The Potowmack Institute
(updated 05/07/2008)

Charlton Heston Speaks
The Second Amendment: America's First Freedom

National Press Club, September 11, 1997
By Charlton Heston

with Comments by G. Eyclesheimer Ernst

Link to:
Harvard Law School, February 16, 1999, with comments.

The great concern of the gun lobby and the libertarians is government coercion. The way we minimize the coercive powers of government is to use free institutions. We conduct a public debate, get out all the relevant information, arrive at a consensus and let policy follow. In his National Press Club address below, Heston rails against the news media but no one serves the NRA's purposes better than the news media.

The culture wars which is the topic of Heston's February 16th Harvard speech is part of the rightwing movement's larger strategy to separate wage-earning Americans from their true interests— interests as workers, citizens, and gun owners— and to divert their attention toward scapegoats— usually moral scapegoats: homosexuals, immigrants, feminists, atheists, secular humanists, gunhaters, whatever. The diversion is away from their natural antagonists in the political economy— Wall Street and corporations— so we can have policies that redistribute wealth upward and the tax burden downward.

The gun vote in the end is not about guns. It is about controlling political outcomes in a much larger struggle over the modern state and the political economy of capitalism. The larger context can be found at:
This is the political ideology that has made its way into the courts without any notice. Other context is at:

Heston repeats the false definitions: all articles of the Bill of Rights are equivalent; "to bear arms" means private individuals rather than a military or state purpose; natural rights are the same as civil rights and civil rights are what we proclaim for ourselves; rules and regulations are a ban; gun owners are abused and persecuted.

The gun lobby has invented a whole preposterous, anarchic, insurrectionist doctrine of political liberty largely out of words lifted out of context— "...the advantage of being armed..."— from one paragraph in Federalist Paper No. 46. James Madison in FP No. 46 was not describing a civil right of private individuals. The issue was federalism— a federalism that is today anachronistic and irrelevant. The Constitution created a delicate military balance between state militias and a federal army. The larger context of the Second Amendment manifest in the state militias was the republican “right of the people” to participate in the military functions of the state as conscript citizen soldiers, fulfilling a civic obligation, rather than leave those functions up to a mercenary army whether the British Army recently removed or the US Army which as created in the Constitution was explicitly modeled after the British Army. It is very far removed from present public knowledge, but the Second Amendment only makes sense in these 18th century terms. The original antagonistic relationship was combine in the twentieth century Selective Service Acts. The US Army became a national militia

The real issue that is not addressed by Heston is, Are gun owners citizens under law and government? Or, are they individual sovereigns, laws unto themselves, in the State of Nature which is the state of anarchy? Do all those guns in private hands, untouched by any laws, unbeholden to public authority, maintain a balance of power between a privately armed populace and any and all government? If this is what the gun lobby wants, it can formulate the doctrine, proclaim it and campaign for it, but this very contemporary doctrine has no relationship to the consciousness and intent behind the Second Amendment. These issues are raised in the Potowmack Institute's amicus curiae in US v. Emerson and Parker et al. v. DC Gov. now on appeal to the US Supreme Court as DC Gov. v. Heller.

Rather than raise these issues, the gun controllers and the public health lobby are advocating trigger locks and suing the gun manufacturers (.../ronstew.html) because they cannot ask, What does the NRA want? The whole business of gun ownership and gun violence turns on false defintions.

Now is the time for redefinition. We are in an election season. It all gets down to a few simple uncontroversial questions. Unfortunately we cannot ask Heston but we can ask presidential candidates who want to be under oath of public office. We have until November to get seriously political.

The DC Court of Appeals released an opinion on March 9, 2007, in Parker et al. v. DC Government. After many pages in which the court fabricated an individual right to be privately armed outside of any militia or military context and struck down DC's gun control law, Judge Silberman arrived at these conclusions:

Registration of ownership, militia call up, proficiency testing, public safety regulation, screening for militia suitability. These are the makings of a firearms policy. Do you accept and support Judge Silberman's conclusions? Will your administration work towards a national firearms policy based on these conclusions?

Judge Silberman's conclusions are not just the makings of a firearms policy. They are a devastating repudiation of the gun lobby's core doctrine that the purpose of all those guns in private hands is to maintain an anarchic balance of power between a privately armed populace, armed outside of the knowledge and reach of law, and any and all government. The gun lobby, led by the NRA, would fight viciously to defeat any legislative attempts to implement Judge Silberman's conclusions. The Supreme Court is not going to overturn them. Judge Silberman's conclusions make the much ballyhooed individual right he seeks to invent perfectly meaningless.

Assaulting Jim Zumbo

The NRA on Extremists

NRA scams its members

The Lionel Show
AirAm Radio's ignorant, crude, ugly,
air waves barbarian
Dear John Ashcroft
The armed populace doctrine at the DOJ
The Washington Post
cultivating ignorance.
Gun Policy News
news stories compiled daily.
"Sixty Minutes"
Failing its Mission
NPR's Diane Rehm
Civilized without Substance.
A longstanding dereliction.
Violence Policy Center
The public health agenda
falls in line with the NRA.
Getting it right but
failing its mission in the
larger struggle
Militia Act of 1792
To enroll— conscript, register

Return of Militia
Inventory of private weapons in
the early Republic reported to the
President of the US
John Kenneth Rowland
Lawrence Cress
John K. Mahon
LaPierre's list

The Quotes, the Quotes
Fabricating the armed populace doctrine
Libertarians, Conservatives

Tenn. Law Rev., 1995

Chicago-Kent Symposium, 2000
What does the NRA want?

National Press Club, September 11, 1997:

Heston: I believe every good journalist needs to know why the Second Amendment must be considered more essential than the First Amendment. This may be a bitter pill to swallow, but the right to keep and bear arms is not archaic. It's not an outdated, dusty idea some old dead white guys dreamed up in fear of the Redcoats. No, it is just as essential to liberty today as it was in 1776. These words may not play well at the Press Club, but it's still the gospel down at the corner bar and grill.

The year 1776 was a revolutionary situation. The Declaration of Independence was a charter for revolution. Does Heston think we have a revolutionary situation now?

Heston: And your efforts to undermine the Second Amendment, to deride it and degrade it, to readily accept diluting it and eagerly promote redefining it,

The NRA's attempts to redefine the Second Amendment have failed as legal doctrine. The NRA might think of itself as the oldest civil rights organization. It is also the least successful. It has never won a Second Amendment case in court.

The NRA, however, was not founded as a civil rights organization. William Conant Church, one of the NRA's founders, was concerned to give opportunities for firearms training to ordinary citizens so they would be experienced with firearms as citizen soldiers when needed by the armed services of the United States. That is a very different objective from maintaining a permanent revolutionary situation. Church was not an advocate of the right of individual sovereigns to be armed outside of the law. He was not an anarchist. He was a prominent member of New York Society. He spend most of his life as an editor at the New York Sun, a major newspaper of the time. He was one of the founders of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. During the Civil War he founded and for decades published the Army/Navy Gazette, the armed services newspaper, now called The Stars and Stripes. His brother Francis Pharcellus Church wrote the famous line, "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus." The Church family today is outraged by what the NRA has done with the legacy and intent of its founder.

Heston: threaten not only the physical well-being of millions of Americans

The NRA cannot win its right to be armed outside of the law in court. It has to have it by defeating legislation that might touch guns with laws. To defeat legislation it has to make a demagogic appeal to gun owners' votes. The threatened "physical well-being" here is a demagogic appeal that if guns are touched by laws then gun owners will not have their guns for self-defense. This is completely contrary to the consciousness of the eighteenth century. Then government secured rights. Now, government takes rights away. My security as a gun owner is to create legal categories of gun ownership that effectively disarm the lawless and the disloyal starting with the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas". That is why we have law and government. The ultimate progun position is for gun owners to decide that they are citizens of the United States, put themselves under law and government, enter into the political process to define legal categories of gun ownership that provide for their personal security and self-defense. The burdens of citizenship in a system of self-government are to make government work not point guns at it. There is no security in the state of anarchy.

Heston: but also the core concept of individual liberty our founding fathers struggled to perfect and protect.

Heston can be relieved that the news media will not ask for a little more explanation. The core concept of individual liberty from the eighteenth century did not include a right to be armed outside of the law. The militiamen who made the Revolution in 1774-76 were on the King's registry. The Militia Act of 1792 required— that is, COERCED in libertarian consciousness—all able-bodied men to provide their own muskets and be "enrolled"— that is, registered— for militia duty. Their citizenship, their consent to be governed, and their duty to serve was registered along with their muskets. There was no concept of a right to privacy or anonymity associated with gun ownership as the NRA claims. The gun lobby's own pseudoscholars admit this when they are being intellectually honest. See .../196gnd.htm and Kates #14 in .../196lrev.html.

Heston: So now you know what doubtless does not surprise you. I believe strongly in the right of every law-abiding citizen to keep and bear arms, for what I think are good reasons.

In the understanding of the eighteenth century, "to bear arms" described a military function. If there is any ambiguity here, let the NRA get the US Congress to clarify the issue. The Militia Act of 1792 was more analogous to the Selective Service Act. See "Conscription and the Constitution". The Militia Act of 1792 is where eighteenth century militia consciousness is manifest. It was about citizen soldiers versus the professional soldiers of the regular army.

Heston: The original amendments we refer to as the Bill of Rights contain ten of what the constitutional framers termed unalienable rights.

In The Second Treatise, John Locke described (§§ 123-130) that the reason men put themselves under law and government is because there is no agreement in the State of Nature on what unalienable rights are. The lack of agreement leads inevitably to "conflict" and "inconveniences." In the language of the Declaration of Independence: "That to secure those rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..." Law and government not only secure rights but also provide the mechanisms by which we decide what are the unalienable rights that are going to be secured as "civil rights." Civil rights and unalienable rights can overlap but they are not the same things. Civil rights are certainly not matters of private proclamation.

Heston: These rights are ranked in random order and are linked by their essential equality. The Bill of Rights came to us with blinders on. It doesn't recognize color, or class, or wealth. It protects not just the rights of actors, or editors, or reporters, but extends even to those we love to hate.

In September, 1994, William Shepard, Republican candidate for governor in Maryland (who lost in the primary), a graduate of Harvard Law School, responded without challenge to a question about the Second Amendment on a WAMU call-in show, that the Bill of Rights is not an a la carte menu we can pick and choose from. Heston would agree, but it just so happens that that is exactly how the Supreme Court has treated the Bill of Rights. The Supreme Court has distinguished between fundamental rights and not so fundamental rights. The Second Amendment has not been granted fundamental status. A good concise source on this is "Rights and the States" by Stefan Tahmassebi in the American Rifleman, April, 1991. Heston may not read the American Rifleman, but the rest of us can. Heston may have blinders on but the Supreme Court does not. We do not decide our own "unalienable rights" and just call up government to demand that they be enforced them the way we define them.

Heston: That's why the most heinous criminals have rights until they are convicted of a crime.

So we give every individual regardless of qualifications absolute freedom to own any lethal weaponry he or she wants without restriction or question and we give a code of ethics. There can be no just powers of government, no prior restraint, no principle of regulation before the fact of the use of lethal force that would infringe on individual sovereignty. When the code of ethics we impose draconian punishment as example. This formula is a prescription for authoritarian justice.

Heston: The beauty of the Constitution can be found in the way it takes human nature into consideration. We are not a docile species capable of co-existing within a perfect society under everlasting benevolent rule. We are what we are. Egotistical, corruptible, vengeful, sometimes even a bit power mad.

He is on the right track here. This is why we need prior restraint and enforcible standards. James Madison wrote in Federalist Paper No. 51: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. ... In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself." We create law and government to protect ourselves from the exercise of arbitrary power and the capacity to exercise arbitrary power which the NRA wants to maintain with no prior restraint for its "armed citizen guerrillas." Separation of powers, a Bill of Rights (secured by government, mind you), checks and balances, regular elections established in the fundamental law of the Constitution are restraints on the exercise of the arbitrary power of state sovereignty. The NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" are not a restraint on arbitrary power but ARE an arbitrary power AND a rival sovereignty whose only restraint is what they offer as word of honor and good faith. As long as they are armed outside of the law, they are not governed.

Heston: The Bill of Rights recognizes this and builds the barricades that need to be in place to protect the individual.

So please explain how the Bill of Rights protects any of the rights listed, but we are back to the demagogic appeal to self-defense.

The real protection for the individual is a civic culture of public trust implied in the concepts of The Second Treatise

Heston: You, of course, remain zealous in your belief that a free nation must have a free press and free speech to battle injustice, unmask corruption and provide a voice for those in need of a fair and impartial forum. I agree wholeheartedly ... a free press is vital to a free society. But I wonder: How many of you will agree with me that the right to keep and bear arms is not just equally vital, but the most vital to protect all the other rights we enjoy?

So now to protect rights we will turn loose the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas," an unrestrained arbitrary power, to battle injustice, unmask corruption and provide a voice.

Heston: I say that the Second Amendment is, in order of importance, the first amendment. It is America's First Freedom, the one right that protects all the others. Among freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly, of redress of grievances, it is the first among equals. It alone offers the absolute capacity to live without fear. The right to keep and bear arms IS the one right that allows "rights" to exist at all.

The absolute capacity to maintain armed force unauthorized by any law puts us in the State of Nature which is the state of anarchy where as Thomas Hobbes put it, the life of man: "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Heston: Either you believe that, or you don't, and you must decide.

The choice Heston offers is between false definitions. Constitutional rights are not articles of faith in which we BELIEVE. Civil rights are defined in law and constitutional doctrine. Heston equates the personal right to be armed outside of the law to the right of religious conscience. The right of religious conscience is protected in constitutional doctrine. The right to be armed outside of the law is not; but, we can still BELIEVE.


Heston: Because there is no such thing as a free nation where police and military are allowed the force of arms but individual citizens are not.

Rules and regulations are not a ban, but if someone regards government as by definition oppressive then rules and regulations become a ban.

Heston: That's a "big brother knows best" theater of the absurd that has never boded well for the peasant class, the working class, or even for reporters.

Has Heston now become an advocate of peasant class and working class revolution? Has he reversed roles and become a defender of the rights of the Viet Cong? He didn't get any questions from the news media about why he didn't add in the Black Panther Party and the Ku Klux Klan and tell us how we protect ourselves in the crossfire?

Heston: Yes, our Constitution provides the doorway for your news and commentary to pass through free and unfettered. But that doorway to freedom is framed by the muskets that stood between a vision of liberty and absolute anarchy at a place called Concord Bridge. Our revolution began when the British sent Redcoats door to door to confiscate the people's guns. They didn't succeed: The muskets went out the back door with their owners.

Heston can't get away from his permanent revolutionary situation. In the early 1960s, the Kennedy Administration had the Green Berets studying Maoist revolutionary tracts as part of counter-insurgency training. The Maoists discovered this and were concerned. They took the matter to Chairman Mao himself. Mao assured them it was all right if the imperialists study our revolutionary tracts because we have the one thing they don't have: We have the revolution. The militiamen in 1774-6 had a revolution. The NRA has a childish fantasy.

The militiamen in Boston in 1775 were on the King's registry. When they refused their allegiance to the King, the King accurately denounced them as traitors, but they had a critical mass of popular support that enabled them to prevail in an armed struggle: They had a revolution. The British Constitution did not guarantee a right to commit treason. The US Constitution does not either.

Heston: Emerson said it best:

"By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April's breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood, And fired the shot heard round the world."

Heston just cannot get away from a revolutionary situation. Whether or not the NRA has a right to maintain a permanent revolutionary situation is a matter worthy of congressional inquiry, but we do not have to wait for the Congress to conduct a national civics lesson on the contours of citizenship.

Heston:King George called us "rabble in arms." But with God's grace, George Washington and many brave men gave us our country.

The American Revolutionaries created "new government" and gave it "just powers" that were applied very early on in the Whiskey Rebellion. Has something changed in the past two hundred years?

Heston: Soon after, God's grace and a few great men gave us our Constitution. It's been said that the creation of the United States is the greatest political act in history. I'll sign that.

Over twelve years, through trial and error, the American Revolutionaries created in the US Constitution wholly new concepts in political theory. It was a great political achievement. Under the British Constitution there was a theoretical and rhetorical notion of a balance of power between the people, the ruled, represented in Parliament and the King, the ruler, with his regular army. The theoretical concepts changed in the US Constitution. In the US Constitution the rulers became the ruled and the ruled the rulers. The concepts of the British Constitution no longer had theoretical meaning. The Antifederalists wanted the Second Amendment because they were still rooted in the archaic concepts of the British Constitution and did not understand the transformation in political concepts that had been achieved in the US Constitution. One manifestation of the transformation was that the militia in the United States was no longer restricted to local duty as it was in England. In the twentieth century the citizen soldiers of the militia were combined with the regular army in the selective service acts.

Heston and the NRA seek to resurrect the concepts of the eighteenth century British Constitution (which does not even resemble today's British Constitution) and apply them to the US Constitution where they have no meaning.


Heston: In the next two centuries, though, freedom did not flourish.

The next revolution, the French, collapsed in the bloody Terror, then Napoleon's tyranny. There's been no shortage of dictators since, in many countries. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Castro, Pol Pot. All these monsters began by confiscating private arms, then literally soaking the earth with the blood of tens and tens of millions of their people. Ah, the joys of gun control.

Gee, has there been any other history in the past 200 years? This is the NRA's view of political existence.

These tyrants got into power because they opposed governments that had lost their legitimacy and could not maintain their "just powers" against the "armed citizen guerrillas" who would outflank them. Adolph Hitler, the gun lobby's favorite example, is the most illustrative. When Hitler wanted a constitutional amendment that would make him into a dictator, he brought his "armed citizen guerrillas," called Stormtroopers, into the legislative chambers to ensure the vote. The Weimar Republic was a government that did not have the political will to maintain its "just powers." We have a government now in the United States that does not understand what it means to be a government either. We have a news media that is incapable of raising the serious issues of law and government that were vigorously debated in the eighteenth century. There is no historical record that Nazis ever confiscated guns inside Germany. The strong gun law in German was enacted by the Weimar Republic in 1928. The Weimar Republic did not have the political will to enforce its own law and maintain its "just powers." It was eventually outflanked by the Nazi Party's "armed citizen guerrillas." When the Nazis consolidated their power, they relaxed this law in 1938.

Heston: Now, I doubt any of you would prefer a rolled up newspaper as a weapon against a dictator or a criminal intruder.

When there is no law and government we will need more than a few guns to defend ourselves from the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas." We cannot provide for our security under law and government and at the same time maintain a permanent revolutionary situation. See "What does the NRA want?"

Heston: Yet in essence that is what you have asked our loved ones to do, through an ill-contrived and totally naive campaign against the Second Amendment.

What is Heston worried about? The Potowmack Institute will continue the standing offer of the Firearms Policy Journal to pay $100 to anyone who can get what James Madison was really describing in Federalist Paper No. 46 printed in the Washington Post. The gun lobby has created a whole preposterous doctrine of political liberty out of one paragraph in Federalist Paper No. 46. The words "...the advantage of being armed..." are the most ubiquitously quoted to proved the gun lobby's doctrine of political liberty. They appear in the pages of the Washington Post more frequently than any other words from the period of the founding of the Republic. They are cited in about half of the law journal articles on LaPierre's list in Guns, Crime, and Freedom. The words are usually quoted out of context and always cited to mean the very opposite of what they actually mean. In context it is clear that Madison was describing a balance of power between state government and federal government not "armed citizen guerrillas" and any and all government. When the fraud is pointed out, the next question becomes, What is the gun lobby's real agenda that it has to be so blatantly dishonest to make its case? Getting the facts straight is the news media's first duty, but the gun lobby's real agenda, to dissolve government and return to the State of Nature, which is the state of anarchy, is more than the news media can handle. The facts are left out and when the real content of Federalist Paper No. 46 is brought up to the news media it is dismissed as some eccentric's "particular truth." Just what is Heston worried about?

Heston: Besides, how can we entrust to you the Second Amendment, when you are so stingy with your own First Amendment? I say this because of the way, in recent days, you have treated your own— those journalists you consider the least among you. How quick you've been to finger the paparazzi with blame and to eye the tabloids with disdain. How eager you've been to draw a line where there is none, to demand some distinction within the First Amendment that sneers "they are not one of us." How readily you let your lesser brethren take the fall, as if their rights were not as worthy, and their purpose not as pure, and their freedom not as sacred as yours.

So now, as politicians consider new laws to shackle and gag paparazzi, who among you will speak up? Who here will stand and defend them? If you won't, I will. Because you do not define the First Amendment. It defines you.

It is defined in constitutional doctrine by the judiciary branch of government and enforced by the "just powers" of government. It is not defined by the news media any more than the Second Amendment is defined by Heston. Oh, the oppressive nuisance of law and government created by a constitution.

Heston: And it is bigger than you— big enough to embrace all of you, plus all those you would exclude. That's how freedom works.

It also demands you do your homework. Again and again I hear gun owners say, how can we believe anything the anti-gun media says when they can't even get the facts right? For too long you have swallowed manufactured statistics and fabricated technical support from anti-gun organizations that wouldn't know a semiauto from a sharp stick. And it shows. You fall for it every time.

Right, try to get the news media to do exposés on how the gun lobby abuses Federalist Papers, Nos. 29 & 46 and John Locke to fabricate a preposterous doctrine of political liberty.

Heston: That's why you have very little credibility among 70 million gun owners and 20 million hunters and millions of veterans who learned the hard way which end the bullet comes out. And while you attacked the amendment that defends your homes and protects your spouses and children, you have denied those of us who defend all the Bill of Rights a fair hearing or the courtesy of an honest debate.

Again, what is Heston worried about? He should have the good graces to show some gratitude to the news media. They are not going to conduct an honest public debate any more than are the politicians. (.../397cong.html.) They might have to do the homework, get the facts straight and have convictions.

Heston: If the NRA attempts to challenge your assertions, we are ignored. And if we try to buy advertising time or space to answer your charges, more often than not we are denied. How's that for First Amendment freedom?

Heston wants to be on the platform with his fraud and demagoguery as a credible participant in public debate. No one has an obligation to provide a bulletin board for every advocate's fraud. However, the news media does have a mission to get the facts straight. It can start with the "particular truth" contained in Federalist Paper No. 46. Just what is Heston worried about?


Heston: Clearly, too many have used freedom of the press as a weapon not only to strangle our free speech, but to erode and ultimately destroy the right to keep and bear arms as well. In doing so you promoted your profession to that of constitutional judge and jury, more powerful even than our Supreme Court, more prejudiced than the Inquisition's tribunals. It is a frightening misuse of constitutional privilege, and I pray that you will come to your senses and see that these abuses are curbed.

Only the NRA presumes to be a branch of government and proclaim what is constitutional and unconstitutional.

Heston: As a veteran of World War II, as a freedom marcher who stood with Dr. Martin Luther King long before it was fashionable, and as a grandfather who wants the coming century to be free and full of promise for my grandchildren, I am ... troubled.

Heston wraps himself in the paparazzi and then the Civil Rights movement.

Martin Luther King confronted the issues of armed resistance and armed self-defense and rejected them. The Civil Rights Movement did not claim any Second Amendment civil rights. However, the republican citizen soldier did come out of the Civil Rights Movement. During the Second World War, 80 percent of non-commissioned officers in the US Army were Southern whites. Now, 80 percent are black. In the segregated army blacks did not have the full rights of citizen soldiers to participate in the military functions of the state. Now they do. The gun lobby thrives by promoting an enormous confusion between the right of citizens to participate in the military functions of the state and a personal right to be armed outside of accountability to lawful authority.

Heston: The right to keep and bear arms is threatened by political theatrics, piecemeal lawmaking, talk show psychology, extreme bad taste in the entertainment industry, an ever-widening educational chasm in our schools and a conniving media, that all add up to cultural warfare against the idea that guns ever had, or should now have, an honorable and proud place in our society.

Gun do have an honorable and proud place in our history. The biggest threat to that place is the armed populace fantasy that Heston promotes.

Citizenship is not about a progun/antigun cultural war. It is about the most fundamental issues of law and government.

Heston: But all of our rights must be delivered into the 21st century as pure and complete as they came to us at the beginning of this century. Traditionally the passing of that torch is from a gnarled old hand down to an eager young one. So now, at 72, I offer my gnarled old hand.

The Bill of Rights did not come to us pure and complete at the beginning of this century. It has been only in our own lifetimes that the Bill of Rights had any meaning outside of federal jurisdiction. But, why mention only this century? There was nothing unconstitutional at the beginning of the last century about the Militia Act of 1792. If the registration of militiamen then was not unconstitutional it can't be unconstitutional now. See Kates in .../196fp46.html and .../nratanya.html

Heston: I have accepted a call from the National Rifle Association of America to help protect the Second Amendment. I feel it is my duty to do that.

But, does he have a duty to protect the Constitution from the "armed citizen guerrillas" who would exercise a self-proclaimed right to "outflank" it?

Heston: My mission and vision can be summarized in three simple parts.

First, before we enter the next century, I expect to see a pro-Second Amendment president in the White House.

Secondly, I expect to build an NRA with the political muscle and clout to keep a pro-Second Amendment Congress in place.

Defeating and vetoing legislation does not guarantee constitutional rights. The executive and the legislative do not decide the contours of constitutional rights. But, if Heston and the NRA want to set an agenda for themselves, why don't they get the president and Congress to explain the difference between citizenship under law and government and individual sovereignty, a law unto oneself, in the State of Nature which is the state of anarchy? They can start by working on the candidates for high office in the upcoming election season. Let's make informed choices this time around.

Heston: Third, is a promise to the next generation of free Americans. I hope to help raise a hundred million dollars for NRA programs and education before the year 2000. At least half of that sum will go to teach American kids what the right to keep and bear arms really means to their culture and country. We have raised a generation of young people who think that the Bill of Rights comes with their cable TV. Leave them to their channel surfing and they'll remain oblivious to history and heritage that truly matter.

We have more than a generation of young people who believe anything the NRA tells them. A national civics lesson might educate several generations, the news media and the politicians that individual sovereigns in the State of Nature are free to define and secure their own natural rights but they do not have the freedom to define and secure their own civil rights under law and government. Civil rights are not a matter of personal choice or private proclamation.

Heston: Think about it— what else must young Americans think when the White House proclaims, as it did, that "a firearm in the hands of youth is a crime or an accident waiting to happen"? No— it is time they learned that firearm ownership is constitutional, not criminal. In fact, few pursuits can teach a young person more about responsibility, safety, conservation, their history and their heritage, all at once.

This history and heritage of gun ownership from the eighteenth century involved a duty to serve and standards for responsibility that the NRA cannot accommodate. Gun ownership is an opportunity to teach a civics lesson that citizens are under law and government not individual sovereigns in the State of Nature. If Heston wants to get serious he could outline his lesson plan.

Meanwhile, Heston should be relieved that the White House did not proclaim, firearms in the hands of the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" are treason waiting to happen. Treason is a crime.

Heston: It is time they found out that the politically correct doctrine of today has misled them. And that when they reach legal age,

Oh. Is this an age the NRA will have established and enforced by law and government? Are there any other legal standards we can expect?

Heston: if they do not break our laws, they have a right to choose to own a gun— a handgun, a long gun, a small gun, a large gun, a black gun, a purple gun, a pretty gun, an ugly gun— and to use that gun to defend themselves and their loved ones or to engage in any lawful purpose they desire without apology or explanation to anyone, ever.

But are they citizens of the United States under law and government who can accommodate to prior restraint that would define and effectively enforce a "lawful purpose" before the fact or do they want a code of ethics and a system of authoritarian, arbitrary, ineffective justice that imposes draconian punishment after the fact.

Outflanking this government with "armed citizen guerrillas" is not a lawful purpose. But, wait till they have no freedom to go about their business without being armed.

Heston: This is their first freedom. If you say it's outdated, then you haven't read your own headlines. If you say guns create only carnage, I would answer that you know better. Declining morals, disintegrating families, vacillating political leadership, an eroding criminal justice system and social mores that blur right and wrong are more to blame— certainly more than any legally owned firearm.

The NRA works very hard to be sure that there are no definitions for legally owned firearms. Legal definitions might get out of control and lead to the disarming of the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas."

Heston: I want to rescue the Second Amendment from an opportunistic president, and from a press that apparently can't comprehend that attacks on the Second Amendment set the stage for assaults on the First.

The Constitution establishes three branches of government so that the people can be protected from legislative assaults on civil liberties by an independent judiciary. These protections are not provided by the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas." A viable, independent judiciary requires a viable legal political order which cannot exist if there are "armed citizen guerrillas" running around maintaining a permanent revolutionary situtation.

There is a fundamental First Amendment right to peaceable assembly. There cannot also be a fundamental Second Amendment right to assemble under arms for the purpose of outflanking this government. Governments have a right of self-defense also. A government that cannot maintain the "just powers" to defend itself cannot defend its citizens from anything. In law, there is not much difference between the threat of force and the actual use of force.

During the Cold War, when military planners went to Congress for appropriations to defend against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe the opponents of exorbitant military spending said that the Soviet Union had no intention to invade Western Europe and the spending was unnecessary. The Pentagon responded, maybe so but military planning has to be based not on a potential enemy's intentions but on its capabilities. If the NRA wants to be armed outside of the law to maintain the capability to outflank this government with "armed citizen guerrillas," that is a threat. The rest of us have to defend ourselves against the threat and the capability not the declared intentions.

Heston: I want to save the Second Amendment from all these nitpicking little wars of attrition— fights over alleged Saturday night specials, plastic guns, cop killer bullets and so many other made-for-prime-time non-issues invented by some press agent over at gun control headquarters that you guys buy time and again.

The Potowmack Institute has the same objective. The only way to do that is to provide conceptual foundations for a national firearms policy. Our policy recommendation derives from the Militia Act of 1792 which put gun owners on a registry for militia duty.

Heston should express the NRA's gratitude for these absurd strategies. They serve NRA's purposes very well because they evade the real issue of why the gun lobby has to armed outside of the law.

Heston: I simply cannot stand by and watch a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States come under attack from those who either can't understand it, don't like the sound of it, or find themselves too philosophically squeamish to see why it remains the first among equals:

Or, just too lazy to do the homework.

Heston: Because it is the right we turn to when all else fails.

The right we turn to when all else fails is the right to revolution. The people do have a natural right, a moral right, an unalienable right, a God-given right to take up arms against an oppressive government. Heston, however, wants a right to maintain a permanent revolutionary situation. That is not a civil right that government can possibly guarantee. Treason is a crime. There can be no civil right to threaten treason.

Heston: That's why the Second Amendment is America's first freedom.

Please, go forth and tell the truth.

Please start with Federalist Paper No. 46. Also, ask some intelligent questions.

Heston: There can be no free speech, no freedom of the press, no freedom to protest, no freedom to worship your god, no freedom to speak your mind, no freedom from fear, no freedom for your children and for theirs, for anybody, anywhere, without the Second Amendment freedom to fight for it.

When I see the NRA's "armed citizen guerrillas" coming up my street to fight for my freedoms, I call 911 and demand this government respond. If it does not respond, it is not a government.

Heston: If you don't believe me, just turn on the news tonight. Civilization's veneer is wearing thinner all the time.

The evolution of modern political institutions created a civic culture of law-abiding behavior under common agreement on secular sovereign political authority to which the citizens give their allegiance. It is a civic culture that derives from fundamental agreement on political relationships. The most fundamental agreement is that we are not at war with each other and don't maintain the capability to go to war with each other. The veneer thins when that agreement is lost and the cycle of civic decline become vicious.

But, what is the complaint?
The thinning veneer of civilization is the NRA's greatest asset. It enables the NRA to prey on fear to promote gun ownership and then appeal in the name of self-defense to gun owners for their votes to defeat legislation that would touch guns with laws and deprive it of its rightwing fantasy. In 1971 the Supreme Court established a right to a motor vehicle operator's permit with the reasoning that because operating a motor vehicle was essential to functioning in this society, a permit could not be revoked without due process of law. When the NRA achieves its goal of getting the Supreme Court to decide that carrying lethal weaponry has become essential to functioning in this society, we will know that we have reached the point of no return on the slippery slope to anarchy. At that point constitutional rights will be meaningless because there will be no "just powers" of government to secure them.

Heston: Thank you.

Most newspapers did not mention Heston's speech. None subjected it to serious comment. The Washington Post made note of the event in the Style Section next to Doonesbury. What is Heston worried about? But then his real audience was not the news media but NRA members. The NRA does not want to lose its grip on their minds. The speech was printed in the Dec, '97, American Rifleman.

Harvard Law School speech, February 16, 1999, with comments.
© Potowmack Institute