Despite the heroic efforts of Sen. Bob Smith to turn it back, the
latest batch of irrational and servile restrictions on the Second
Amendment continues to ooze its way through that allegedly deliberative
institution, the Congress. Perhaps because the gun control debate is now
so entirely drenched in the emotive sludge that is the principal
intellectual food of our political establishment, this seems a good
moment to recall the deep reasons, the fundamental context, that must
inform any responsible deliberations on the question of an armed
I believe that underlying all of the prominent issues of the day —
abortion, the breakdown of the family and of our educational
institutions, the betrayal of our national sovereignty and military
readiness, and the ongoing expansion of government’s tyrannical claims
to tax and regulate — we can discern what is essentially one moral
challenge which manifests itself in many areas. Simply stated, that
challenge has to do with the corruption of our understanding of freedom,
which leads to the abandonment of respect for law and individual
responsibility, the twin pillars which ought to under-gird true freedom.
As a free people, our way of life depends upon certain moral ideas.
As a matter of personal conscience, I believe that Christianity most
perfectly embodies those ideas. But since Americans come from many
different religious backgrounds, in dealing with issues of public
policy, we must derive these ideas from sources that are open to support
from all the people.
Nothing meets this purpose more completely than the principles and
logic of our own Declaration of Independence, so American citizens and
statesmen should make it the explicit basis for dealing with the moral
crisis we now face.
The Declaration is fundamentally a statement of the principles of
justice that define the moral identity of the American people. It
presents a certain concept of our human nature and draws out the
political consequences of that concept.
All human beings are created equal. They need no title or
qualification beyond their simple humanity in order to command respect
for their intrinsic human dignity, their “unalienable rights.”
The purpose of government is to secure these rights, and no
government is just or legitimate if it systematically violates them.
But the Declaration is more than just an assertion of rights. It also
makes a clear statement about the ultimate source of authority which
commands respect for those rights. God, the Creator, the author of the
laws of nature, is that source.
Thus the effective prerequisite for human rights is respect for God’s
authority and His eternal laws. This is also the prerequisite for the
idea of government based upon consent, which includes free elections,
representation, due process of law, etc.
If we accept the logic of our Declaration of Independence, this
reverence for God is not just a matter of religious faith. It is the
foundation of justice and citizenship in our republic.
Therefore, our freedom is derived from our respect for law,
especially the highest law as embodied in the will of the Creator. Thus
freedom, rightly understood, cannot be confused with mere
licentiousness. It first of all involves the duty to respect its own
foundations in the laws of nature and nature’s God. That’s why our
rights are “unalienable,” which means that we do not have the right to
surrender or destroy them by our choice or actions.
Indeed, if we make the judgment that our rights are being
systematically violated, we have the duty to resist and overthrow the
power responsible. This duty involves both the judgment and the moral
and material capacity to resist tyranny. These principles constitute our
character as a free people, which it is our duty to maintain.
It is in the context of these principles that we must understand the
purpose of the Second Amendment, and the duties that it implies. The
Founders added the Second Amendment to the Constitution so that when,
after a long train of abuses, a government evinces a methodical design
upon our natural rights, we will have the means to protect and recover
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. It is very hard to do this if the
government has all the weapons, something that our Founders and the
generations before and after them knew from repeated and first-hand
experience, as well as from a study of history. A strong case can be
made, therefore, that it is a fundamental DUTY of the free citizen to
keep and bear arms.
The claim that the Second Amendment is principally concerned with the
maintenance of state militias — military bodies under the direction and
control of state governments — is not just historically false, it is
also fundamentally incoherent. It would make no sense whatsoever to
restrict the right to keep and bear 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. The gun control movement is incompatible with the sovereignty of
the people, because it aims to eliminate one of the key material
supports of that sovereignty.
This is not the principal danger of the gun control movement,
however. Perhaps more important than the physical disarmament the
government is attempting is the moral disarmament that accompanies it.
If we accept the view that the American people cannot be trusted with
objects necessary to defend their liberty, we will surely accept as well
the view that the American people cannot be trusted with liberty itself.
Why should a man who can’t be trusted to refrain from murder be trusted
with the much more difficult and morally subtle task of choosing his
The advocates of gun control take as their first principle that the
American people are morally incompetent creatures of passion. The
America they envision for us is, accordingly, more like a national
24-hour day-care center than a self-governing republic of free men and
women. If we agree to accept this apparently comfortable arrangement, we
will have to check our citizenship at the door along with our guns.
If, on the other hand, we intend to exercise the duties of
self-government and justice that are our patrimony as free and rational
creatures, then we will need to think clearly and coherently about
securing the means necessary to do so. We must defend the moral
self-confidence of America by reasserting the capacity of our people to
make the most important decisions and bear the most important
responsibilities themselves. And we must retain the material means
necessary to shoot the windows out of the national day-care center, if
it comes to that.
Second Amendment rights are sacred because of their connection to
higher rights and higher duties, which are the very substance of liberty
and justice, and to the God that America has always acknowledged as the
source of both. We cannot surrender our guns without surrendering the
vision of human dignity under God which is our national soul. The slow
erosion of our national understanding of this fact is continuing in the
Congress. Only a citizenry armed with a clear understanding of what is
at stake can ultimately save us from the civic imbecility to which the
gun control movement leads. By disarming, we will confess to our
government that we no longer aspire to sovereignty, and wish our rulers
to take up this burden in our stead. We will be signaling with great
clarity that we wish to be comfortable slaves — and slaves, at least,
we will soon become.
The terrible history of the 20th century should make clear enough
that subjection to unlimited government is not desirable. But a clear
and thoughtful examination of our national principles teaches us also
that it is our duty to shun such servitude. It is our right, and it is
our duty, to remain free.