Defending the State?

Column by Alex R. Knight III.

Exclusive to STR

I have to admit I’m rather perplexed by something I’m witnessing of late within the gun ownership community, and I’m going to do my best to try and dissect it.

Here in Vermont, we’re fighting some proposed gun control laws, and one of the pillars of support for private gun ownership that is commonly deferred to is Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution, which reads, “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state.”

Let’s eschew, for the time being, the distinction between natural “rights,” and legal (government) ones. There has, in fact, been some lively debate over this very subject on STR of late, both here, and here. It is enough for my present purposes to stick with the rest of the language contained in this article. That I have a “right” to defend myself – however one might want to interpret that; including “If I’m attacked, I’m going to defend myself with a weapon” -- should go without saying (and yes, I realize in some places and circumstances there are those who have the arrogant temerity to call something even this elemental into question). But regardless, why would I ever want to defend the state?

Perhaps we ought to define what “the state” is – at the very least, as it relates to the constitutional article in question. Does it refer to territory? Does, for example, The State of Vermont vs. John Doe signify that the ground itself has brought charges or some other form of legal action against Mr. Doe?

Oh, “The State of Vermont,” rather, means the general human population of the arbitrary geographical region known and referred to as Vermont? Well, if that’s true, then it renders the language of Article 16 somewhat redundant, doesn’t it? Why say the same thing twice, after all . . . unless “the state” signifies something other than the ground or the general human population?

In any action by a government court, the lawyer in a black robe (judge), opposing lawyer in a suit and tie (district attorney), and arresting or fine-issuing armed enforcer (cop), all claim to “represent the state.” Well, okay, who or what exactly do they claim to “represent” that in turn seems to have such a difficult time simply showing his, her, or itself?

I think it’s pretty clear at this juncture that “the state” is nothing but a fiction. A legal ruse used to justify initiating aggression against people who are doing nothing but living their lives in the name of allegedly attempting to orchestrate some kind of socio-economic outcome – one that shifts like the wind based on the whims of government employees, and perhaps their perception of popular opinion at any given point in time.

And why on earth would I, or any rational self-respecting person, want to lift so much as a finger to defend that?

Let’s have a look at Article 2-a of the New Hampshire Constitution (since that’s a Free State Project favorite – at least among the minarchists): “All persons have the right to keep and bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, their property and the state.”

This is even marginally better, language-wise – except that we run into that reference to “the state” again (and, we should probably also reflect upon the fact that Vermont gun freedoms are currently more broad than those available in New Hampshire). Seems like the people who believe in using aggression against us to get what they want are awful eager for us to put our lives on the line for them as part of the justification for allowing us to remain armed, doesn’t it? Oh, what’s that? The various bills of rights (again, not going to engage the argument over that word here and now) simply enumerate those we have before governments are even (with abundant foolishness and arrogance) created? Well then, in that case, why the reference to “the state” if it has nothing to do with my supposedly pre-existing rights? Are you seeing any pattern of deception here yet, or is it just me?

Let’s now, just for fun, look south to the “Commonwealth” of Massachusetts, and Article XVII: “The people have a right to keep and to bear arms for the common defence.” Well, no mention of “the state” there, but no mention of individual self-defense, either. Only a “common defence.” Maybe given the difficulty of owning weapons imposed by those claiming to work for and represent “the state” in Massachusetts – who have no shortage of guns themselves – those same “state” employees figure they need no help with defense. Just a thought.

Final thought: Supporters of gun ownership – and there are few or none more fervent in that belief than myself – might want to look elsewhere in seeking justification for possessing and carrying weapons . . . like, maybe, you’re a human being who chooses to defend his or herself, without need of either permission or recognition from a gang of aggressors who can only limit or eliminate that ability by raw force.

And then expect to be revered, worshipped, respected – and even defended – in return.

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Alex R. Knight III's picture
Columns on STR: 153

Alex R. Knight III is the author of numerous horror, science-fiction, and fantasy tales.  He has also written and published poetry, non-fiction articles, reviews, and essays for a variety of venues.  He currently lives and writes in rural southern Vermont where he holds a B.A. in Literature & Writing from Union Institute & University.  Alex's Amazon page can be found here, and his work may also be found at both Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.  His MeWe group can be found here.


Paul's picture

Well, “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the state,” somehow sounds better than, “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the rulers.” Which is in turn better sounding than, “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of the rulers,” which is all they care about. Where would government be without euphemism?

Also, the rulers want the people to identify with the state, rather than opposing it, so government pronouncements are full of language that boils down to wrapping themselves in the flag.

One manipulates people by manipulating the language they use to think.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

So very true -- as witness words like anarchy (chaos), capitalism (mercantilism), liberal (leftist), libertarian (constitutionalist conservative)...and other similar distortions.

Samarami's picture


    "...One manipulates people by manipulating the language they use to think..."

A major reason I avoid the use of the term "right" or "rights" in these kinds of essays and conversations. Definition games, indeed.

Like "...defining 'state'..." I am a sovereign state. Want me to define "state"?

What part of "state" do you not understand?


Log from Blammo's picture

The right to bear arms is a natural derivative of the right to own tools. (I define a tool as any item that magnifies one's capability to perform a specific task.)

A weapon magnifies your ability to defend yourself in the same manner that a hammer and nails magnifies your ability to semi-permanently join bits of wood. While the right to bear arms is explicitly enumerated by several states and nations, because the task of defense is particularly important and somewhat difficult, in essence, the weapon is just a tool. It doesn't matter one little bit to what purpose it is intended to be used. People have as much right to own a gun for the purpose of robbing and killing people as they do to own it for the purpose of rescuing innocent children and cute puppies and kittens from harm.

The *thing* is not the focus of the statement of rights, but the *person* or the *people*.

You have the right to defend your life, liberty, and property--and anyone else's as well. Therefore, you have the right to possess and use any item that helps you to do so. You have the right to own a gun. You have the right to build fences and walls. You have the right to record and retransmit any activity occurring on your land. You have the right to make the notional castle of your home into a castle in fact. And you have the right to own any future technology that is useful for your own protection.

Why linger upon wording that includes "state" when these declarations should be saying that people have the "right to defend lives, liberty, and property, by any means at their disposal," and include for the sake of clarity "including but not limited to routine ownership and possession of weaponry and armor."

That would be as good as saying that anything the state allows its soldiers to do, it must also allow the public to do. Soldiers have scary-looking rifles? You have to let the people have them. Soldiers have grenades? People get them too. Soldiers drive tanks? The state has to be ok with giant privately owned SUVs on the roads, covered with armor plates, pusher bars, improved tires, and bullet-resistant windows.

The very fact that they make reference to the state is a door that swings both ways. Not only are you allowed to defend yourself, but you are also allowed to do so with militarily relevant hardware.

"But your honor, the state constitution recognizes my right to bear arms in defense of the state, and considering the magnitude of potential threats to this state, I feel that I am unable to do so effectively without this supersonic fighter jet at my disposal. If I am forced to transfer its ownership to the National Guard, I will no longer be able to exercise my right as effectively."

Strike the root.

Alex R. Knight III's picture

This may have been part of the original intent, or not, depending upon your interpretation of history.  Regardless, bureaucrats long ago discovered that they could more effectively preserve and consolidate their power by pitching the "public safety" jargon as the weaponry became bigger and more powerful over time...and hence, more capable of competing with and deposing them.  Of course, as with all else Orwellian, up is down, in is out, and black is white.