“Our Founding Documents are products of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason and the Reformation, all of which pose a question: How can we live together without killing each other? We must have a commitment to interaction with peoplem we disagree with.” says Professor Matthew Filner. How is this accomplished?
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE: “The Declaration iof Independence is the greatest statement of democratic principles.” says Propfessor Filner. It is an “aspirational vision, where all have natural rights, a fundamental equality, and where government is limited by your consent, not authoritarian.”
“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men [people], cleaving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
It is important to be truthful. In early American history, the men, the White men, held the social and political power. This meant the exclusion of slaves, Native Americans, and also women and children to some degrees. Thankfully, our nation has evolved to include ALL races, ALL genders, ALL ages though not without strains and incompleteness.
Therefore, let us begin with “We”. “We” means everyone is given the inclusive “equal”, “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” This means gun owners (GO) and non-gun owners (NGO). The rights of BOTH are granted, limited and focused by the moral norms of equality, life, liberty and happiness (ELLH). GO and NGO are granted a mandated responsibility for each other’s well-being. Both have a national and community responsibility for each other. Both give consent. Both are governed. Liberty is not everyone doing whatever they choose, whenever they choose and however they choose. John Locke says, “Liberty is not license.” George Wahington declares “Natural liberty has to be balanced with everyone else’s.” Thomas Hobbes declares “Freedom where unconstrained, is a war of all against all.” Gun ownership is not a given blank check. We are accountable to each other for each others’ well-being. Government provides the rights and means to make us accountable to each other for the sake of each other. ALL people give consent so that ALL people can live equally, with the right of LLH.
REFLECTIONS: How can GOs and NGOs work together to assure LLH? If in our democracy the people give consent to the governed, what are fair and just consents?
THE PREAMBLE TO THE CONSTITUTION: “The constitution is an attempt to put a fence around freedom” says Professor Filner. Freedom is ensured by constraining freedom. The Preamble puts limits on rights to balance the individual with the collective.
The Preamble focuses the purpose of the Constitution. the Preamble provides the overview of our nation’s character in succinct language. All that follows is a reflection of the Preamble.
“We the people” commences our character. Again, note the pronoun “We”. The United States is one people in all our diversity. “We the people” is the visionary call. This means GO and NGO. We are equal.
We are called to “establish justice”. Justice means fairness for all people, GO and NGO. All have rights. WE/Both are called to “ensure domestic tranquility”. All people have a right to tranquil and peaceful lives, GO and NGO. The Preamble calls for a “common defense”. The government is to provide an armed force to protect the country. Guns have a positive purpose for use by the state. The Preamble calls for the “promotion of the general welfare”. All people are to be valued and nurtured, to include GO and NGO. The Preamble calls the nation to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and those who follow”. GO and NGO each have a liberty, a freedom to live. The Preamble commits our nation to equal rights and privileges for ALL, GO and NGO. The guiding principle is LIFE and WELL-BEING for ALL.
REFLECTIONS: What does the Preamble imply about gun possession and use? How does rthe Preamble address individual rights? What is a fair balance between individual rights anad the common good?
THE SECOND AMANDMENT: the Second Amendment states: “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.”
It is clear, the intent of the Second Amendment was to create and support state militias. To quote Jack Anderson, a Mormon and hardly a “Lefty”, the militia “was a body of citizens enrolled for discipline as a militia for to act in emergencies.” Militia members were required to attend periodic drills and training. A record was kept of the number and ownership of guns. Anderson continues, “Our Founding Fathers were hardened by the fires of revolution, and they knew the dangers of concentrating guns in the hands of a federal army.” So, states were given the right to form militias. “The Second Amendment is a limitation on the power of Congress.” Anderson asks, “Where does the supposed right end? . . . bazookas, anti-aircraft missile launchers? Artillery? Atomic bombs?”
According to Igor Volsky in his book GUNS DOWN, militias were also utilized to control slaves and to strip Native Americans from their land. Significantly, “Militias were made-up of white male landowners.” The purpose of militias was to keep order, control and conquer. Volsky agrees with Anderson, saying “The Founders were concerned about protecting the militias from the dangers of a centralized standing army.” National power was to be distributed throughout the states and not centralized. Furthermore, Volsky writes, “[The Second Amendment] was not about the politics of rugged individualism or a God-given right to own as many firearms as possible.”
Gun ownership must also be seen in the context of the United States being a young and frontier nation. People needed the ability and right to protect themselves and provide food for their families.
The picture of gun ownership and use must be seen in the TOTAL context of the need for militias, slave control, Native American domination, personal food gathering and protection. ALL factors are in play. There are personal and political reasons for gun ownwership and use. Former Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote, “[The Second Amendment] has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud . . . I have ever seen in my lifetime.” He called the “individual rights theory” a fraud.
Yet, individuals do have the right to own and use guns. In 2008, in the District of Columbia v. Heller, Supreme Court decision, the court said an individual had the right to own a firearm in his houise for protection. Still, there were limitations. Writing for the majority, Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia stated, “[Individual firearm ownership] was not an absolute right, that the government can Constitutionally ban certain individuals from possessing firearms. It can prohibit the carrying of firearms in schools or government buildings, impose restrictions on their sale and prohibit the availability of ‘particularly dangerous and unusual weapons.'” In addition, “[Owning and carrying a weapon] is not unlimited . . . . not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” It is clear that Anderson, Volsky, Burger and Scalia agree on the validity of RIGHTS with RESTRICTIONS sand RESPONSIBILITIES.
Finally, Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin, agreeing with Anderson and Volsky, write that militias were necessary because the United States did not have a standing army. Furthermore, ” . . . White gun extremists once fought for strict gun control when it came to Native Americans and African Americans owning guns . . . devising rules ‘ . . . written by White men for White men.'” White men were granted the power of the gun. Racial discrimination was a significant factor in writing the Second Amendment.
“Liberty” and “Freedom” are words frequently shouted to defend the individual right to own firearms. But these words need a deeper dive and tempering. One of the Founding Fathers and early President, James Madison, wrote, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, as well as by abuse of power.” Let us also remember the words of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and George Washington. It is fair to suggest that many gun activists insist on the right to purchase guns, carry guns and use guns with nary a limitation. Why this passion? A GO said, “It’s a step!”, that any law restricting gun rights is a step for the government to to oppress us by taking away our guns. In short, we will lose our freedom. But there is a truth that when someone brings guns into my space, my individual rights are being violated. Too often, guns are used as a way of preventing others from exercising their rights.
As American patriots, we must see the big picture and recognize the Second Amendment does not exist by itself, but exists within the spirit and parameters of our Founding Documents which focus on the rights, intentions and responsibilities of ALL and for ALL, GO and NGO, necessitating the continued conversation about how to balance individual rights and the common good with “We the people”.
REFLECTIONS: Reading the above, what did you learn? Gun owners, does this writing prevent you from buying and using a weapon? Non-gun owners, does this writing make you feel safer? For both GO and NGO, is this writing fair? Do Universal Background checks and Red Flag Laws violate the intent of our Founding Documents? What gun laws are consistent with the founding Documents? Is the cry for “Freedom!” and “Liberty!” for gun rights fair or unfair? What is a right balance between individual rights and the common good?