On Thursday’s episode of Hardball on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews said something incredibly naive about conservatives and the right to bear arms:
Well you know what the Republicans say in their platform? The right to bear arms precedes the Constitution. It’s a god-given, sort of theological right. They treat this like religion, Governor. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s a religious, essential notion to them that everybody should have any kind of gun they want.
What Matthews doesn’t understand is that the right of self-defense, be it from other people or a tyrannical government, is a right which indeed precedes the Constitution.
The Daily Wire’s Elliott Hamilton explains in his piece, Why Do Americans Care About Their Right To Bear Arms, that self-defense as a basic principle of a free society was demonstrated by the actions of the American revolutionaries:
As every student of American history knows, the Revolution was the culmination of a series of grievances that the American colonies had toward the distant British Monarchy that imposed taxes without their consent, restricted their trade, silenced dissent, and imposed unjust criminal procedures against those who dared defy the British Empire. The Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 commenced after the British sought to destroy arms and gunpowder that local militia members collected outside of Boston, demonstrating that the war began once the British sought to disarm the populace which wanted to defend themselves against a tyrannical Leviathan.
Going further, Hamilton quotes 17th-century philosopher, John Locke, who wrote:
The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction; and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but sedate, settled design upon another man's life puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other's power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defence, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction; for by the fundamental law of Nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred, and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him. ...
And hence it is that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life. For I have reason to conclude that he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom- i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation, and reason bids me look on him as an enemy to my preservation who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that in the state of Nature would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state must necessarily be supposed to have a design to take away everything else, that freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design to take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
An individual’s human rights are protected only insofar as he can defend them. Without the ability to defend himself, a man’s rights become wholly subject to the will of governing bodies, which, as history has shown, can often become tyrannical.
In short, the Constitution does not bestow upon us rights, rather, it protects the rights we already possess, one of which is the right to protect and defend oneself from all forms of danger, including a despotic government.