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Columns

March 2, 2013

What exactly do you mean when you say tyranny?

Given how often the Second Amendment has been cited since the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn., one can’t help but wish our founding fathers had elaborated a bit more on what they meant by: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

This was especially true when National Rifle Association honcho Wayne LaPierre appeared at the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing last month on gun violence. When Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., mentioned some of his pro-gun constituents lamenting that he doesn’t “get the Second Amendment” because “we need the firepower and the ability to protect ourselves from our government, from the police, if they knock on our doors,” LaPierre agreed wholeheartedly.

“I think without any doubt, if you look at why our founding fathers put it there, they had lived under the tyranny of King George,” LaPierre responded, “and they wanted to make sure that these free people in this new country would never be subjugated again and have to live under tyranny.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard it claimed that the Second Amendment is a sort of backdoor “armed insurrection clause.” But saying something repeatedly only makes it seem true, so I’ve been curious about the historical basis for LaPierre’s belief that our founding fathers believed individuals have the right to any weaponry deemed necessary for warding off their particular definition of “tyranny.”

As any student of history knows, our biggest grievance with King George was “taxation without representation,” i.e., the colonists lacked the representatives in parliament to which they were entitled by the English Bill of Rights of 1689. But while our founding fathers resorted to violence to win their independence, they were forced to such exigencies because, unlike LaPierre, they didn’t live in a constitutional republic with separation of powers and a system of checks and balances.

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