When considering whether or not to ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States of America a number of the former colonies expressed concern that the proposed new national charter failed to provide enough of a safeguard against the federal government developing into a tyrannical regime trampling the rights of the people in much the same manner as did Great Britain, from whom independence had just been won at a great cost in lives and treasure. Thus was born the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments clearly defining what no future government could take away from We the People and placing strict limits on its power.
After first securing our religious freedom, right to free speech, freedom to assembly and the right to petition government, the framers of the Bill of Rights added an enforcement mechanism: the Second Amendment which states in plain, straight forward language that "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The new nation was born out of armed conflict with what had been the preeminent military power of the age. Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the fact that the greatest protection against tyranny was an armed populace.
Today we are engaged in a great battle over whether or not this firewall against tyranny will stand. At all levels of government: international, federal and state, an historic and epic struggle is taking place over whether or not this most basic American right will survive for another generation. The stakes could not be higher, for if this right is abridged, the ability of the people to defend itself against its own government will be gone and it won’t be long before the entire Bill of Rights is consigned to the dust bin of history.
You don’t have to dig too deeply into the history books for examples of what happens when a people are disarmed and government becomes all powerful. From Stalin’s Russia to Mao’s China to the killing fields of Cambodia, the pages of history are replete with the tragic misdeeds of dictators. The one factor tying together the massacres, genocides, and "cleansings" throughout the ages is that the victims were unarmed and defenseless against their own government.
In today’s America such a repeat of history seems remote and far-fetched. It is. And that is because of our Constitutional protections. But, absent those protections, the course of both human nature and the history of mankind suggests a predictable path. That is why the multi-level battle to protect our rights is so vitally important. At the moment, the outcome of that battle is hopeful, but continues to hang in the balance.
The United Nations recently approved an Arms Trade Treaty. This gun ban, were it to be ratified, would effectively nullify the Second Amendment. Fortunately, there is virtually no chance the U.S. Senate will ratify the pact. Ratification requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and – if public pressure continues to be exerted – even a simple majority will not be possible.
It is at the national and state levels where our rights face their greatest threat. Acting upon former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s dictum that no good crisis should be allowed to go to waste, President Obama has shamelessly played upon the victims of the Connecticut school shooting to advance his gun control measures. It would appear the more restrictive of those measures lack the votes for passage. But, rights are more often lost by a continual chipping away rather than by outright taking. Thus more "reasonable" sounding, but equally damaging measures such as universal background checks gain traction. The debate continues as if the perpetrators of gun violence are going to follow such laws and gun violence will cease once they are passed. Americans need to ask themselves do we really want the federal government maintaining a data base on each and every one of us, accessible by millions for purposes both noble and nefarious? Such a move tramples freedom on many levels.
Meanwhile, a number of states – Connecticut, New York and Colorado most noticeably, have passed restrictive and likely unconstitutional gun control measures. Federal litigation is sure to follow, and many of these provisions will be struck down. Here in Pennsylvania – where we are known for clinging to our guns – new laws are not only unlikely, but would violate Article I Section 21 the state constitution which says the right of the people to keep and bear arms "shall not be questioned." It would be a violation of a legislator’s oath of office – and an impeachable offense – to even introduce gun control measures.
Thomas Jefferson observed that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." While always true, the need for vigilance, and citizen involvement in defense of our liberty has seldom been as necessary and as crucial to the survival of a free nation as it is today.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected].)
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