What’s old is always new again in the gun debate and now we are dipping back into long settled arguments that have already been decided by the Supreme Court.
The Washington Post has an article out this morning claiming a new study has proven Antonin Scalia was wrong when he said the right to bear arms extends to the individual level.
But Scalia was wrong. Two new databases of English writing from the founding era confirm that “bear arms” is a military term. Non-military uses of “bear arms” are not just rare — they’re almost nonexistent.
A search of Brigham Young University’s new online Corpus of Founding Era American English, with more than 95,000 texts and 138 million words, yields 281 instances of the phrase “bear arms.” BYU’s Corpus of Early Modern English, with 40,000 texts and close to 1.3 billion words, shows 1,572 instances of the phrase. Subtracting about 350 duplicate matches, that leaves about 1,500 separate occurrences of “bear arms” in the 17th and 18th centuries, and only a handful don’t refer to war, soldiering or organized, armed action. These databases confirm that the natural meaning of “bear arms” in the framers’ day was military.
This is dumb on so many levels.
To start, you would of course expect most mentions of “bearing arms” in historical texts to be talking about war. The reason? Because historical texts prior to the revolution would have very little reason to chronicle an individual right to bear arms. Why? Because it did not exist at the time for the most part. The English monarchy had absolute power to confiscate and regulate weaponry.
That sort of had something to do with the whole rebellion against the crown thing, but hey, who needs context.
Even if it had existed, you would still expect most written texts to use it in terms of war because war was most commonly written about compared to whether a farmer had a rifle or not. Despite all this, they still did find instances of the phrase “bear arms” mentioned in not military contexts. They of course don’t give the exact number because it’s likely enough to undermine their case.
Aside from these obvious holes in the study at the data level, the reality of the times says the assertion being made here is simply wrong. We know that individuals owned and held arms at the time of the founding. We know, for a fact, that the founders supported the individuals right to bear arms as a force against government tyranny.
Secondly, what is a militia? More importantly, what was a militia at the time of founding? It was nothing more than a self-governed, self-regulated (a term that meant trained and organized) group of individuals deciding to fight together for a common cause. Without the individual right to bear arms, there can be no militia because there would be no arms.
Nowhere in any historical account of our founding is there evidence that the Founders sought arms be held by government proxies only to be given to militias at a time of war. The individual right to bear arms was clear and understood. When a threat came, it was that individual right that populated the militias ability to conduct war.
Lastly, and perhaps most damning to this study and the claims made by the Washington Post is the fact that there continues to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the Bill of Rights by the left in this country.
The Bill of Rights was not ambiguous in it’s goal. It was clearly, without question laying out “inalienable” and “individual” rights of the people. The entire purpose was to posit exactly what the government could not infringe upon in regards to rights of citizens. All 10 amendments fall into this category. Nowhere in the Bill of Rights are rights bestowed only on organized groups dictated by the government. That would of been antithetical to it’s purpose.
The Bill of Rights does not exist to limit individual rights or assign regulatory power to the government over those rights. When looking at it from that obvious, historical angle, it’s an impossibility that the 2nd amendment was actually limiting the rights of citizens to only bear arms in the context of armed conflict.
The constitutional ignorance that is being presented in the modern gun debate is disheartening. Of course, these are the same people who will argue that Roe v. Wade is “super-precedent” while at the same time arguing the deceased Scalia was “wrong” in his assessment that an individual right to bear arms exists. Is the Supreme Court final or not? They should make up their minds.
This study and the subsequent trumpeting of it by the Washington Post is the height of cherry-picking a peripheral variable, not even showing absoluteness in it’s meaning, and then proclaiming that overrides mountains of historical evidence to the contrary.