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The Scottish and English Religious Roots of the American Right to Arms:

Many Americans believe they have a God-given right to possess arms as a last resort against tyranny. This draft article (forthcoming later this year in the interdisciplinary journal Bridges) examines one of the most important sources of that belief: the struggle for freedom of conscience in the United Kingdom during the reigns of Elizabeth I and the Stuarts. A moral right and duty to use force against tyranny was explicated by the Scottish Presbyterians George Buchanan and Samuel Rutherford. The free-thinking English Christians John Locke and Algernon Sidney broadened and deepened the ideas of Buchanan and Rutherford. The result was a sophisticated defense of religious freedom, which was to be protected by an armed people ready to resist encroachments on their natural, sacred liberties. The principle that right to arms is the ultimate guarantor of the right to free exercise of religion is one reason why the First and Second Amendments are placed next to each other in the American Bill of Rights.

Please send constructive comments and criticisms to the e-mail contact on my website.



UPDATE: A commenter wonders if I am being consistent by criticizing people who support the violent Iraqi terrorist-insurgents, while also asserting (in the commenter's words) that "religious extremists were somehow justified in using violent force against British soldiers."

First, I think it's dubious to claim that the Congregationalist and Presbyterian American ministers who incited the American Revolution were "extremist." But in any case, they're not the subject my article, and it is preposterous to imply that John Locke or Algernon Sidney--among the most tolerant, decent people of their time, or any other time--were "religious extremists." They were extremely tolerant, to their everlasting credit.

The broader point is that I don't criticize Michael Moore and his ilk because they support violence, or because many of the violent people whom they extol are also religious people. I criticize Moore et al. because they support violence whose purpose is imposing totalitarian dictatorship. Violence to impose tyranny is evil; violence to liberate people from tyranny is legitimate, and is sometimes a moral duty. Or so Locke, Sidney, Buchanan, and Rutherford reasoned, and I agree.

Defending the Indefensible:
So, after condemning some people for offhand remarks that suggested that violent force against the US occupation of Iraq was somehow justifiable, here we have the notion expressed that religious extremists were somehow justified in using violent force against British soldiers.

I don't condemn Mr. Kopel for his words, however much I may disagree with them. Nor do I condemn Michael Moore for his. Can we all at least agree to differentiate rhetoric from violence or direct incitement?
8.16.2005 7:47pm
Gordon (mail):
To take this discussion from a legal/theoretical perspective into a practical perspective, does the two century-old rationale for the Second Amendment hold up against the large-scale collateral damage the free dispersal of firearms has done and continues to do to our nation?

In addition, one can argue that in the 18th century allowing an armed citizenry gave that citizenry parity, at least in terms of weaponry, with the despotic state. In today's world of nuclear arsenals and bunker busters and various advanced forms of individual weaponry, does allowing an individual to own a Saturday Night Special really give that individual protection against a despotic government? And, if we want to restore that 18th Century parity, does this mean that individuals should have access to all sorts of machine guns and other advanced weaponry?

From my questions, you can probably deduce my stance on this issue.
8.16.2005 9:00pm
PersonFromPorlock:
From my questions, you can probably deduce my stance on this issue.

The thing about gun control is that where you find it you also usually find knife control, club control, rock control, pepper-spray control and hateful word control. So, yes, I can deduce your stance: you're afraid of your neighbors, or you think they're irresponsible idiots.
8.16.2005 10:29pm
Hattio (mail):
Gordon,
You wrote:
In today's world of nuclear arsenals and bunker busters and various advanced forms of individual weaponry, does allowing an individual to own a Saturday Night Special really give that individual protection against a despotic government?

I suggest you ask the question of Randy Weaver. You know the Ruby Ridge guy who managed to hold off the US Marshals until the news crews could get there and cause it to be politically unacceptable to continue. You don't have to overthrow the government for your right to bear arms to be useful.
8.16.2005 10:34pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Hattio,

How's Lon Horiuchi doing these days?
8.16.2005 11:16pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Violence to impose tyranny is evil; violence to liberate people from tyranny is legitimate, and is sometimes a moral duty.

The problem with this statement, of course, is that the insurgents in Iraq believe they are liberating themselves from tyranny. As has been said, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter. Violence in self-defense is one thing, but invading and occupying a country that poses no real and immediate threat to ours cannot be morally justified. I think this is what Michael Moore thinks, and as I said on the other thread, I don't think he really wants more US or Iraqi casualties, he wants to end the war, and bring the troops home out of harm's way.
8.16.2005 11:26pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Gordon,

I don't think that whether or not a single gun is that useful against our current government is really that relevant. The fact that there are almost as many guns as there are people here is, since that means that a truly despotic government won't last. You get enough armed citizenry revolting, and the military won't stand against them.

You also have to factor in that that wasn't the only reason for owning guns. Two others come to mind. One is the organized militia. That is not really that relevant any more. The other is what we now call "home defense", and probably also "self defense". Two hundred thirty or so years ago, it was accepted that you would and could defend your house and family.

I also think that you may be assuming that guns today make our society a lot more violent than it used to be. That is quite wrong. It is a lot less violent. The murder rate over the 20th Century dropped significantly. Yes, before the American Civil War, you still had a lot of knife deaths, given that guns were not that easy to use. But you still had a lot of gun deaths too. The thing that really changed the dynamic from knife to gun was the invention of breach loading, revolvers, and repeating rifles. The number of guns went up some after that war, but it was really the lethality of the guns that went up significantly - to a much greater extent than since then. In other words, there was a much bigger jump in lethality from a single shot muzzle loading pistol to a revolver than from a revolver to an automatic 9 mm pistal.

The reality today is that if you live in most of this country, outside the big cities, you are far more likely to be killed in an automobile accident than by a gun. For example, in my 54 years of life, I have known a number of people killed by automobiles, but none outside the military killed by gunshot. (Well, ok, I may have known one suicide - I can't quite remember, but I don't count such, because if you are truly going to kill yourself, lack of a gun is irrelevant - you will find something else instead).
8.17.2005 12:48am
Challenge:
"The problem with this statement, of course, is that the insurgents in Iraq believe they are liberating themselves from tyranny."

Yes, I am sure Hitler believed in his own way he was "right" too. Perhaps he was just "liberating" the Aryan race? But he was wrong and evil, even if he believed he was not. Can you condemn no one as long as they proclaim their righteousness?
8.17.2005 12:53am
Challenge:
"I think this is what Michael Moore thinks, and as I said on the other thread, I don't think he really wants more US or Iraqi casualties, he wants to end the war, and bring the troops home out of harm's way."

Take a wild guess who said:

"I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe -- just maybe -- God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end."
8.17.2005 12:59am
Challenge:
"Violence in self-defense is one thing, but invading and occupying a country that poses no real and immediate threat to ours cannot be morally justified. I think this is what Michael Moore thinks."

Question: Was Afganistan justified on self defense grounds? Michael Moore didn't think so. Or course, in his crockumentary he pretends Iraq was a "distraction" from Afganistan. What does that make it, exactly, a distraction from a distraction?
8.17.2005 1:04am
Defending the Indefensible:
Challenge,
I'll try to reply to all three of your recent posts above at once.

On the reductio ad Hitlerum argument, I wonder if you are intentionally trying to invoke Godwin's Law to end this discussion. I'm not sure if it was Kopel or Volokh who wrote, "Violence to impose tyranny is evil; violence to liberate people from tyranny is legitimate, and is sometimes a moral duty." In any case, my reply that, "The problem with this statement, of course, is that the insurgents in Iraq believe they are liberating themselves from tyranny" was not intended to justify the insurgents, rather to say that the statement that Kopel/Volokh had made could be taken to do so.

Challenge writes:
Yes, I am sure Hitler believed in his own way he was "right" too. Perhaps he was just "liberating" the Aryan race? But he was wrong and evil, even if he believed he was not. Can you condemn no one as long as they proclaim their righteousness?

I condemn aggression, under whatever pretense of justification. And Michael Moore opposes war, which I think he's made pretty clear. Conflating such opposition to war with Hitler (who perpetrated war) is diametrically confused. George W. Bush committed war, but I'd still certainly stop short of comparing him with Hitler, because Hitler also committed genocide. However, if a comparison were appropriate, how many people has Michael Moore killed or ordered killed?

Challenge asks:
Take a wild guess who said:

"I'm sorry, but the majority of Americans supported this war once it began and, sadly, that majority must now sacrifice their children until enough blood has been let that maybe -- just maybe -- God and the Iraqi people will forgive us in the end."

I'm going to take a wild leap and guess Michael Moore said this, and then I'm going to try to help you understand what he might mean. Does Moore (assuming it was him) seem pleased about the prospect that American lives will be (have been) lost? Or does he seem to find the prospect, perhaps, sad? Oh, look, he even says, "sadly." He's not stating a preference, but rather predicting an unfortunate consequence of the fact that we've invaded and occupied (and continue to occupy) a country that posed no real and immediate threat to ourselves. And as predictions go, he seems to be pretty much on the money so far, sadly.

Perhaps your concern is his feeling that we need forgiveness from "God and the Iraqi people." Well, a lot of innocent blood has been shed, a lot of lives and families have been destroyed, surely you will at least admit the "collateral damage" has been significant, tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, in addition to all the wounded and killed US servicemen and women. Was it for a just cause? Mr. Moore does not think so. Is he entitled to feel that way?

Challenge asks:
Question: Was Afganistan justified on self defense grounds? Michael Moore didn't think so. Or course, in his crockumentary he pretends Iraq was a "distraction" from Afganistan. What does that make it, exactly, a distraction from a distraction?

I dunno, Iran could become another distraction from a distraction from a distraction, and who knows how deep the rabbit-hole may go, if we continue along the present path. Before the "war on terror" was conflated with Iraq, it was used to justify the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, in order to apprehend Osama Bin Laden and associates, whom we did not manage to apprehend, although the Taliban had claimed to have been willing to give him to us (or, more precisely, they would have transferred him to Pakistan or some other "neutral" country for trial) before the invasion. We might argue whether they would have followed through, whether the offer was sufficient, and whether there were other reasons for supporting the Northern Alliance in their civil war, but we didn't get our man, nor his number two Zawahiri, and they probably are in Pakistan now, not Afghanistan. So on what "self-defense" grounds are we still there?
8.17.2005 2:52am
Challenge:
"I'm going to take a wild leap and guess Michael Moore said this, and then I'm going to try to help you understand what he might mean."

What he meant is not ambiguous. Americans must die, a lot of Americans, so that God and the Iraqi people can "forgive" us. That's what he said, sorry. Maybe he didn't mean it, but don't tell he meant something entirely different.

The rest of your post was a pathetic, overly verbose dodge. I'll let it speak for itself. Also, I don't know why anybody would think comparing Islamofascists to Nazis would be considered outlandish hyberbole. But you are defending Michael Moore, should I be suprised?
8.17.2005 5:25am
Defending the Indefensible:
Americans have died, and will continue to die, as long as the insanity continues, and so do Iraqis, by the thousands and tens of thousands. Do you justify this? I do not.

I defend Michael Moore because you condemn him unfairly, not because I agree with everything he may ever have said. I defend nonetheless his right to say them.

Are you claiming that Michael Moore is an Islamofascist?
8.17.2005 6:22am
jallgor (mail):
In "Challenge's" defense he never compared Moore to Hitler. He compared the terrorists to Hitler. Thus, when he defends his comparison by stating that the islamofascists are equal to Hitler he is not calling Moore an islamofascist. Oh and the Taliban never agreed to turn over OBL.
8.17.2005 12:26pm
Jimbeaux (mail):
"The problem with this statement, of course, is that the insurgents in Iraq believe they are liberating themselves from tyranny."

The problem with that statement is that there is no evidence for it. To the extent we've heard anything from insurgents (who don't seem to have a very effective political arm), it's that defeat of the crusader hoarde is necessary to prevent the imposition of democracy.

I suppose then, it might be more accurate to say that "they are liberating themselves from the tyranny of democracy." But once you do that, words cease to have meaning.
8.17.2005 12:28pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Bruce Hayden writes:


Yes, before the American Civil War, you still had a lot of knife deaths, given that guns were not that easy to use. But you still had a lot of gun deaths too. The thing that really changed the dynamic from knife to gun was the invention of breach loading, revolvers, and repeating rifles. The number of guns went up some after that war, but it was really the lethality of the guns that went up significantly - to a much greater extent than since then. In other words, there was a much bigger jump in lethality from a single shot muzzle loading pistol to a revolver than from a revolver to an automatic 9 mm pistal.
From my research, it does not appear that the gun to knife murder ratio before the Civil War was that substantially different. Knifes tended to get a lot of attention because they were carried and misused by respectable members of society, while from reading Philadelphia newspapers, it appears that a lot of the pistol misuse was by professional criminals. One particular account I ran into when researching my book that no one will publish is from colonial Philadelphia, and indicates that a gang of criminals was making the rounds of Philadelphia gun stores, buying pistols—since you needed to carry quite a number of pistols to be a successful highwayman.

There were actually some repeating pistols at the close of the eighteenth century (although not terribly reliable), and whatever disadvantage a single shot pistol has in the firepower area was apparently compensated for by the tendency to carry multiple pistols (four our six if you were expecting trouble was not uncommon), and that almost any shot to the abdomen was going to kill you from peritonitis.
8.17.2005 1:28pm
Gordon (mail):
To Bruce Hayden:

I find your insistence that widespread possession of guns by United States citizens does not make the U.S. a significantly more dangerous place to live to be unsupportable in light of the landslide of statistical evidence to the contrary.

A much better argument would be "yes, widespread gun ownership does make the U.S. a more dangerous place, but gun ownership is a constitutional right, a right given to us 200 years ago in our Bill of Rights to protect us against tyranny."

Sort of like ACLU-type arguments about the 4th, 5th, and 6th amendments and the rights of alleged criminals.

I've changed my thoughts on the 2nd amendment over the years, partially in response to the arguments of Professor Volokh and others. But just as "free speech doesn't give an individual the right to yell fire in a crowded theatre," the right to bear arms doesn't give an individual the right to own a machine gun, or use armor-piercing bullets, or own a bazooka, or a nuclear weapon.
8.17.2005 3:24pm
Russ:
People like Michael Moore do not want peace; they want to be spared war, as though the absence of war was the same as peace. It isn't. True peace is not merely the absence of conflict - it is the presence of justice
8.17.2005 4:38pm
Split Lip Rayfield (mail):
"Insurgents" are those who are attacking US troops in an act of resistance. They have some some valid roots like throwing out a foreign force, etc. I still think the US forces are 100% justified in wiping these punks out. Just saying that they have some justification.

"Terrorists" are the vast majority of US armed forces' enemy in Iraq. They bomb hospitals. They try to kill and disrupt civilians. They don't just attack our troops b/c when they do they get their asses kicked. They are even killing diplomats from other countries who try to establish relations with the new Iraqi authorities. None of the US revolutionaries did crap like that. That is totally invalid. And the motivation for most of the enemy is NOT freedom, or ridding the country of foreign influence. The movitation is mayhem, or to darken the country with religious extremism.

So that's my take on the subject.
8.17.2005 7:05pm
juris imprudent (mail):
Gordon:

What landslide of statistical evidence do you have indicating the U.S. is such a dangerous place because of guns? The CDC data indicates the problem, such as it is, is not general, but resides in specific subpopulations (wherein violent injury/death is more common with guns AND without).

As to the limits of the 2nd, there is certainly a reasonable debate on the extents. Machine guns are not necessarily beyond the pale, particularly in light of Miller. Common hunting ammunition will pierce certain types of "armor", but are perfectly legal. Materials better classified as ordnance (vice "arms"), e.g. bazookas and WMDs, are clearly not protected by the 2nd and are usually trotted out for straw-man purposes.
8.17.2005 7:52pm
Hattio (mail):
Defending the indefensible

You ask what Lon Horuichi is doing now. How is this relevant to my point? I made the point that if it wasn't for Randy Weaver's weapons and his skill in using them, the US Marshals, who had orders to shoot on sight, would have likely killed Mr. Weaver, and likely most of his family too. It's true they only had shoot on sight orders for Mr. Weaver, but their actions of shooting and killing his son indicate that they weren't being too picky. I won't even get into the fact that a trained sharpshooter, who is not supposed to shoot unless they are sure of their target, shot his wife while she was framed within the cabin door. That could have been a mistake.
Oh, and I'm sure this is not that important, but the reason they had orders to shoot on sight? Mr. Weaver had sawed off a shotgun....a whole quarter inch too short. Definitely worth shooting on sight.
Finally, The US Marshals fired the first shots, without identifying themselves first by their own admission. And Lon Horiuchi was not killed by Randy Weaver, but by his son. You know, the 14 or 15 year old kid who was walking on his property and had shots ring out that came near him and killed his dog...even though there was no indictment for the son. The US Marshals actions cannot be justified in this case.
8.17.2005 8:30pm
Defending the Indefensible:
Hattio,
I think you missed my point, and you don't realize that Lon Horiuchi is not the agent who was shot and killed, but the very "sharpshooter" who killed Vicki Weaver while armed with a deadly baby.
8.17.2005 11:24pm