BY RD SKIDMORE, PROF. | JANUARY 9, 2013
A commentary on the Second Amendment
Every individual with a sense of humanity detests seeing families destroyed, innocent children sacrificed and promising lives snuffed as witnessed at Sandy Hook School. The argument that reducing the number of guns will produce a safer society beguiles the public, promotes politicians and fails to hold the perpetrator accountable for their actions.
Disarming innocent people does not make innocent people safer. Yet, the mob is even willing to punishing innocent people for the acts of the wicked.
Gun rights supporters assert that the right of the people to keep and bear arms as found in the Second Amendment of our Constitution is an individual right like the freedom of speech or religion, and has been supported by the Supreme Court of our nation. Gun opponents assert that the right pertains only to collective bodies such as the militia, the military, police or National Guard.
The Washington Post asserts as a gun opponent that “[T]he sale, manufacture, and possession of handguns ought to be banned…[W]e do not believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep them.1
Believing that our Constitution offers no protection for individual gun ownership, gun opponents therefore encourage efforts to restrict or ban citizen access to firearms, particularly handguns. Even United States Senator Diane Feinstein, (D, CA) in her forthcoming legislation is planning to outlaw 120 firearms.2
These opponents to our Second Amendment frequently utilize highly-publicized, tragic instances of violence (such as Sandy Hook school, the theater shooting in Colorado, etc.) to fortify their argument that guns should be left only in the hands of ‘professionals’. The ACLU, a supporter of Senator Feinstein, has stated “[T]he individual’s right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a ‘well-regulated militia.’” Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected.”3
Cabinet Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, prefers to abandon our Constitution, stating in a speech given at a Washington DC elementary school that “We have common values that go far beyond the Constitutional right to bear arms.”4
The Founding Fathers of this nation understood that there exists inalienable rights that individuals possess and that our American government was formed with the sole purpose of defending and protecting those individual inalienable rights. Among civil societies this concept of safeguarding individual inalienable rights as the purpose of government is solely unique to our nation.
The Second Amendment is one of those inalienable rights the Founding Fathers demanded of the government they created, embodied in our Constitution; and our office holders all take an oath to protect and defend.
Opponents will twist the Founders original intent to argue that they never intended to allow citizens to be armed with semi-automatic rifles. The fact is that a common error in constitutional interpretation is the failure to examine a document according to its original meaning.
James Wilson, one of only six founders who signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, was nominated by President George Washington as an original Justice on the Supreme Court, exhorted: “The first and governing maxim in the interpretation of a statute is to discover the meaning of those who made it.”5
Justice Joseph Story (appointed to the Supreme Court by President James Madison) also emphasized this principle, declaring: “The first and fundamental rule in the interpretation of all [documents] is to construe them according to the sense of the terms and the intention of the parties.”6
At the time it was framed, the Second Amendment was a certification to protect what was frequently called “the first law of nature” – the right of self-protection – an inalienable right; a right guaranteed to every citizen individually.
To understanding the import of the Second Amendment’s intention to secure an individual’s inalienable right “to keep and bear arms,” it is important to establish the source of inalienable rights constitutionally. Constitution signer John Dickenson, like many of the others in his day, defined an inalienable right as a right “which God gave to you and which no inferior power has a right to take away.”7
Our Founders believed it was the duty of government (an inferior power) to protect inalienable rights from encroachment or usurpation. This was made clear by Justice Wilson, while a serving Justice on the Supreme Court, to his law students that the specific protections found in our government documents did not create new rights but rather secured old rights – that our documents were merely “…to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights…which we were previously entitled by the immediate gift or by the unerring law of our all-wise and all-beneficent Creator.”8
Justice Wilson asserted that “…every government which has not this in view as its principal object is not a government of the legitimate kind.”9
The Founders of this nation understood the source of inalienable rights is never from government. When Government grants rights, government can remove those rights. They understood that self-defense is an inalienable personal right, and the Second Amendment simply assures each citizen that they have the tools necessary to defend their life, family, or property from aggression, whether from an individual or a government.
Thanks for Reading.
Skidmore is a professor at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. “Legal Guns Kill Too,” The Washington Post, November 5, 1999)
2. http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/assault-weapons, accessed 27 December 2012
3. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), policy statement #47, 1996
4. http://townhall.com/video/arne-duncan-we-have-common-values-that-go-far-beyond-the-constitutional-right-to-bear-arms, accessed 27 December 2012.
5. James Wilson, The Works of the Honorable James Wilson, Bird Wilson, editor (Philadelphia: Bronson and Chauncey, 1804), Vol. I, p. 14, from “Lectures on Law Delivered in the College of Philadelphia; Introductory Lecture: Of the Study of the Law in the United States.”
6. Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (Boston: Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1833), Vol. I, p. 383 § 400.
7. John Dickinson, Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, R. T. H. Halsey, editor (New York: The Outlook Company, 1903), p xlii, letter to the Society of Fort St. David’s, 1768; see also John Quincy Adams, An Oration Delivered Before the Cincinnati Astronomical Society on the Occasion of Laying the Cornerstone of an Astronomical Observatory on the 10th of November, 1843 (Cincinnati: Shepard & Co. 1843), pp. 13-14.
8. Wilson, Works, Vol. II, p. 454
9. Wilson, Works, Vol. II, p. 466