In the USA, the right to bear arms in the 2nd amendment combines two ideas: the defense of the country against invaders via a “well-regulated militia” and the ultimate insurance against potential government tyranny. Although these ideas have become highly politicized in our time, the thinking of the founding fathers on this latter point was clear, an armed citizen’s militia was thought safer than a costly standing (permanent) army controlled by a tyrannical government:
“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe. [By contrast,] The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any band of regular troops.” – Noah Webster
“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.” – Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787
“To disarm the people…[i]s the most effectual way to enslave them.” – George Mason
Things have changed between the time of the founding fathers and now. On the one hand, the USA now has an extremely well-armed military force, while most state and local governments have well-armed police forces, and all of those forces are under the control of elected civilian leaders. On the other hand, the USA has a far higher rate of gun deaths and mass shootings than most citizens are willing to accept. Whether and how things should be rebalanced are open questions suitable for respectful debate.
Art Credit: John Troiani, National Park Service