TAMPA, December 16, 2012 ― The right to keep and bear arms is not granted to Americans in the U.S. Constitution, nor in the “Bill of Rights.” The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right, inextricably linked to the right to life.
The 2nd Amendment recognizes this. It does not say that the right “shall be granted” to anyone. It assumes the right already exists and says it “shall not be infringed.”
All rights are negative. We do not have a positive right to anything. Rights merely prohibit other people from aggressing against us. If someone is struck by lightning and killed, we do not say that his right to life has been violated. Neither do we say so if he is eaten by a lion.
No, the right to life is very narrowly defined as the right not to be killed by another human being, other than in self-defense. Obviously, the only way to exercise this right is to defend oneself if attacked. There is no other circumstance in which the “right to life” has any meaning.
Given that an aggressor may have weapons or may simply be a more capable fighter, individuals must be able to arm themselves sufficiently to overcome these disadvantages. That is how they exercise their right to life.
These rights pre-exist government. They exist in what Enlightenment philosophers called “the state of nature,” which is the state without government. These thinkers had different ideas about nature and society, but all agreed on one thing. Self-preservation is the first law of nature.
John Locke’s “Essay Concerning the true origin, extent and end of Civil Government (1690)” inspired the entire American philosophy, according to Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson thought it so important that posterity understand this that he had a resolution passed to proclaim it.
This was due to the important differences between Locke’s philosophy and others. Unlike Rousseau, who claimed that when joining society man had to agree to “the total alienation of all of his natural rights,” Locke said that man entered society to preserve those rights. That’s why the Declaration of Independence says that certain rights are inalienable.
The only rights that man gives up upon entering society is the right to judge his own case in a dispute and to enforce that judgment. These he gives up to the government in return for the superior protection of his life, liberty and property that the government supposedly provides.
However, these powers only pertain to crimes that occurred in the past. The government has no power over the future or the present. It cannot prosecute someone for a crime that he will commit tomorrow and it cannot protect the individual from a crime occurring right now.