We know the obligation of the government, but what about the obligation of the citizen? Here’s where we turn to Thomas Jefferson’s rival, John Adams. And Adams gives us the second quote that frames our constitutional republic. Writing to the Massachusetts militia, he says, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
But that’s not all he said. In a less-famous section, he wrote, “We have no Government armed with Power capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by morality and Religion. Avarice, Ambition, Revenge or Galantry, would break the strongest Cords of our Constitution as a Whale goes through a Net.” Our government wasn’t built to force men to be moral. Instead, it depends on man’s morality for the system to work.
Thus, the American social compact—the government recognizes and defends fundamental individual liberty, and the individual then exercises that liberty virtuously, for virtuous purposes. Or, to kinda-sorta paraphrase Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, with great liberty comes great responsibility.
That brings me to American gun rights and to Kyle Rittenhouse, the young man who killed two people and wounded one during a series of encounters with protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Let me be clear: I’m not going to use this newsletter to adjudicate his case. The investigation is ongoing, and there is both evidence that he acted in self-defense during the fatal encounters, and evidence he threatened at least one innocent individual prior to the encounters by pointing his weapon at him without justification. There is still much we don’t know.
But here are some things we do know. By arming himself and wading into a riot, Rittenhouse behaved irresponsibly and recklessly. I agree completely with Tim Carney’s assessment here:
The 17-year-old charged with two homicides in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was not a hero vigilante, nor was he a predatory white supremacist. He was, the evidence suggests, a foolish boy whose foolish decisions have taken two lives and ruined his own.
If you go armed with a rifle to police a violent protest, you are behaving recklessly. The bad consequences stemming from that decision are at least partly your fault