At a time when President Obama has announced severe gun control proposals, it might come as a surprise to note that Mahatma Gandhi, one of the greatest champions of non-violence and someone whom the president counts among his personal inspirations, actively campaigned for the right to bear arms during the Indian freedom struggle.
Today it is often argued that a large part of the purpose behind the Second Amendment—protection against the prospect of government tyranny—is unjustified or irrelevant. But this argument is strikingly similar to the one advanced by the British colonialists who presented themselves as the redeemers of their colonial dominions and claimed that their rule was the best and most enlightened form of government in the world. History tells us that they were wrong.
It was then that Gandhi realized that the right to bear arms was a fundamental right of free people because despite constitutional provisions and non-violent methods of protest, it sometimes becomes necessary to resist tyranny with force. He made it a part of his program first in South Africa and later in India—both under British rule.
During World War I, Gandhi called for a repeal of the unpopular Indian Arms Act of 1878 that granted the government extensive powers to restrict the possession of arms. In his autobiography, Gandhi condemned this act in the strongest of words: “Among the many misdeeds of British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest.”
In the light of the Indian experience with guns, it is also important to note that the right to bear arms has been associated with struggles for independence from tyrannical rule around the world. This constitutional right not only has enormous practical significance for self-defense but it also performs a profoundly symbolic function of reflecting the tenacity and resilience that go into the formation of a strong and free citizenry.