“To Repeat: Repeal the Second Amendment.” So said columnist Bret Stephens in The New York Times, February 16. It seems that for Mr. Stephens, James Madison was a fool.
In The Federalist No. 46, Madison famously referred to “the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation,” adding: “Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” Armed Americans had thrown off the chains of the British empire, the most powerful military force in the world. Meanwhile, Europe’s unarmed subjects continued to suffer under monarchial yokes.
Madison drafted what became the Second Amendment, recognizing that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” It was part and parcel of other fundamental rights of a free people, from free speech to the ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Europe’s subjects longed for an end to the ancien regime and the establishment of a free society. A draft of the French Declaration of Rights of 1789 included: “Every citizen has the right to keep arms at home and to use them, either for the common defense or for his own defense, against any unlawful attack which may endanger the life, limb, or freedom of one or more citizens.” But it didn’t make the final cut. New aspiring elites did not trust the people, and they would turn the reforms into the Reign of Terror.
In the 1848 revolutions, republicans in Germany and elsewhere sought and declared the rights to a free press and to bear arms, but they were smashed by the reactionary forces of the old order. The English declared a right of Protestants to bear arms in 1689, but the Red Scares after the World War I brought restrictions on the commoners.
Having no equivalent of the Second Amendment, the European governments could easily pass “common sense gun safety legislation,” as it’s called in today’s Orwellian doublespeak.
Germany’s Weimar Republic decreed gun registration in the late 1920s, warning that the records must not fall into the wrong hands. When Hitler seized power in 1933, the Nazis used the registration lists to disarm the social democrats and all other political enemies; in 1938, the same lists were used to disarm Jewish gun owners, to ensure that the attacks during Kristallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) could not be resisted.
French Prime Minister Pierre Laval decreed gun registration in 1935. When the Nazi blitzkrieg (“lightning war”) overran France five years later, France agreed to administer the diktats of the German occupation force. That included the order to surrender all firearms in 24 hours or be executed. How convenient to have the registration records to round up the French who did not comply. Laval became the collaborator-in-chief, and many a Frenchman would be shot. That, together with the prewar ban on “military-style” rifles, greatly hampered the Resistance.
In case you skipped history class, you now know from the new film “The Darkest Hour” that the Brits fully expected to be invaded after France collapsed, and Winston Churchill gave his stirring “we’ll fight on the beaches” speech. At that very time he was pleading with American gun owners to contribute their firearms and binoculars to help save the English. The New York Times joined the National Rifle Association in a campaign urging Americans to “Send a Gun to Defend a British Home.”
After all of these experiences, the U.K. now virtually bans private ownership of firearms. The European Union has imposed “universal gun registration,” and Germany happily became the first state to comply. The EU now seeks to ban semiautomatic firearms and standard magazines because they hold more than the Brussels’ approved number of cartridges. All the while, Islamic terrorists from Paris to London run amok, massacring innocents with machine guns, bombs, and trucks.
Sorrowfully, we have had our own tragedies in the U.S. In the latest rampage, a deranged youth who announced to the world that “I always wanted to be a professional school shooter” was simply ignored by a repeatedly forewarned FBI and achieved his media-guaranteed dream of infamy by murdering 17 innocents at a school in Florida. Immediately the canned cry went up to ban gun purchases by — yes — persons not on the terrorist-watch list.
But repeal the Second Amendment? Be careful what you wish for.
• Stephen P. Halbrook, a senior fellow with the Independent Institute, is the author of “The Founders’ Second Amendment,” “Gun Control in the Third Reich” and “Gun Control in Nazi-Occupied France,” due out in June.