In arguing with a Liberal about the Constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms, one frequently encounters a gross misunderstanding of the purpose of the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is not a grant of rights to the citizens; it is a restriction of the rights of the government. It delimits governmental rights, stating “this far, and no further.”
The Bill of Rights was one of the most debated and fought over subjects at the Constitutional Convention. There was by no means unanimity as to the need or even the desirability of having a Bill of Rights. Historically, bills of rights were lists of rights not surrendered to the crown. In other words, for the purpose of being governed the people surrendered their rights, their sovereignty, to the Government (whether King or State), reserving only those rights enumerated by the bill of rights. In America, the people surrender nothing. Americans cede nothing to the state, thus have no need to reserve rights for themselves. “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.” That says it all. It is “We” the citizens who have the sole possession of any and all rights. Alexander Hamilton, himself an opponent of the concept, describes the concerns of the anti-Bill of Rights group eloquently in Federalist No. 84. Hamilton argues against having a bill of rights in this way [Emphasis added]:
“I go further and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution but could even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers which are not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government.”
Those who favored a bill of rights did so because they feared that the state would at some point assume possession of all rights if the most important ones were not set out clearly in a bill of rights. They felt sure that the Bill of Rights would not be interpreted as an exhaustive enumeration of rights, and that the judiciary would protect against such an expansion of government. You see, our forefathers were presented with an almost insurmountable problem; it is the natural order of things for governing bodies to seek to increase their power to control the people (nature abhors a vacuum). To use modern vernacular, it is a “Catch 22.” How do you prevent government from usurping the rights of the people without implying that they have the right to do so? In having the privilege of hind sight, it is obvious that Hamilton was far more prescient than those who favored a bill of rights. The judiciary has not only failed to prevent the encroachment of government on the unassailable rights of the people, they have conspired with Congress, over the last 70-80 years, to do so by issuing some of the most egregious decisions enabling such usurpations. They have failed utterly in their duty to protect the people from oppression by the federal government. They have instead been complicit in that oppression.
I ask you, do we not see Hamilton’s above reasoning in the efforts of some among us to restrict the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms? Has not this same precise logic against which he warned, been used over and over again by anti-gun groups and Congressional Liberals like Ted (the Killer) Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, Diane Feinstein and John (Frenchy) Kerry in their efforts, some of which have succeeded, to limit access to certain types of firearms or, in some cases, to any firearms at all? Are not the federal laws which are in effect against the ownership by citizens in good standing of automatic weapons, short barreled weapons, and various other small arms, a direct result of this kind of thinking? What about the Federal Assault Weapons Act passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and signed into law on September 13th, 1994 by Bill Clinton? Does it not, by its very existence, assume a right of the Government to impose restrictions precisely as Hamilton warned? How is it that a power not given to the government anywhere in the Constitution can be so wielded? Citizens are also confronted by the unconstitutional absolute restrictions of gun ownership imposed by municipalities like New York City and Washington D.C. These laws come about precisely because of the kind of reasoning Hamilton foresaw. People like the folks from the anti-Constitution, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence routinely argue that the first clause of the Second Amendment “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” was offered by the authors of the Amendment as the sole justification for the right to keep and bear arms. And they even go so far as to assert:
“The ‘militia’ was not, as the gun lobby will often claim, simply another word for the populace at large. Indeed, membership in the 18th century militia was generally limited to able-bodied white males between the ages of 18 and 45 - hardly encompassing the entire population of the nation.”
“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man against his own bosom? Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birth-right of an American ...” -- Tench Coxe Pennsylvania Gazette, February 20, 1788
"... who are the militia, if they be not the people of this country...? I ask, who are the militia? They consist of now of the whole people, except a few public officers."--George Mason, Elliot Debates at 425-426
If you’ve any doubt as to which of these interpretations is correct, I suggest that those of the two gentlemen and their contemporaries who were there at the writing, approval, and signing of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights carry a great deal more weight than the questionable judgment of some political hack employed by a biased party (the Brady Campaign) over 200 years later.
The despots in waiting of the Brady Campaign claim that the militia was seen as the protection of the individual states from the federal standing army. Believe it or not, this is actually partially correct, but it fails to go far enough, because it begins with the assumption that the need for a militia was the only justification for the right to keep and bear arms (more on that later).
“The U.S. Constitution established a permanent professional army, controlled by the federal government. With the memory of King George III's troops fresh in their minds, many of the "anti-Federalists" feared a standing army as an instrument of oppression. State militias were viewed as a counterbalance to the federal army and the Second Amendment was written to prevent the federal government from disarming the state militias”
Further and at last they unbelievably assert:
“In the 20th century, the Second Amendment has become an anachronism, largely because of drastic changes in the militia it was designed to protect. We no longer have the citizen militia like that of the 18th century.”
Such temerity by a so called “American” advocacy group. In their zeal to strip all American citizens of their right to possess firearms, they assume that any possible reason for a citizen to own a firearm no longer exists. We’re crime free now. That’s it, Sarah Brady has spoken. We no longer need the Second Amendment. Let’s toss it on the trash heap of history. O.K. Sarah, as soon as you begin walking unescorted along the streets of Washington D.C. and other high-crime areas to prove to me that American citizens are now completely safe. No more need for firearms, we’re safe now, Sarah has said so. Such proposals are so asinine as to be laughable; except I am not laughing because, unfortunately, idiots like those at the Brady Campaign and the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence are serious. In the face of evidence, in spite of it, that police response times to reports of violent crime can be as long as an hour or even more they insist that there is no need for a firearm. They are firm believers in the Monty Python order of Battle...”Run Away, Run Away!” I guess they figure that children and old people should fend for themselves as the able bodied flee for their lives. Well, I mean they believe in abortion so that explains the children, and I suppose they believe in euthanasia which would explain the elderly. So, problem solved.
But of course the militia argument is but a side show, a diversion of the Leftist anti-gun movement from the real question as to the meaning of the Second Amendment, and the deeper question as to exactly how important the Bill of Rights is in “granting” us the rights which we already possess. The real question is whether of not there is a fundamental, irrevocable right of the people to keep and bear arms, free of any government restriction whatsoever. In part two, I will cover this and attempt to make a conclusion.
It is truly amazing that as one continues to read more and more of the writings of the founders of this great nation, the mounting awareness one has of the vacuous and insubstantial nature of the arguments of the Leftists. They truly haven’t a clue.
Long Live Our American Republic!!!This assertion, made by a modern day lawyer in the employment of the Brady Campaign drawing his own flawed conclusions based on his understanding of American history runs contradictory to the understanding of the forefathers who wrote and lived the Constitution 200 years before [Emphasis added]: