By Stephen Smoot
“Then, in their presence and a common assembly of those men, they shall have read this assize regarding the possession of arms, and they shall have that men swear to have arms according to the value of the aforesaid chattels or rents and to keep them for the service of the lord king according to this aforesaid assize, under the command of and in fealty to the lord king Henry and his kingdom.”
This came from the Assize of Arms, issued in 1181 by King Henry II Plantagenet of England. Like many other aspects of his reign, such as trial by jury and representative government, this served as a seed for what the Founding Fathers would later consider to be “unalienable rights.”
Henry II faced threats from the French across the Channel and their friends in Scotland to the north. He, however, was not a rich king of a wealthy land, so he ordered his subjects to be armed so as to protect the realm from invasion and conquest.
The King knew full well it was possible because his great-grandfather had done it 115 years before.
His Assize of Arms in the short term made necessary the evolution of representative government in the form of Parliament. Not even a King can have an armed population of free men and not listen, and sometimes conform, to their views on how to govern.
In the long term, his example taught England, Britain, then the lands that would form the United States of America, that an armed population represented a crucial line of defense. Along the way, the example of King John, then the Stuart kings Charles I and James II taught that the people may also have to fight to protect their rights against domestic tyranny.
George Washington, in his 1790 address to Congress, stated “A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent on others for essential, particularly for military, supplies.”
“To disarm the people,” said George Mason, “is the most effectual way to enslave them.”
Jefferson, Madison, Mason, and others saw “the right to keep and bear arms” as a guarantor of security against tyranny. Washington thought more about an armed population’s utility in national defense, which was why he pushed for a set of militia acts during his time in office. Both ideas were correct and have become the basis of the Second Amendment.
Many in recent years have argued that both ideals have grown obsolete. Joe Biden repeatedly has argued, bizarrely when one thinks of the Vietnam and Afghan Wars, that combatants with small arms cannot defeat a government with fighter jets and nuclear weapons. Others contest the idea that America needs to worry about an invasion, so the need for armed citizens is a moot point.
Hamas shattered a lot of illusions last week, including the notion that an invasion must necessarily follow a conventional design.
They counted on the fact that Israeli weapon ownership hovers around two percent.
That fact was already changing. As the Israeli news outlet Haaretz reported last February, “Following a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that his government will loosen restrictions on private gun ownership in Israel and expand the licensing of weapons for thousands of civilians.”
It added that, “Netanyahu mentioned examples in which armed citizens or off-duty soldiers used their weapons to stop terrorists.”
According to Gallup, one third of Americans own at least one gun and almost half live in households with guns. The actual percentages are likely much higher. The exact number of privately held firearms is at least 400 million and, also, likely much higher.
Another hard fact is that the Israeli Defense Force, one of the best fighting militaries on Earth, took several hours to respond to the invasion of their territory. Hamas overran defenseless border towns, sweeping aside lightly armed police. They systematically went house to house to take prisoners. They subjected women to rape as a weapon of war. They decapitated infants as they moved deeper into Israeli territory.
Americans are right, especially with the broken border system, to worry about something similar happening. Also right is the fact that Americans are better prepared to resist such an invasion, should it occur – and that widespread gun ownership would effectively defend against, and hopefully deter, such an attack.
The Second Amendment is alive and well. And thank goodness for that.