essence of the issue has been drowned out. The president and his big-government colleagues want you to believe that only the government can keep you free and safe, so to them, the essence of this debate is about obedience to law.

To those who have killed innocents among us, obedience to law is the last of their thoughts. And to those who believe that the Constitution means what it says, the essence of this debate is not about the law; it is about personal liberty in a free society. It is the exercise of this particular personal liberty — the freedom to defend yourself when the police cannot or will not and the freedom to use weapons to repel tyrants if they take over the government — that the big-government crowd fears the most.

Let’s be candid: All government fears liberty. By its nature, government is the negation of liberty. God has given us freedom, and the government has taken it away. George Washington recognized this when he argued that government is not reason or eloquence but force. If the government had its way, it would have a monopoly on force.

Government compels, restrains and takes. Thomas Jefferson understood that when he wrote that our liberties are inalienable and endowed by our Creator, and the only reason we have formed governments is to engage them to protect our liberties. We enacted the Constitution as the supreme law of the land to restrain the government. Yet somewhere along the way, government got the idea that it can more easily protect the freedom of us all from the abuses of a few by curtailing the freedom of us all. I know that sounds ridiculous, but that’s where we are today.

The anti-Second Amendment crowd cannot point to a single incident in which curtailing the freedom of law-abiding Americans has stopped criminals or crazies from killing. It is obvious that criminals don’t care what the law says because they think they can get away with their violations of it. And those unfortunates who are deranged don’t recognize any restraint on their own behavior, as they cannot mentally distinguish right from wrong and cannot be expected to do so in the future, no matter what the law says.

When the Second Amendment was written and added to the Constitution, the use of guns in America was common. At the same time, King George III — whom we had just defeated and who was contemplating another war against us, which he would start in 1812 — no doubt ardently wished that he had stripped his colonists of their right to self-defense so as to subdue their use of violence to secede from Great Britain. That act of secession, the American Revolution, was largely successful because close to half of the colonists were armed and did not fear the use of weaponry.

If the king and the Parliament had enacted and enforced laws that told them who among the colonists owned guns or that limited the power of the colonists’ guns or the amount of ammunition they could possess, our Founding Fathers would have been hanged for treason. One of the secrets of the Revolution — one not taught in public schools today — is that the colonists actually had superior firepower to the king. The British soldiers had standard-issue muskets, which propelled a steel ball or several of them about 50 yards from the shooter. But the colonists had the long gun — sometimes called the Kentucky or the Tennessee — which propelled a single steel ball about 200 yards, nearly four times as far as the British could shoot. Is it any wonder that by Yorktown in 1781, the king and the Parliament had lost enough men and treasure to surrender?

The lesson here is that free people cannot remain free by permitting the government — even a popularly elected one that they can unelect — to take their freedoms away. The anti-freedom crowd in the government desperately wants to convey the impression that it is doing something to protect us. So it unconstitutionally and foolishly seeks, via burdensome and intrusive registration laws, laws restricting the strength of weapons and the quantity and quality of ammunition and, the latest trick, laws that impose financial liability on law-abiding manufacturers and sellers for the criminal behavior of some users, to make it so burdensome to own a gun that the ordinary folks who want one will give up their efforts to obtain one.

We cannot let ourselves fall down this slippery slope. The right to self-defense is a natural individual right that pre-exists the government. It cannot morally or constitutionally be taken away absent individual consent or due process. Kings and tyrants have taken this right away. We cannot let a popular majority take it away, for the tyranny of the majority can be as destructive to freedom as the tyranny of a madman.

Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel. Judge Napolitano has written seven books on the U.S. Constitution. The most recent is “Theodore and Woodrow: How Two American Presidents Destroyed Constitutional Freedom.”

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