The Second Amendment Beyond America’s Borders

The Second Amendment Beyond America’s Borders

Normally, one of the first things a conquering nation does to the conquered is to take away their right to bear arms. When the British conquered India, for example, they destroyed native firearms manufacturers and blocked Indian access to British gun-making technology; in the same vein, in Japanese-occupied China, local civilians were forced to give up everything they could use to defend themselves against the invaders. Everything from firearms to swords were laid at the feet of the Japanese, and of course, the people suffered. 

However, the United States has always been a nation that did things its own way, and when Uncle Sam wanted to try his hand at empire-building, it was Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines that fell into America’s lap like so many chips at a high-stakes poker game. However, unlike the colonial conquerors of Europe, who ruled their territories by crushing their subjugated peoples under oppressive bootheels, giving natives just enough rights to keep them alive and working, the United States believed in “benevolent assimilation” which meant that some of the virtues and values Americans espoused through the United States constitution would be applied to the newly annexed territories. 

The principle of the vaunted Second Amendment was one such grace bestowed by the United States to the people of its overseas possessions. The belief that every man should be able to defend himself from the dangers and uncertainties posed by brigands and terrorists with his own firearms was passed on from the American colonizers to the colonized. 

When the United States invaded the Philippines, US troops were met with fierce resistance from Filipino revolutionaries who had just gained their independence from Spain. They were defeated in short order, but the new military government allowed Filipino civilians unaffiliated with the revolt to continue to bear arms. While it certainly seemed counterintuitive for Americans to allow the very people they were seeking to subjugate to hold on to their guns, the results were hard to deny. Under Article IV of the Philippine Constabulary Law, established by the United States as a law to provide security to the natives of the Philippine Islands, any person “desiring to possess one or more firearms for personal protection or for use in hunting or other lawful purposes” could do so after applying for a firearms license. 

I am Filipino, and after researching the history and effects of American firearms policies during the occupation of my home island, I discovered that the military governor of the region thought it was a good idea to allow firearm owners to retain whatever weapons they had to defend their homes against any bandits that would take advantage of the post-invasion chaos.

Squires Bingham Gun Shop Philippines

The Squires Bingham Company, established in the Philippines during the American colonial period, eventually evolved to become Armscor/Rock Island Armory.


Because of this system, deserters from the revolutionary army attempting to attack the plantations of established Filipino landowners would have to contend with incoming fire from the man of the house and his sons. US troops knew that their limited numbers of soldiers, even if they were augmented by a native police force, could not effectively enforce order on every single one of the 7,107 islands. Even in 1900, they knew the individual gun owner was his own best and quickest first responder. 

The disaffected impoverished masses who resented both the American occupation and the depredations of the revolutionaries-turned-bandits turned their ire on the Filipinos of means, who were forced to defend themselves.For example, a gentleman by the name of Pedro Maravilla defended his home with a .44 caliber Colt Lightning pump action rifle as well as several Smith and Wesson revolvers of various calibers, keeping him from becoming a potential victim to home invaders. It also didn’t help that the main US garrison was a five-hour march from Señor Maravilla’s estate.

Filipino insurgents

A report from 1900 details that a Filipino landowner whose farm had been burned down by bandits detained one of them so he could be turned over to US military personnel. A letter commending his action concluded:

"As a reward for his friendship to the Americans... arms should be returned, with the understanding that they were to be given solely for the protection of the hacienda (plantation.)"

This pro-gun approach taken by the United States military governor reflected a fundamental belief in the importance of individual self-defense. It acknowledged that law enforcement and military personnel alone could not effectively enforce order and protect every citizen, particularly in a vast archipelago like the Philippines. By allowing Filipino civilians to retain their firearms, the American authorities acknowledged the practical reality that an armed citizenry acts as a force multiplier for maintaining law and order. 

The American pro-gun policy proved to be a boon during World War II. Hundreds of thousands of gun-owning Filipinos, my own grandparents included, took to the hills to wage a protracted and violent guerrilla war against the Japanese. Thanks to civilian gun ownership, this force was substantially larger than the resistance movements on the neighboring British colonies of Malaysia and Singapore.

Drawing a parallel to the present, the concept of home defense and everyday self-defense is still relevant and important in contemporary society. Just as the American military governor recognized the need for individuals to protect themselves in the Philippines, individuals in modern-day America face similar challenges. The right to bear arms for self-defense remains a cornerstone of the Second Amendment, empowering individuals to take an active role in their own safety and the protection of their loved ones. 

In an era where law enforcement resources may be stretched thin, and response times can vary, responsible gun ownership can provide a crucial layer of protection for law-abiding citizens. By allowing individuals to exercise their right to carry firearms for self-defense purposes, society can promote a greater sense of personal security and deter potential criminals from targeting unarmed victims. 

While the historical context of the American occupation of the Philippines may not directly mirror the contemporary situation in the United States, the underlying principle remains the same: an armed citizenry can serve as a potent deterrent and contribute to a safer society. The lessons learned from this historical example can inform discussions surrounding firearms regulations and reinforce the importance of preserving the right to bear arms for self-defense purposes in the modern era. 

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