The Right and Duty to Bear Arms

Why should a private citizen own a gun? Proponents of strict gun control laws often raise this question, wondering what legitimate reasons would motivate Americans to buy firearms. Hunting and sport shooting require guns, of course, but only a small percentage of the population engages in these activities. The Founders, however, included the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights for good reason—a reason deeply rooted in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty which inspired the Revolution in the first place.

The early American settlers faced a relatively unknown continent. Each colonial town and settler’s home required some form of defense.  However, the colonists did not create a standing army to deal with these dangers. Not only did they lack the resources and organization to provide for such an army, but they understood that each free man held the responsibility for his own defense within the community. Each man kept a gun within his own home to defend himself and his family. Men also trained as part of a militia, to act en masse to deal with large-scale threats to the town, but none were professional soldiers. After a fight, each would return home to his own house and family.

These Americans took upon themselves the primary responsibility for their defense, rather than surrendering this to the state. This willingness to bear arms formed a key part of old English conceptions of liberty – all free men had both the right and the duty to take up arms for the protection of the realm. Today, many Americans have lost this idea, and look to the State as their primary source of protection. The abdication of all responsibility for our own defense would mark us as unworthy of liberty in our ancestors’ eyes. This does not mean we should embrace fear, but rather a clear-sighted recognition of the reality of evil in the world and the responsibility to defend against it.

While most of America is less physically dangerous today than in colonial times, it is clear that evil still exists in the world. Physical threats, from everyday crime to foreign tyrants and their armies, are not the stuff of old history but part of objective reality in this world. Therefore, upstanding Americans must embrace our right to bear arms and take responsibility for our own defense and that of our communities. America won its freedom through the actions of its everyday citizens—very few of them professional soldiers—and will only remain free as long as her citizens take the bearing of arms seriously.


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