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Sen. Bob Smith has succeeded in amending an upcoming appropriations
bill to beat back the latest wave of Clinton administration disrespect
for two key elements of a free citizenry — privacy and the right to
and bear arms. Smith’s amendment to the Justice-State-Commerce
appropriations bill would foil FBI plans to keep records of private
identifying information on law-abiding citizens who buy guns. The
amendment also forbids a proposed tax on gun purchases, and authorizes
citizens to sue if the FBI doesn’t observe these restrictions.
Senator Smith is to be praised for keeping his eye on some balls that
might have been lost in the smoke of scandal and misinformation that the
Clinton Administration seems endlessly to emit. Actually, few things
could make the need for vigorous defense of 2nd Amendment rights clearer
than the ongoing spectacle of Clinton contempt for the citizens he is
supposed to serve. For the 2nd Amendment is really in the Constitution
to give men like Bill Clinton something to think about when their
ambition gets particularly over-inflated.
The Second Amendment was not put into the Constitution by the
merely to allow us to intimidate burglars, or hunt rabbits to our
hearts’ content. This is not to say that hunting game for the family
dinner, or defending against personal dangers, were not anticipated uses
for firearms, particularly on the frontier. But these things are not
the real purpose of the Amendment.
The Founders added the 2nd Amendment so that when, after a long train
abuses, a government evinces a methodical design upon our natural
rights, we will have the means to protect and recover our rights. That
is why the right to keep and bear arms was included in the Bill of
In fact, if we make the judgment that our rights are being
systematically violated, we have not merely the right, but the duty, to
resist and overthrow the power responsible. That duty requires that we
always maintain the material capacity to resist tyranny, if necessary,
something that it is very hard to do if the government has all the
weapons. A strong case can be made, therefore, that it is a fundamental
DUTY of the free citizen to keep and bear arms.
In our time there have been many folks who don’t like to be reminded
all this. And they try, in their painful way, to pretend that the word
“people” in the 2nd Amendment means something there that it doesn’t mean
in any one of the other nine amendments in the Bill of Rights. They say
that, for some odd reason, the Founders had a lapse, and instead of
putting in “states” they put in “people.” And so it refers to a right
inherent in the state government.
This position is incoherent, and has been disproved by every piece of
legitimate historical evidence. At one point in Jefferson’s letters,
for example, he is talking about the militia, and he writes, “militia —
every able-bodied man in the state. …” The militia was every
able-bodied man in the state. It had nothing to do with the state
government. The words “well-regulated” had to do with organizing that
militia and drilling it in the style of the 19th century, but “militia”
itself referred to the able-bodied citizens of the state or commonwealth
— not to the state government.
It would make no sense whatsoever to restrict the right to keep and
arms to state governments, since the principle on which our polity is
based, as stated in the Declaration, recognizes that any government, at
any level, can become oppressive of our rights. And we must be prepared
to defend ourselves against its abuses.
But the movement against 2nd Amendment rights is not just a threat to
our capacity to defend ourselves physically against tyranny. It is also
part of the much more general assault on the very notion that human
beings are capable of moral responsibility. This is a second and deeper
reason that the defense of the 2nd Amendment is essential to the defense
Advocates of banning guns think we can substitute material things for
human self-control, but this approach won’t wash. It is the human moral
will that saves us from violence, not the presence or absence of
weapons. We should reject utterly the absurd theory that weapons are
the cause of violence.
Consider, for example, the phony assertion that certain weapons
be banned because “they have no purpose except to kill people.” It is
people that kill people, and they can use countless kinds of weapons to
do so, if killing is in their hearts where love of justice should be.
This week a 7-year old boy in Chicago apparently used a pair of
underwear to commit murder, because he wanted a bike.
So let’s get down to the real issue: are we moral adults, or are we
moral children? If we are adults, then we have the capacity to control
our will even in the face of passion, and to be responsible for the
exercise of our natural rights. If we are only children, then all the
particularly dangerous toys must be controlled by the government. But
this “solution” implies that we can trust government with a monopoly on
guns, even though we cannot trust ourselves with them. This is not a
“solution” I trust.
Anyone who is serious about controlling violence must recognize that
can only be done by rooting violence out of the human heart. That’s why
I don’t understand those who say “save us from guns,” even while they
cling to the coldly violent doctrine that human life has no worth except
what they “choose” to assign to it.
If we want to end violence in our land, we must warm the hearts of
Americans with a renewed dedication to the God-given equality of all
human beings. We must recapture the noble view of man as capable of
moral responsibility and self-restraint — of assuming responsibility
governing himself. This is the real meaning of the 2nd Amendment, and
indeed of the entire American project of ordered liberty.
It is the business of every citizen to preserve justice in his heart,
and the material capacity, including arms, to resist tyranny. These
things constitute our character as a free people, which it is our duty
to maintain. And to fulfill our duty to be such a people we shall have
to return to the humble subjection to the authority of true moral
principle that characterized our Founders, and that characterized every
generation of Americans, until now. We must regain control of ourselves.
Most deeply, then, the assertion of 2nd Amendment rights is the
assertion that we intend to control ourselves, and submit to the moral
order that God has decreed must govern our lives. And just as we have
no right to shirk our duty to submit to that moral order, so we have no
right to shirk our duty to preserve unto ourselves the material means to
discipline our government, if necessary, so that it remains a fit
instrument for the self-government of a free people. The preservation of
2nd Amendment rights, for the right reasons, is a moral and public duty
of every citizen.
The Clinton Administration’s flirtations with executive tyranny
remind us that we have a duty to remain capable of disciplining our
government if necessary. Bill Clinton’s comprehensive avoidance of
personal responsibility for his own actions, and our revulsion at the
kind of character which that avoidance has produced in him, should be a
kind of horrific preview of the kind of people we will all become if we
continue to let our government treat us as though we were incapable of
moral self-control. And Senator Smith’s successful effort to defeat
several policies that treat us that way is precisely the kind of
principled defense of our liberty — and of the premises of our liberty
— that make him so worthy to be a representative of a free people.