It’s easy to grow weary of distractions in the debate over gun control and Second Amendment rights. One of the most tiring arguments of all is the mention of hunting and the right to bear arms in the same galaxy.
Never should the twain meet, they are so disconnected. The only point of commonality is the fact that both involve firearms.
In order to understand the first 10 amendments, it’s important to go back and remember why a Bill of Rights was written in the first place. The framers had already constructed a Constitution, which defined and limited federal powers, and most state constitutions already had bills of rights.
Why declare, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton, that things shall not be done which Congress has no power to do?
Because not everybody trusted Congress. And with good reason.
Even at that time-long before Communist Russia and similar regimes refined brutal oppression and governmental mass murder -history was rife with examples of ruthless governments that trampled citizens’ rights. Thomas Jefferson spoke wisely and for many when he warned that an active government was inherently oppressive.
So the early amendments to the Constitution were nothing but protections for the people against the federal government. James Madison, the chief author of the Bill of Rights, rightly called them “additional guards for liberty.”
Recall their protections-every one is an attempt to restrict government and its agents and officers so as to reduce the likelihood of oppression.
The Third Amendment protects us from our own military commanders. The Fourth protects us from our own police forces. The Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth protects us from our own courts, judges and justice system.
The Bill of Rights doesn’t mean we shouldn’t trust our fellow Americans in those positions of power at all. Trust is implicit in social and civic institutions. But it does mean that we shouldn’t blindly trust them, and that we should always be on our guard against their inherent tendencies favoring oppression over liberty.
Indeed, Hamilton and other Federalists’ main worry over adding a Bill of Rights was that by trying to quantify rights, the government might view such a list as limited to only those rights mentioned. That’s why the Ninth Amendment was included: to make it clear that just because one right was enumerated in the Constitution did not “deny or disparage” other rights that weren’t enumerated.
Hamilton was prophetic beyond his own imagination. Government has consistently looked to the Bill of Rights for what is literally prohibited, rather than what is allowed. The prevailing view in Washington is that if a power isn’t specifically proscribed by the Constitution, it’s fair game for Congress.
That’s the opposite of the original intent of the Bill of Rights, and an outright and dastardly defiling of the Ninth Amendment. Just as Hamilton warned.
The Second Amendment, particularly, had nothing whatsoever to do with owning firearms in the abstract, or with sport or hunting. It was a deliberate declaration that an armed populace was critical to preserving liberty.
The threats to freedom can come from without and within, but in either case, the people’s right to keep and bear arms was guaranteed in the context of defense of life, home and liberty.
Obviously, the Bill of Rights was written in the language and understanding of its day. Suppose the First Amendment’s free-speech clause was to be written today. It would be a slipshod protection at best to only include freedom “of the press” in this day and age.
Clearly, were we to write the clause today it would be broader to accommodate the changes since 1789. It would likely include, in addition to freedom of speech and of the press, broadcast media and the Internet and probably other forms of expression as well.
The goal, remember, was and is to prohibit and stymie government censorship that could be used to oppress the people.
Likewise, if James Madison were alive today and typing out a Second Amendment draft on his laptop computer, the last thing he would do is limit arms for defense of liberty to hunting rifles with low-capacity magazines.
It was and is common sense that arms suitable for the security of the state must be somewhat comparable to arms borne by those who would assault the state.
Whenever the federal government seeks to restrict any of the Bill of Rights, it’s akin to the fox seeking to redress hen house protections.
Thus it is proper that the citizenry always cast a wary eye when Washington politicians talk about weakening protective amendments.
In the case of “gun crime,” that problem exists and deserves attention. But the problem stems from the second word of the phrase, not the first.
America has had a heavily armed population since its founding, compared to European standards. But it’s only in the last 50 years that we have seen a sizable, violent criminal population emerge.
There’s where our problem lies, as well as any solutions. A sure way to reduce the number of gun crimes is to reduce the number of violent criminals.