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Ukraine Grants Citizens the Right to Bear Arms—Hours Before Putin’s Invasion

The right to bear arms has always been about liberty, and many are beginning to see in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine.

Image Credit: World Economic Forum | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Russian soldiers flooded into Ukraine Thursday under orders from President Vladimir Putin, threatening to obliterate a peace that has existed on the European continent for more than 75 years.

News reports say cities were bombarded by land, air, and sea, and Ukrainian forces were struggling to hold ground surrounding Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, against tens of thousands of Russian soldiers.

Prior to the attack, Ukrainian officials took steps to help Ukrainian civilians protect themselves.

“Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday voted to approve in the first reading a draft law which gives permission to Ukrainians to carry firearms and act in self-defense,” Reuters reported.

The 30-day emergency order, National Review reports, would “grant citizens the right to bear arms.” It would also allow the government to conscript Ukrainians between the ages of 18 and 60, “adding nearly 200,000 troops to the country’s defense.”

‘Next Time, Bear Arms Earlier’

Permitting Ukrainians to arm themselves is a sensible measure. But as Charles Cooke points out at NRO, “it’s also a bit late.”

While Ukraine has relatively loose gun control laws by European standards, estimates suggest only about 1.3 million firearms exist in the country, which has a population of some 43 million. This diminishes the chances of Ukrainian civilians being able to offer serious resistance, an idea that is hardly far-fetched, Stephen Gutowski points out at The Reload:

“…the history of warfare is rife with examples of smaller, weaker, and less organized forces besting even the greatest militaries in the world. From the American Revolution to Vietnam, Iraq, and multiple wars in Afghanistan, it isn’t difficult to find templates for how a Ukrainian resistance could eventually prevail if Russia attempts to capture and hold it.”

It’s wonderful Ukrainian officials are finally extending the natural right to bear arms to its people. The only tragedy is that it took so long.

Speaking on CNN, Nina Lvovna Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School in New York, also said small arms could be decisive.

“If every Ukrainian takes a gun, Russians don’t have a prayer,” she told John Berman. “I mean the military can fight, but… Ukrainians are really ready today.”

Ukrainian leaders apparently agree. The government on Thursday took the unusual step of issuing thousands of automatic weapons to civilians, following the issuance of its emergency order.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of serious resistance is low because the Ukrainian government embraced the right to bear arms so late.

“Next time,” Cooke points out, “bear arms earlier.”

‘The True Palladium of Liberty’

Cooke’s words could be construed as flippant, but his point is a deadly serious one.

The Founding Fathers enshrined the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment of the Constitution, and they made it clear that they were not “granting” citizens the right, but codifying what was a natural right.

“The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, explained in 1789. “A well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country.”

As some astute observers pointed out on social media, the Second Amendment was never “about hunting” or even self-defense (in a civil sense). It was always about liberty.

“This may be considered as the true palladium of liberty,” the legal scholar Tucker St. George wrote in 1803. “The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever standing armies are kept up, and the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any colour or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction.”

These sentiments were echoed decades later by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story in Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States.

“The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers,” Story wrote, “and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.”

It’s wonderful that Ukrainian officials finally sought to extend the full, natural right to bear arms to their people. The only tragedy is that it took so long.

  • Jonathan Miltimore is the Senior Creative Strategist of at the Foundation for Economic Education.