by Rod D. Martin
March 13, 2000
If Americans universally recognize anything as sacred, it is the Constitution. We pay homage to it, we quote from it, and we maintain it as our ultimate secular standard of right and wrong. Hardly a day passes when it does not enter into the thoughts and conversation of every American.
There is a core legal principle which makes this possible: constitutions, we have determined, are greater than laws. “Mere laws,” which is to say laws passed by legislatures, are transient things, capable of repeal at a moments notice. But constitutions are special: they require the assent of all the people, through a process that is above and apart from the normal system of government. The Founding Fathers were adamant about this point: a constitution must have a legitimacy and a breadth of acceptance that transcends all other legal and political institutions. And so, for the most part, it has been.
The day in, day out implication of this is pretty simple: no law may be passed that is inconsistent with the Constitution. If such a one is passed, it must be struck down by the courts, because a law at odds with the Constitution is not a law at all. Everything in American political life revolves around this principle.
In light of this, the entire history of modern gun control is amazing. What could be plainer than the words of the second section of the Bill of Rights: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”? Yet today we constantly redefine the meaning. The left forever claims that “the militia” refers to the National Guard, that if the Amendment protects anything for the citizen it is sport shooting, and that government may regulate guns any way they want.
They can say it all they like, but just ’cause they say it doesn’t make it so.
The first question raised is rather obvious: did the Founders decide that deer hunting ranked right up there with speech and religion, and ahead of unreasonable search and seizure? Or did they have something more in mind? And just who exactly is “the militia” anyway? Let the Founders speak for themselves.
The Federalist Papers, that well-spring of Constitutional interpretation straight from the pens of three Founding Fathers, tell us what they meant. James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 46 that the Constitution preserves “the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation . . . (where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” He was seconded by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist No. 29, where that great New York statesman called for an armed citizenry permanently the equal or better of any army the nation might raise.
George Mason, perhaps the greatest of Virginia statesmen, and certainly the staunchest defender of liberty, reported that “when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually.” He went on to say, “I ask, who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers.”
Every Supreme Court decision for two hundred years has stood by this definition of the militia. And Masons description of British gun control law haunts the mind of every German immigrant who once lived under Hitler.
The Founders weren’t concerned about target shooting. They were concerned about defending the people from a government run amok. And they were enshrining into the Bill of Rights the power of the people — just used against Britain — to uphold by force all of their other rights. They were dead serious, because if they hadn’t all had guns just a few years earlier, they would have all been dead.
As obvious as this first line of questioning is, though, the second question is one we forget to ask, and it is this one that should give intellectually honest people pause: even if the Framers had been indulging in trivia, they wrote the right to keep and bear arms into the Constitution; so how can left-wingers pass “mere laws” that abridge this right? Today, gun control laws abound, yet how can any “mere law” supersede the Constitution of the United States? The very thought is terrifying: because if the left can curtail and destroy one Constitutional right this way, anyone, anytime, can take away our free press, our freedom of worship, or any of our other liberties, by exactly the same means.
The left has indulged in an extreme deceit: while pretending to be staunch champions of the Constitution, they have destroyed what makes that Constitution the guardian of our liberties: its position above mere legislation. If they want to repeal the Second Amendment so badly, they should have the guts to say so, and to put their plan to a vote. But lacking any courage, they have endangered all of our freedoms, and demolished the foundation of the liberty they profess to love.
It is time to be honest. Either we must eliminate the gun laws, or the left must repeal the Second Amendment; but both cannot stand. If we continue the current state of affairs, the Constitution will shortly be, in the words of that great gun-control advocate Hitler, nothing but “a scrap of paper.” And on that day, we’ll need all the guns we can get.