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What the Founders would say about mass shootings

April 8, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 31%. 3 min read.

Mass shootings would not have surprised the Founders, writes historian Dominic Erdozain. A government that tolerates them would.

The minds that framed the Constitution had none of the gun culture's faith in "the law-abiding citizen": the airy belief that most people are cool and rational agents.

It is, wrote the philosopher John Locke, who inspired the founders, because men are "partial to themselves" and prone to "revenge" that they exchange the heated passions of nature for the settled authority of government.

"[F]or who could be free," Locke wondered, "when every other man's humour might domineer over him?" "Freedom then is not," he insisted, "a liberty for everyone to do what he lists, to live as he pleases, and not to be tied by any laws. " Rather, "liberty is, to be free from restraint and violence from others. "

The French philosopher Montesquieu, another point man for Madison, defined "liberty" as something that "begins where arbitrariness ends"; where "man does not do violence to man. " In order "to have this liberty," he explained, "the government must be such that one citizen is not afraid of another citizen. " Tyranny was not a problem confined to monarchs: It was a gravitational consequence of "the weakness, ignorance, and caprice of human nature. " Men "were not born wolves," said Voltaire: "they have become wolves. " "Optimism" was the sin of the eighteenth century.

"For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest. " Such was "the origin and rise of government; namely, a mode rendered necessary by the inability of moral virtue to govern the world; here too is the design and end of government, viz.

While Jefferson drew gleeful contrasts between the purity of America and the depravity of the old world, John Adams was arguing more persuasively that Americans are made "of the same clay" as other peoples, and that a government must expect the worst.

A person carrying a weapon could be guilty of "an affray" even "where there is no actual violence. " The law, John Sullivan reminded a court in 1806, charges even a man under attack with "a real tenderness of shedding his brother's blood. "

Only Kentucky, in the Bliss case of 1822, struck down such a law as inconsistent with "the explicit language of the Constitution. " The decision prompted outrage in the state's House of Representatives, a number of whom protested that the Second Amendment was designed to prevent Congress from disarming state militias, and "applied only to the distinctive arms of the soldier. "

The state constitutions defined the right to bear arms in terms of common defense and the republican ideal of keeping questions of security in the hands of the people.

New York's constitution specified "the duty of every man who enjoys the protection of society to be prepared and willing to defend it. " Anyone "averse to the bearing of arms" through "scruples of conscience" had to pay an equivalent sum of money "in lieu of their personal service. "

New Hampshire paraphrased Locke: "Every member of the community has a right to be protected by it in the enjoyment of his life, liberty and property; he is therefore bound to contribute his share in the expence of such protection, and to yield his personal service when necessary, or an equivalent. "

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