Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness. That state is most fortunate in its form of government which has the aptest instruments for the discovery of law.
Calvin Coolidge, to the Massachusetts State Senate, January 7, 1914.
The following letter was sent to the New York Post on March 3, 2018. The column by retired Colonel Ralph Peters, attacking the National Rifle Association, was an extraordinary exercise in ignorance, dishonesty, and viciousness, fully in harmony with the "gun control" movement that Peters now evidently endorses. The Post itself had previously allowed itself to be rolled into ill considered endorsement of more "gun control." Discussion of more about Peters' column follows the letter.
"Letters to the Editor"
New York Post
Col. Peters says that the “NRA supporters circulate carefully selected quotes from several Founding Fathers – Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry – in support of the notion of a well-armed population.” This statement implies that these men are thus misrepresented, and that no other Founders said things that could be “carefully selected” to that effect. That is all quite false; and Peters confirms this by then trying to discredit Jefferson, Madison, and Henry, first that they did not fight in the Continental Army, meaning they were shirkers or cowards, second that they owned slaves, which is a favorite leftist trope to discredit the whole founding of America. Also, Peters has missed the part of the Declaration of Independence which says that “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” Thus, democracy, contrary to Peters, does not vote on the Bill of Rights. That has been called “the tyranny of the majority” – as long as Peters wants to write about tyranny. So Col. Peters must decide how far he wants to go with this, and how much he wants to discredit America and all its principles. It is clear that his problem goes far beyond the NRA. Next he will be tearing down the Jefferson Memorial. He will have lots of new friends (e.g. Raul Castro), but probably not as many of the old ones he’s had in the military.
Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D.
Although the nasty attack by Peters on several of the Founding Fathers was the most shocking thing about his column, the final point was of the most substantive importance. While Peters attacks the NRA as "undemocratic," and seems to think that the NRA regards itself as subject to the decisions of democratic majorities, the rights of American are not based on either the whims or the convictions of the majority. Instead, no majority of Americans has a right to disarm a minority; for the right of self-defense, which can only reasonably be effected with firearms, especially, we might imagine, for women, is a natural and "unalienable" right.
Peters is also confused about the meaning of the Second Amendment, which was intended, not just to endorse a natural right, but to affirm the role of a "well-regulated Militia" in American government. The nature of the Militia we can ascertain from some “carefully selected quotes”:
- ...but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights and those of their fellow-citizens. This appears to me the only substitute that can be devised for a standing army, and the best possible security against it, if it should exist.
Alexander Hamilton (1755/57-1804), Federalist Paper No. 29
- Another source of power in government is a military force. But this, to be efficient, must be superior to any force that exists among the people, or which they can command; for otherwise this force would be annihilated, on the first exercise of acts of oppression. Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom in Europe. The supreme power in American cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops that can be, on any pretence, raised in the United States. A military force, at the command of Congress, can execute no laws, but such as the people perceive to be just and constitutional; for they will possess the power, and jealous [sic] will instantly inspire the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.
Noah Webster (1758-1843)
- The power of the sword, say the minority of Pennsylvania, is in the hands of Congress. My friends and countrymen, it is not so, for THE POWERS OF THE SWORD ARE IN THE HANDS OF THE YEOMANRY OF AMERICA FROM SIXTEEN TO SIXTY. The militia of these free commonwealths, entitled and accustomed to their arms, when compared with any possible army, must be tremendous and irresistible. Who are the militia? are they not ourselves. Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American. What clause in the state or (federal) constitution hath given away that important right. ... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.
Tench Coxe (1755-1824), letter to the Philadelphia Gazette, 20 February 1788
Hamilton, Webster, and Tench Coxe pass one of Peters' tests of legiimacy, since they didn't own slaves. Otherwise, Hamilton actually was in the Continental Army, and saw combat. Webster seemed to be teaching during the Revoltution. Coxe was listed in the Pennsylvania Militia; but it is not clear that he ever saw combat and was once accused of being a Loyalist.
In any csse, Peters's tests are irrelevant; and what we see in the statements by Hamilton, Webster, and Coxe is the general understanding of the meaning of the Second Amendment and the Militia. This meaning is still evident in the first case to reach the Supreme Court about firearms, United States v. Miller (1939), when the Court ruled that the Federal Government could tax and effectively prohbit sawed-off shotguns because these were not, I repeat, not military weapons, suitable for the Militia. Thus, when Ralph Peters says, "Let the people decide whether or not such weapons belong in civilian hands," he betrays his total ignorance of Second Amendment history and jurisprudence. What's more, the "assault weapons" he is talking about are only cosmetically and inessentially different from simple rifles, and, when they were banned for a period, it had no effect on crime rates. Instead, Peters says that such weapons are "preferred by mass murderers," which would mean something, even if true, if their features made a difference, which they do not.
But it may be too late for America. Americans increasingly are happy peons of the State and willing to surrender the right of self-defense, so that the government can screw them over whenever it likes, and also leave them helpless against crime, as we see in Chicago and other jurisdictions. Ralph Peters, with a great deal of income, and his military pension, sees nothing wrong in joining the ruling class and disarming the peasants -- yeomen no longer.
What is Called "Gun Control"