When Washington, D.C., decided to pass a law essentially banning the ownership of handguns, even in one’s own home, the stage was set for one of the most controversial issues to be considered by the United States Supreme Court in many years – “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” as protected in the Second Amendment.
The decision in District of Columbia v. Heller later this year promises to be a landmark ruling that will affect the lives of all Americans regarding one of the most basic liberties we enjoy under the United States Constitution: gun ownership. Those municipalities which have already passed strict gun control measures will be watching closely, as will those on both sides of the gun control debate.
The right to keep and bear arms was considered by our Founding Fathers to be one of the most crucial of all liberties. St. George Tucker, an attorney and a military officer who was wounded twice in the American Revolution and later served as a Virginia Supreme Court justice and a federal judge, once commented:
The right of self defence is the first law of nature: in most governments it has been the study of rulers to confine this right within the narrowest limits possible. Wherever … the right of the people to keep and bear arms is, under any color or pretext whatsoever, prohibited, liberty, if not already annihilated, is on the brink of destruction. (Emphasis added.)
Similarly, Zechariah Johnston, another Revolutionary soldier who also served in the Virginia legislature and Constitutional Ratification Convention, said:
The people are not to be disarmed of their weapons. They are left in full possession of them. … This is a principle which secures religious liberty most firmly.
It could be said that a fight over gun ownership sparked our fight for America’s independence. In the months leading up to our war for independence, the British tried to disarm the American “rebels.” But in April 1775, when British forces on their way to capture a colonial stockpile of arms at Concord, Mass., encountered resistance on the public green at Lexington, the famous “shot heard round the world” was fired by the Minute Men who stood up to the British.
Our ancestors firmly believed in God-given “unalienable rights” and had no reservation about using guns, when necessary, to defend those rights against tyrannical oppression. Before there was a Constitution, our guns guaranteed the rights God had already given us, including the right to bear arms. The Constitution was written and designed to protect, not preclude, those very rights.
World history since the American Revolution has only demonstrated that people who treasure freedom also treasure their firearms to ensure that they don’t lose their freedom. When the Nazis came to power in Germany, they tightened gun control laws to help the party maintain control. As one country after another fell to Adolph Hitler’s war machine, he greedily eyed Switzerland for invasion. But he never dared invade.
What set Switzerland apart from the rest of Europe was that, for centuries, Swiss men had been required by law to own and train with firearms. The entire populace was, in essence, a well-regulated militia. A popular Swiss saying warns, “The Swiss do not have an army; they are the army.” While the mountainous terrain of Switzerland was a daunting deterrent to a foreign invasion, the fact that all the Swiss people were well-armed and well-trained contributed to the decision by Hitler to leave the country alone. It is no accident that Switzerland was and has remained a free and “neutral” country.
Whether the danger to our own country comes from within or without our borders, we should never forget that guns in the hands of our citizens are essential to defend freedom. Hopefully, in the Heller case, our current Supreme Court will understand this principle as well as its past members did: Joseph Story, a Supreme Court justice for more than 30 years, wrote in 1833 that the right to bear arms was “the palladium [safeguard] of the liberties of a republic.”
The right to own guns is not just for the hunter, sportsman or police officer. The right to own weapons for self-defense – whether against criminals or tyrants – belongs to every American and is secured for every American by the Second Amendment. Richard Henry Lee, a signer of the Declaration, once said, “To preserve liberty, it is essential that the whole body of the people always possess arms, and be taught alike, especially when young, how to use them.” (Emphasis added.)
When any governing authority like the city of Washington, D.C., decides to take guns from law-abiding citizens, we have every right to be alarmed. In the Heller case, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to affirm the fundamental right of the people to bear arms.
Liberty and freedom are gifts of God, and not the government. The means by which we secure those gifts are ultimately in the hands and the “arms” of the people.
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