How often have you heard that assault rifles should be banned because they are not intended for hunting? Invariably, in the face of that argument some well-intentioned patriot will attempt to persuade us that such weapons are sometimes used to hunt. And that is true only in the sense that one might attempt to eat Jell-O with chopsticks. Because by definition assault weapons are not intended for hunting. That is the point of them. The Second Amendment to our Constitution does not guarantee the right to hunt. Rather, it secures our natural right to “keep and bear arms.”
Have you ever heard anyone express the intent to keep and bear arms against a deer? Of course not! Although we as a society have long shielded ourselves from this fact, deep down we instinctively realize that one does not “arm oneself” against an animal with more than two legs. And when the alarm is sounded, who among us would imagine an invasion of ducks? In fact, our Constitution says nothing at all about hunting. It is not one of those rights the founders considered sacred.
The fathers of this nation were precise in their deployment of terms. And when they sounded that alarm, “the British are coming,” they knew exactly what that meant. The word “alarm” means literally “to arms” or in other words, “arm yourselves!” It is a Middle English term taken from the French alarme, in turn derived from the Latin arma, meaning weapons. “Weapons,” according to my 1942 Webster’s New International Dictionary, are “instruments of offensive or defensive combat, anything designed to be used in defeating an enemy.” “Arms,” according to that same dictionary, consist of “instruments or weapons of offense or defense.” An “arm,” in this same context, is “a weapon…an instrument of warfare.” So we can say quite definitively that an assault weapon is for martial combat, and not for hunting. No weapons, for that matter, and no arms are intended for hunting. “Hunting arms” and “hunting weapons” are oxymoronic terms.
Though it should not be necessary, let us also clarify the meaning of the phrase “to keep and bear.” Returning to Webster’s, to “keep” is to possess or maintain, and to “bear” is to carry. Thus, by combining all these terms we can see that the right to “keep and bear arms,” is the right to possess and carry military weapons, both offensive and defensive, for combat against enemies.”
At the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1789 those who founded our country had just prevailed in a desperate war for independence. Try to imagine their circumstance—their frame of mind! They had put their lives at peril, along with their fortunes and their sacred honor, in defense of certain rights which they believed to be natural, God-given, self-evident and inalienable. And so they specified those rights in the Constitution they gave us: The right to freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press; the right to peaceable assembly; the right to petition the government for redress of grievances; the right to privacy in our properties and our personal effects. But what about our right to hunt? Absolutely not! These were serious men. They were not comedians. They did not guarantee us sport. They guaranteed our right to self-defense. But defense against what, and against whom?
Forgive me, but I must ask another question! Over what specific provocation was the American Revolutionary War fought? Or to put it another way, what was the immediate cause of that war? Many history books claim that “taxation without representation” was the ultimate provocation. But is that true? In the Declaration of Independence, the colonists themselves listed the grievances they had endured at the hands of their king. Allow me to paraphrase some of them. Our king, they wrote, has:
- Denied us the right to pass laws for our necessities, suspended our legislatures, and imposed his own arbitrary laws over us.
- Invalidated our elections, thereby disrupting our social order and our ability to defend ourselves against enemies.
- Obstructed immigration, upon which our growth and development depend.
- Denied us the right to appoint our own judges.
- Kept standing armies among us, with power over the civil authorities.
- Quartered troops in our homes, and refused to punish crimes committed by those troops.
- Cut off our trade with all lands other than England, causing us great inconvenience and expense.
- Imposed arbitrary taxes upon us.
- Abolished the Charters under which we were established, leaving us utterly without rights.
- Kidnapped our men, forcing them to serve in his navy.
- Incited insurrections among us, and provoked the “merciless Indian Savages” to attack us.
- Withdrawn his protection from us and waged war against us, “plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed our people.” Moreover, he is at this moment sending mercenaries to “compleat these works of deadly desolation and tyranny.”
Imagine the strain on their patience! They had implored the crown repeatedly for relief, but to no avail. Quite the contrary! Even as they penned this saga of grievances, red coated troops were scurrying to arrest any who might dare to sign their names to it, and the penalty for high treason was to be hung.
But returning to the original question, over which of these listed offenses did the colonists finally stand and fight? The short answer? They fought over none of them! In fact they did not fight at all until, on the night of April 18, 1775, an expeditionary force of 700 British Army Regulars under Lt Colonel Francis Smith disembarked into waist deep water at the western end of Boston commons and assembled in silence for a forced march of 17 miles to Concord. That march commenced at 2:00 a.m. Smith’s orders were so secret that he did not share them even with his officers.
In spite of these precautions, the patriot leaders were warned of Smith’s advance and quickly sent out riders. The militias were alerted, and rapidly deployed to Concord, as well as to Lexington which lay along the route. Someone fired a shot at Lexington, and there was brief skirmishing before the badly outnumbered militia scattered. But it was a different story at Concord, where the rebels stood at arms and held their ground. As Smith began the execution of his orders to search the village, a shot rang out near the bridge over the Concord River. Most agree that it was discharged by a panicky British soldier. In any case, open fighting abruptly commenced, and within the day nearly 15,000 rebel militiamen had converged to drive the Red Coats back to Boston in a bloody and humiliating retreat. That first shot, famously heard round the world, signified that the Revolutionary war had begun.
The king’s secret mission had failed. But what were the British troops searching for? Using intelligence provided by loyalist spies, they were attempting to ferret out hidden military supplies stockpiled by the colonial militias at the urging of their Provisional Congress. They didn’t find much, because the colonists had already taken the precaution of moving most of their weaponry. But the Red Coats did uncover 550 pounds of musket balls, which they hastily tossed into a mill pond.
To sum up, after enduring a long list of intolerable abuses over a period of many years, our ancestors finally decided to make a stand only when they found that the British were engaged in measures to take from them the arms with which they hoped to defend themselves against further abuses. They fought because they understood that without weapons, without the means of self-defense, none of their other rights would ever be secure.
So the next time someone tells you that assault weapons are not intended for hunting, try not to break out laughing. “Of course they’re not,” you will say! And then you will tell them this: “Assault weapons are designed to defend our God-given rights against people like King George III—and against you if you insist upon taking them from us!”
(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Northwest Connection)