On August 31, while announcing his new initiative to restrict gun rights, Joe Biden reportedly stated that if “brave right-wing Americans,” as he mockingly dubbed them, wanted to exercise rights under the Second Amendment to “fight against the country” that had become tyrannical, they “would need an F-15.” “You need something more than a gun,” he added, later referring to perhaps “nuclear weapons.”
Such is a common trope from the Left, but it completely misunderstands the Second Amendment.
Here is the understanding of the Second Amendment offered by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, whose 1833 Commentaries on the Constitution is widely (and rightly) regarded as among the most authoritative treatises about the Constitution’s original meaning: “The importance of the Second Amendment will scarcely be doubted by anyone,” he wrote, because a well-regulated militia, comprised of the citizenry, “is the natural defense of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers.” (Emphasis added). “The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic,” he continued, “since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”
As Justice Story makes explicit, the purpose of the Second Amendment is three-fold: 1) for defense against foreign invasion; 2) for defense against domestic threats (whether “insurrection,” rebellion, or from just ordinary thugs and thieves); and 3) as importantly, for defense against domestic tyranny by the government itself.
Was he blind to the concern that armed citizens could not “out gun” the military capacity of the government? Hardly. Indeed, he expected the latter would be successful “in the first instance,” but he saw the right to keep and bear arms primarily as a “moral check” against tyrannical government, not a physical one. His description therefore speaks more to the character of the people being willing and able to resist tyranny, not to whether the weapons owned by individual citizens had to be on a par with those of the military itself.
A citizenry habituated to provide for its own defense is also one that has the character to oppose tyrannical tendencies of their government. F-15s and nuclear weapons are not necessary if the people remain vigilant in opposing usurpations of power by their own government. (Though having once been in an F-15 when my brother was an F-15 pilot, that sure would be neat to have!)
Think of it this way: On September 11, 2001, a small group of men and women on United Airlines Flight 93, led by ordinary citizen-turned-hero Todd Beamer, decided on their own to rush the cockpit and bring down the fourth plane that had been hijacked that day by terrorists before it could hit is intended target—likely the White House or the U.S. Capitol. They didn’t have F-15s of their own, but they had the moral character necessary to step forward and act without waiting for the formal military—for the cavalry, to borrow an image from the old American West—to arrive. “Some of our greatest moments have been acts of courage for which no one could have been prepared,” Beamer was heard to say. “But we have our marching orders. My fellow Americans, let’s roll!”
Men and women of such character are unlikely to allow tyranny to take root on their home soil. Should our standing army—the greatest, most powerful army the world has ever known—be deployed by “ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample on the rights of the people,” (quoting again from Justice Story), then it is such character in the citizenry that will provide the foundation for resistance and ultimately for a restoration of free government, grounded in the consent of the governed, and designed to secure the God-given, inalienable rights to which we are each entitled as human beings who are created equal.
So no, Joe Biden, we don’t need F-15s to defeat the increasingly obvious tyrannical tendencies of your administration or the entrenched bureaucracy itself. We simply need men and women of character who are habituated, because of rights secured by the Second Amendment, to defend themselves against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
So as we approach the 21st anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, let us keep in mind the character of the men and women on Flight 93, and rally ourselves to the task of opposing threats to our freedom from whichever quarter they arise. “Let’s roll.”