John Locke and the Right to Bear Arms

History of Political Thought 35 (1):50-69 (2014)
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Recent legal opinions and scholarly works invoke the political philosophy of John Locke, and his claim that there is a natural right of self-defense, to support the view that the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms is so fundamental that no state may disarm the people. I challenge this use of Locke. For Locke, we have a right of self-defense in a state of nature. But once we join society we no longer may take whatever measures that seem reasonable to us to defend ourselves: we are bound to the law duly enacted according to the original Constitution to which we consented. For Locke, how best to avoid dissolution of government and preserve individual liberty is for the people to judge collectively, unconstrained by natural proscriptions on gun regulations, limited only by the demands that government not be arbitrary and that it serve the public good.
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