The Las Vegas massacre represents a microcosm of the evil mankind can commit on fellow citizens. Stephen Paddock’s name will live in infamy for his role in the senseless termination of 58 lives, the injuries of hundreds, and the psychological terror inflicted upon millions. Many questions need to be answered about Paddock’s motivation to fire down upon thousands of innocent people at Mandalay Bay.
Like clockwork, the sight of dozens of murdered Americans at the hands of a deranged psychopath set off fireworks across the American Left. Calls for gun control, gun confiscation, and repealing the Second Amendment of the Constitution lit up social media, took center stage in the mainstream media, and emanated from emotional drivel of leftist propagandists masquerading as late-night comedians. In their more-or-less collective opinion, those on the right of the political spectrum do not care about dead concert-goers, elementary school children, or LGBTQ members since nothing has been done to restrict gun ownership in the United States. The infamous Piers Morgan bully tactics that Daily Wire Editor-in-Chief Ben Shapiro eloquently exposed and destroyed on CNN years ago have resurfaced and it seems to be getting worse as time goes by.
The most common criticism of the Second Amendment from the Left centers around the libertarian fear of tyrannical government because, to them, it seems completely far-fetched in the United States. How could people suggest that the federal government could become tyrannical when their ideal society would necessitate a benevolent ruler to create an equitable society without need or want? Furthermore, how can such an outrageous possibility legitimize the existence of legal gun ownership that often results in the very criminal acts that kill dozens of Americans at the time? Didn’t the deceased have a right to life, liberty, and property, too?
To understand the rationale behind the Second Amendment, it is important to understand how the titans of classical liberalism struggled with the relationship between the sovereign and the individual. Thomas Hobbes was one of the first to acknowledge the ends of both the commonwealth, the sovereign, and the individual, in Chapter XVII of “Leviathan”:
The final Cause, End, or Design of men, (who naturally love Liberty, and Dominion over others,) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, (in which we see them live in Common-wealths,) is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby. …
For the Laws of Nature (as Justice, Equity, Modesty, Mercy, and (in sum) doing to others, as we would be done to,) of themselves, without the terror of some Power, to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural Passions, that carry us to Partiality, Pride, Revenge, and the like.
Hobbes acknowledges that men seek self-preservation and security and that the laws of nature force the individual to sign a social contract with the government to ensure that justice, liberty, and equity are protected. Hobbes would continue to explain that mankind was naturally selfish, competitive, and was capable of committing evils if they willed it. This led Hobbes to the ultimate conclusion:
The only way to erect such a Common Power, as may be able to defend them from the invasion of Foreigners, and the injuries of one another, and thereby to secure them in such sort, as that by their own industry, and by the fruits of the Earth, they may nourish themselves and live contentedly …
I Authorise and give up my Right to Governing myself, to this Man, or to this Assembly of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy Right to him, and Authorise all his Actions in like manner. This done, the Multitude so united in one Person, is called a COMMON-WEALTH, in latine CIVITAS. This is the Generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather (to speak more reverently) of that Mortal God, to which we owe under the Immortal God, our peace and defense.
Thus, Hobbes believed that in order for the people to acquire that security and to be free men, the people would need to contract with the Leviathan. In theory, the Leviathan would be able to concentrate all of the wills of the people and the nation to better the lives of all and lead everyone to a prosperous end. If the people consented to being governed by the Leviathan, then their freedoms would remain intact as long as they did not act in rebellion against him.
However, Hobbes operated off the assumption that the English Crown was incapable of possessing ill will against those he governed. If mankind is interested in self-preservation and the Leviathan turns out wicked, then how do the people respond to tyranny? John Locke answered that question in Chapter III of “Second Treatise of Government”:
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.
Locke emphasized that the law of nature preserves a fundamental right for men to defend themselves against those who seek to be in a state of war with them. If their freedoms were violated at the hands of either an individual or a state, then the people ought to defend themselves against such tyranny. This represents the foundation of the right to defend oneself.
Locke also discussed the flaw of the Leviathan in the event that he did not act in accordance with the majority who had initially consented to such government, in Chapter VIII:
For, when any number of men have, by the consent of every individual, made a community, they have thereby made that community one body, with a power to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority. For that which acts any community, being only the consent of the individuals of it, and it being one body, must move one way, it is necessary the body should move that way whither the greater force carries it, which is the consent of the majority, or else it is impossible it should act or continue one body, one community, which the consent of every individual that united into it agreed that it should; and so every one is bound by that consent to be concluded by the majority. And therefore we see that in assemblies empowered to act by positive laws where no number is set by that positive law which empowers them, the act of the majority passes for the act of the whole, and of course determines as having, by the law of Nature and reason, the power of the whole.
And thus every man, by consenting with others to make one body politic under one government, puts himself under an obligation to every one of that society to submit to the determination of the majority, and to be concluded by it; or else this original compact, whereby he with others incorporates into one society, would signify nothing, and be no compact if he be left free and under no other ties than he was in before in the state of Nature. For what appearance would there be of any compact? What new engagement if he were no farther tied by any decrees of the society than he himself thought fit and did actually consent to? This would be still as great a liberty as he himself had before his compact, or any one else in the state of Nature, who may submit himself and consent to any acts of it if he thinks fit.
For if the consent of the majority shall not in reason be received as the act of the whole, and conclude every individual, nothing but the consent of every individual can make anything to be the act of the whole, which, considering the infirmities of health and avocations of business, which in a number though much less than that of a commonwealth, will necessarily keep many away from the public assembly; and the variety of opinions and contrariety of interests which unavoidably happen in all collections of men, it is next impossible ever to be had. And, therefore, if coming into society be upon such terms, it will be only like Cato’s coming into the theatre, tantum ut exiret. Such a constitution as this would make the mighty leviathan of a shorter duration than the feeblest creatures, and not let it outlast the day it was born in, which cannot be supposed till we can think that rational creatures should desire and constitute societies only to be dissolved. For where the majority cannot conclude the rest, there they cannot act as one body, and consequently will be immediately dissolved again.
Locke’s response to Hobbes about the necessity of the Leviathan was that such a sovereign power is only necessary when the majority of the people consent to the social contract between both parties. Without that social contract, then the people and the Leviathan would be in the very state of war that necessitates the need for self-preservation (i.e. self-defense). Locke further suggested that in creating a government, it was necessary not only to determine the specific functions of the legislature and the executive branches but also the balance between security for the governed and the liberties and freedoms protected by the structure of government.
Locke’s understanding of the social contract is paramount to understanding the prelude to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. 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.
When the Declaration of Independence was signed, 56 of the bravest men to walk the planet expressed these Lockean principles of self-preservation, the consent of the governed, and the right to be free:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government.
Upon achieving indpendence, the framers of the United States Constitution recognized the failures of the British Empire in preserving the proper balance between security against foreign invaders and tyranny and the fundamental freedoms that both Hobbes and Locke alluded to in their writings. The Constitution, in essence, is the social contract between the people in these the individual states and the federal government to balance those competing interests. The structure of the limited republican government ensured that those individual freedoms would not be infringed and that the people also possessed rights that would act as a check against intrusive federal power. The Bill of Rights, in turn, codified those rights, including the one that populates discourse today:
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
Justice Antonin Scalia also recognized this fundamental truth in his landmark opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller:
Three provisions of the Constitution refer to “the people” in a context other than “rights”—the famous preamble (“We the people”), §2 of Article I (providing that “the people” will choose members of the House), and the Tenth Amendment (providing that those powers not given the Federal Government remain with “the States” or “the people”). Those provisions arguably refer to “the people” acting collectively—but they deal with the exercise or reservation of powers, not rights. Nowhere else in the Constitution does a “right” attributed to “the people” refer to anything other than an individual right.
From our nation’s founding to the present day, Americans have understood that our Bill of Rights serves as the important check on the federal government’s power to ensure that the social contract is preserved. As long as the competing interests of both the government and the people do not get overshadowed, then no conflict exists. It is this balance that the Democrats seek to jeopardize in their increasing reliance on government power and intrusion into our lives and it is this balance that they seek to tilt against the interests of the people when they seek to control the people’s individual right to keep and bear arms.
Gun control advocates may continue to swing their fists in the air calling for more restrictions until they are blue in the face, but what they will never succeed in convincing the American people is that hampering the Second Amendment will do any good for the United States. It is always disturbing and gut-wrenching whenever an individual who legally acquires firearms uses them to commit insidious criminal acts. However, that is one of the many costs that the United States must incur if it seeks to maintain the social contract between the people and the federal government codified in the United States Constitution. As long as the Democrats and their allies continue to disturb that balance, the less likely they will be able to convince the American people that they should be entrusted not to become the very Leviathans that would suppress the very rights the Left purports to defend.