To hear the U.S. Justice Department tell it, there is no
Amendment right of an individual to keep and bear arms.
I guess, then, about 90 million Americans are currently in violation of the law of the land because they are currently gun-owning, toting individuals.
I’m referring to a series of legal opinions submitted to a member of the
National Rifle Association by the solicitor general of the United States, in response to the NRA member’s questions about how the Justice Department “officially” interpreted the Second Amendment. At first blush, Justice appears to believe that Americans have not now, nor have we ever, had an individual right to keep and bear arms.
Solicitor General Seth Waxman, in his letter, cited a number of federal and Supreme Court cases which he suggests proves definitively that, since 1939 anyway, there has been no “individual” right to keep and bear arms. Every case he cited supports the leftist, anti-gun viewpoint of the Second Amendment — that the right was intended to apply to state militias, not individuals.
My initial reaction to this interpretation of our gun rights — which I believe is intentionally misinterpreted — is to say to Mr. Waxman and the rest of the Justice Department: “What part of, ‘shall not be infringed,’ don’t your Harvard and Yale minds understand?”
Whenever there has been a so-called “debate” of the “true meaning” of the Constitution, the one source rarely used by federal courts or the establishment media is the language and words of our Founding Fathers — the guys who laid it all on the line to give us the freedom we enjoy today — as well as others who were around “back then” when our Constitution was written and defined.
Let’s see, for the record, what they had to say about the Second Amendment:
- “And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms …” (Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, Aug. 20, 1789 quoting Propositions submitted to the Convention of this State by the Honorable Samuel Adams, Esquire).
- “The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed …” (Thomas Jefferson letter to Justice John Cartwright, June 5, 1824).
- “The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been recognized by the General Government; but the best security of that right after all is, the military spirit, that taste for martial exercises, which has always distinguished the free citizens of these States. … Such men form the best barrier to the liberties of America” (Gazette of the United States, Oct. 14, 1789).
- “In England … a large proportion of the most valuable of the provisions in Magna Charta, and the bill of rights in 1688, consists of a solemn recognition, of limitations upon the power of parliament; that is, a declaration, that parliament ought not to abolish, or restrict those rights. Such are the right of trial by jury; the right to personal liberty and private property according to the law of the land; that the subjects ought to have a right to bear arms …” (Joseph Story, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard University, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833, Book III at 718, § 1858).
- “Here, let us again pause, and reflect, how admirably this division, and distribution of legislative power is adapted to preserve the liberty, and to promote the happiness of the people of the United States. … Fifthly, and lastly; by the separation of the judiciary from the legislative department; and the independence of the former, of the control, or influence of the latter, in any case where any individual may be aggrieved or oppressed, under colour of an unconstitutional act of the legislature, or executive. In England, on the contrary, the greatest political object may be attained, by laws, apparently of little importance, or amounting only to a slight domestic regulation: the game-laws, as was before observed, have been converted into the means of disarming the body of the people. …” (Saint George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries, 1803, Volume 1, Appendix, Note D).
- “The congress of the United States possesses no power to regulate, or interfere with the domestic concerns, or police of any state: it belongs not to them to establish any rules respecting the rights of property; nor will the constitution permit any prohibition of arms to the people. …” (Saint George Tucker, Blackstone’s Commentaries, 1803, Volume 1, Appendix, Note D).
- “The prohibition is general. No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretence by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both” (William Rawle, A View of the Constitution of the United States of America 125-26, 2d ed., 1829; Mr. Rawle was appointed as a U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania by President George Washington. Mr. Rawle was also Washington’s candidate to be the nation’s first attorney general, but Rawle declined).
- “No Free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms” (Thomas Jefferson, Proposal Virginia Constitution, 1 T. Jefferson Papers, 334, from Julian P. Boyd, Ed., 1950).
- “And that the said Constitution be never construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the Press, or the rights of Conscience; or to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms. …” (Samuel Adams, Debates & Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87, Feb. 6, 1788).
- “The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them.” — Zachariah Johnson, 3 Elliot, Debates at 646 (June 25, 1788).
- “Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation … in the several kingdoms of Europe … the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms” (James Madison, the Federalist Papers, No. 46).
There are more, but the point is clear. Lawmakers, judges and presidential candidates have no excuse, nor any reason, to believe or legislate otherwise.
There is no question that Americans have a “right to keep and bear arms,” and that right “shall not be infringed,” just as Congress “shall make no law” banning freedom of religion or the press, or that our guarantees of privacy and security “in our houses, papers, and effects … shall not be violated.”
What part of “shall not” is unclear? Ninety million of us would like to know.