In the Enlightenment tradition that philosophically underpins the American republic, governments are instituted through the consent of the people to arrange for the security of their rights. All the legitimate authorities people working for governments exercise derive from grants made by the whole body of the people to act as agents on their behalf.
Unfortunately, entirely too many people have forgotten this sequence of authority. They have mistakenly come to believe that the small slice of people holding government positions decide what rights citizens have. It should come as no surprise, then, that the concept of rights has become skewed. This is partially due to ascribing human agency and separate intellect to fictitious entities, namely: the state.
Rather viewing rights as grants from government, We The People must remind ‘public officials’ that their limited, delegated authorities are temporarily and conditionally granted to them by their constituent citizens and subsidiary polities. It needs to be personal so that rogue officials cannot hide behind some faceless bureaucracy or committee.
Saying “Washington DC” does this, or “the police” do that, neglects the fact that these governmental institutions are composed of people with the same rights as, and no more than, any other human being. Remember, that the Enlightenment tradition, as well as the Declaration of Independence, affirms that all human beings are created equal and endowed with the same inalienable rights.
While every sentient being is bestowed with unique qualities and characteristics, everyone is ideally viewed as equal under the law. The realm of justice, and the governments created to pursue justice, must view every human being as equal with no one above or below the uniform standards of law.
Some people are entrusted with certain authorities by the rest of the population in a given political jurisdiction, yet any and all authority they exercise cannot exceed that which any one person can give. This means that people in government act on behalf of their constituents, acting in their stead, to provide security and justice services, through the division of labor, so that non-public sector people can concentrate on other, more productive, things.
Yet, in so doing, those acting in the name of government only possess the same level of authority that any other citizen could exercise on their own. Those holding public office do not, ideally, elevate above the equality principle in matters of law, security, or justice. If a private citizen cannot impose their will on others, neither can a citizen holding public office.
Even if a whole group of people agree on a proposal, if it is not within the delegated purview of public officials, they are violating the scope of their office and those people should be charged with abusing their authority. The will of the majority is of no consequence when it contradicts the rights of individuals. This is the key difference between a democracy and a republic.
Democracy is mob rule, a government carrying into effect whatever is popular. Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner, as Benjamin Franklin is famously known to have quipped. So long as 51% of the population agree, anything goes, regardless of what it means to the other 49%. This is why democracy is anathema to constitutional order, it was what the US Constitution was established to prevent.
A republic is a government whose authority is circumscribed to handle only those things truly of a public nature, meaning the collective security and justice needs held in common by all the members of a political body. The American republic was specifically designed to prevent democracy from undermining the rule of law throughout a federation of cooperating polities.
To begin making exceptions to the equality principle for a subset of the population, more specifically those employed in government, opens up a slippery slope on the road to serfdom and evinces a design to reduce every other citizen to absolute despotism.
To protect fundamental, inalienable rights requires strict adherence to principles. Former Senator Barry Goldwater rightly pointed out that tolerating tyranny is no virtue, and that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in the pursuit of justice is exactly how aspiring tyrants have taken consecutive increments toward the sorry state of affairs the American rights to keep and bear arms is presently in.
Compromising on principle only leads to rights destruction. Licensing schemes, restrictions on places where people can carry firearms (especially on private property) and limitations on the types of arms that can be legally owned by citizens are all illustrations of where compromise has led.
The overwhelming erosion of the right to keep and bear arms has come through entirely too much compromise, foremost, in the exercise of self-government. Remember, the Second Amendment is for the security of a free state, not merely self-defense (and it is not for ‘just in case’ governmental actors turn tyrannical. Instead, the right to keep and bear arms is an essential prerequisite for We The People to actively secure a free state by directly ‘executing the law, repelling invasions, and suppressing insurrections.)
Human beings enter into society to thrive, not just survive, through the division of labor and social cooperation. People outsource some security functions to specialists so that they can engage in greater productivity. We delegate some tasks to people that hold public offices to coordinate security and justice.
Public office holders can never exceed the authority any regular citizen has to delegate. No citizen has the right to tell another what they can and cannot own or what they can or cannot consume so long as it does not create what economists call a “negative externality”, to impose a cost on anyone else. This another way of expressing equality under the law. Everyone’s freedom is naturally constrained by the equal liberty of everyone else.
The problem of ensuring equal justice is in the way political manipulation and bureaucratic management undermines the equal justice under law principle. The very nature of granting a monopoly on security and justice to the political caste imposes a tremendous cost on every other citizen. Public officials may be necessary to administer day-to-day governmental functions, yet the ultimate power to enforce the law needs to remain in the hands of We The People, that is why the right to keep and bear arms is necessary to the security of a free state.
Keeping and bearing arms imposes no costs to anyone else, however. This is true for every other inanimate object. Arms are not inherently dangerous as some fear mongers like to claim. Quite the contrary, a citizenry armed, organized, and disciplined in the martial arts, as the Constitution deems necessary, creates a positive externality where criminal behavior, as well as governmental mischief, is discouraged.
Such an environment promotes human flourishing because people secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, free from interference and encroachment, can fully exercise their talents and creativity.
Keeping this in mind is how to maintain equality under the law while recognizing inalienable rights as inherent to the essence of each individual. Governments are only constituted through consent of the people to secure their rights, and a foundational component to maintaining that constitutional order is “arms” employed by an engaged citizenry.