In the hours after February’s school massacre in Parkland, Fla., Joyce Lee Malcolm watched the response with growing annoyance:
“Everybody seemed to leap upon it, looking for a political benefit, rather than allowing for a cooling-off period.” As a historian, Malcolm prefers to take the long view. As a leading scholar of the Second Amendment, however, she is also expected to have snap opinions on gun rights, and in fact she often has engaged in the news-driven debates about violence and firearms. “Something deep inside of me says that people never should be victims,” she says. “And they never should be put in the position of being disarmed by their government.”
At a time when armies were marching around England, ordinary people became anxious about surrendering guns. Then, in 1689, the English Bill of Rights responded by granting Protestants the right to “have Arms for their Defence.” Malcolm wasn’t the first person to notice this, of course, but as an American who had studied political loyalty in England, she approached the topic from a fresh angle. “The English felt a need to put this in writing because the king had been disarming his political opponents,” she says. “This is the origin of our Second Amendment. It’s an individual right.”
There are all kinds of practical arguments for the Second Amendment; the general failure of gun-control laws to have any meaningful impact on crime rates (you could in fact argue just the opposite, holding up some of our major cities as examples) as well as the increase in American gun ownership set against the near-historic low violent crime rates nationwide.
But while all those articles are useful, it’s Heller and the Second Amendment that is our strongest argument. We are either a free people or we are not; the primary measure of liberty is the degree to which the people are armed. The armed citizen is the bulwark of liberty.
Dr. Malcolm, hardly a right-wing agitator, understands this. It would be great if some of our pols would heed her words.