The Potowmack Institute

Abusing John Locke

Potowmack Institute
amicus curiae in
US v. Emerson (1999)

The Rule of Law

The National Rifle Association
What does the NRA really want?

The National Rifle Association
Charlton Heston Speaks:

The Founders and the AK47
Sue Wimmershoff-Caplan:
The NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" "outflank", Wash. Post 7/6/89
The Washington Post
Cultivating Ignorance

Guns, Rights, the Libertarian Fantasy, and the Rule of Law
Not Seen in The Responsive Community
Getting Commitment from Congress
The blood on their doorstep
The Libertarian Fantasy on the Supreme Court
Thomas and Scalia
Joyce Lee Malcolm
Ayn Rand, Blackstone
Joseph Story's
"Palladium of the Liberties"
The Second Amendment in Court

True History John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
Saul Cornell
Gary Hart
Leon Friedman, and more

LaPierre's List and the Law Reviews
Revolutionary Militia

Militia Act, 1792
Mass. Militia Act, 1793

Whittaker Chambers
Reviews Ayn Rand

National Review, 1957

The gun lobby and the libertarians have a very difficult time accommodating to public authority. This childish insolence is elevated into the civic pathology that they cannot consent to be governed. The individual right to be armed outside of the law, as the gun lobby and the libertarians conceive it, is the ultimate hedge on the consent to be governed. The Potowmack Institute has made this point to the US Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, in its amicus brief in US v. Emerson. Other examples of how words are misused are given in Appendix I, The Meaning They Seek.

That Every Man Be Armed by Stephen P. Halbrook is the gun lobby's most comprehensive statement. Halbrook provides extensive references to prove the thesis stated in Chapter 1: "These two basic traditions [authoritarians and libertarian republicans] in political philosophy have consistently enunciated opposing approaches to the question of people and arms, with the authoritarians rejecting the idea of an armed populace in favor of a helpless and obedient populace and the libertarian republicans accepting the armed populace and limiting the government by the consent of that armed populace." This is a preposterous characterization of the evolution of Western political values, concepts and institutions. Just as James Madison's Federalist Paper No. 46 and Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Paper No. 29 are abused to erect the doctrine that guns and gun ownership cannot be touched by laws, so is John Locke's The Second Treatise on Government, one of the founding documents of American political consciousness. Locke's The Second Treatise on Government is as much American political scripture as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Federalist Papers. At the time of the American Revolution everyone studied Locke. The American Revolutionaries very self-consciously put themselves under government.

The libertarian fantasy's extreme difficulty accommodating to public authority motivates enormous dishonesty— which may in fact be true belief. Below the dishonesty is blatant and has to be self-conscious. The passage Halbrook quotes is from Chap. VI, § 137 from The Second Treatise on Government. The parts below in bold are what Halbrook actually quotes. The rest he leaves out. Halbrook makes the case for staying in the State of Nature and not entering into political community where an absolute arbitrary ruler and his military force have all the weapons. In that case it is better to stay in the State of Nature where each individual is equal in his natural powers and there is no concentration of political power. The middle ground which Halbrook leaves out is political community under settled standing laws and stated rules of right and property. The political cynicism wants the courts to secure one foot planted in the State of Nature. The desire is now under appeal in Emerson.

Men put themselves under government to "be safe and secure within the limits of the Law, and the Rulers too kept within their due bounds." They do not consent to be governed "by extemporary Dictates and undetermined Resolutions" of arbitrary power. The parts Halbrook lifts out of context give a very different meaning to The Second Treatise on Government.

There is no issue in Locke of disarming the population and no implication that an armed populace is a defense against arbitrary power. The defense against arbitrary power in Locke is settled standing law applied to people and rulers alike. The real defense against arbitrary power is a civic culture of public trust which Halbrook's political cynicism subverts.

Stephen Halbrook in bold, That Every Man Be Armed, starting from page 28:

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