by R. Lee Wrights
“A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”
- George Washington
Anyone who has known me for any length of time knows of my great respect and genuine affection for the founding fathers of this country. I not only admire the men and women of the American Revolution as individuals; but moreover, I admire what they stood for and what they were willing to sacrifice in order to become free individuals governing themselves. I am loathe to criticize them at all because I honestly believe they did the very best they could with what they had, even to the point of risking fortune and life to achieve what they coveted most - precious Liberty. However, in my opinion there is one glaring mistake that the framers of the Constitution made when they collective ratified the first ten amendments in a document that would come to be known to all Americans as the Bill of Rights. They put the wrong amendment first.
Now, I understand why the founders of our country made the right to free speech the First Amendment to their newly-penned Constitution. After all, for as primitive as they lived by today’s standards the founding fathers considered themselves to be some of the most civilized men in the world. And as far as they were concerned, civilized men talked out their disagreements and only resorted to violence under the most extreme necessity. They looked upon themselves as enlightened individuals, as they certainly were indeed. Reason and logic were their preferred weapons of battle, and the gun was only to be used if both of those failed and life, liberty and freedom were at stake. So, it only seems natural that the right to free speech became the first amendment of ten included in the Bill of Rights.
Although I can certainly understand and even respect their reasoning, I still disagree with the founders’ choice for the First Amendment. Even 250 years ago being first meant it was the most important, and while I agree that the individual’s ability to speak his/her mind is essential to a society dedicated to those precious siblings Liberty and Freedom, no rights at all can be guaranteed, much less preserved perpetually, without the Second Amendment - the right to keep and bear arms.
“Americans have the right and advantage of being armed–unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”
- James Madison
If you cannot protect your life and property you cannot be free, for surely some tyrant will come along, with an army to support him, and strip your birthrights from you. If you do not have the means by which to defend yourself from oppression, someone will always be around who wants to “shut you up” and will stop at nothing to make sure you are silenced. History has taught us this sad reality - at some point the right to keep and bear arms is the “only” thing that will perpetually preserve individual freedom. It is clearly, at least in my mind, the most important right we have and therefore should have been number one in the Bill of Rights.
While we can only speculate as to exactly how freedom of speech got top billing over the right to keep and bear arms, there can be no doubt that each and every one of the framers of the Constitution knew of the importance of the Second Amendment. They themselves were a living example of how important being well-armed is to any individual who wishes to remain free. After all, the various states had been petitioning the king for years trying to get their concerns addressed over taxes, trade agreements, land boundaries, etc. only to face even further transgressions upon their rights.
Even when words would not work, they tried words again and again and again hoping beyond all hope to avoid an all-out war. They tolerated more and more taxes while being forced to open their homes to quarter the king’s men as they resisted armed revolt. No real fighting occurred until British forces marched on Lexington and Concord to take the towns’ arsenals. When the king’s army came to take away their weapons the people rose up and America’s Revolutionary War began. As I said, there can be no doubt that the framers of the Constitution knew all too well how important the right to keep and bear arms is to a nation of sovereign individuals yearning to be free.
“The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that… it is their right and duty to be at all times armed.”
- Thomas Jefferson to John Cartwright 
Now don’t get me wrong. There is no bigger First Amendment advocate than I. I believe, as the founders believed, that reason and logic are preferable to violence when it comes to settling differences of opinions. Dispassionate debate, charged with facts not emotions, should be the rules of engagement among civilized individuals. However, we need look no further than our history books or the daily headlines to see that words alone will not make freemen out of slaves. The only deterrent to tyranny is a well-armed citizenry. The founders knew this and still they made freedom of speech first in the Bill of Rights. Was it a deliberate attempt to solidify, and even codify, the enlightened belief that words are preferable to bullets? I cannot imagine it was anything else. A noble and honorable attempt indeed.
No matter how much I admire a noble attempt by the founders of this country to emphasize and reinforce the notion that words are indeed preferable to war, my own life experiences have shown me the greater importance of being able to defend myself properly. When I was a youngster, growing up in the turbulent ’60’s, I learned quickly that self-defense was the most basic instinct instilled in mankind. I discovered, mostly out of necessity, that there is nothing stronger in human nature than the drive for self-preservation. I also learned defense of self cannot be trusted to the hands of others who share the same natural disposition of self first. I learned that rarely was anyone in a position of authority around when I really needed them. In other words, those who were charged with my safety proved incapable of rendering the service. In every instance of my life when I needed protection I have taken the initiative of self-defense because without it there would have been no defense at all. It has been from necessity not desire that, at times, I have had to abandon words and physically defend my person, my property and my rights. If life is indeed its own best teacher, then the right to keep and bear arms must be recognized as the number one naturally-endowed right of the whole human race.
“To disarm the people is the best and most effectual way to enslave them.”
- George Mason
Originally published at Liberty For All April 29, 2007.
R. Lee Wrights is a writer, editor and political activist living in Texas. Lee currently serves as Vice Chair of the national Libertarian Party. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.