Monday, April 15, 2013
Sic Semper Tyrannis?
My good friend, Kevin W. Boyd, wrote this and mailed it off to a number of Senators, Congressmen, and organizations (I hope also newspapers). Although I almost never blog anymore (and probably won't have the time to do so until summer rolls along) I felt it important to post this and give it some circulation. Whether you agree with Kevin or not, I believe that his essay has some definite merit.
14 Apr, 2013/5 Iyar, 5773
Sic semper tyrannis?
Just this week, Senator Cruz reiterated his vow to “protect our 2nd Amendment rights” by opposing, among other things, a national gun registry (which of course is a misnomer, it is the owners that would be “registered”). His words were a clarion, clearing the fog of battle rather than summoning one; American citizens have been crafting tactics in the fight over gun control while adhering to a faulty strategy. While it is commendable that the skirmishes over hunting have been won, and gun grabbers seem to be conducting a rear guard action over self-defense, without recognizing the true threat to popular sovereignty which inspires the many demands to more rigorously regulate possession of firearms, the rights defended by the Constitution will eventually be lost, or more precisely, stolen.
“Unarmed citizen” is, if not a personal choice, an oxymoron. If government officials, elected or not, mandate a defenseless polity, then the people are no longer citizens, they are subjects. This idea is foreign to an increasing number of Americans. But our libraries are full of evidence that the people who rejected their status as subjects of George III thought this way. Those same stacks show that the originators of democratic civilization, the Greeks and Romans, thought this way as well. The 20th Century alone provides evidence enough of the wisdom of such philosophies. And it is this conception of independence that motivated the inclusion of the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights.
Despite the Heller decision, many still argue, or simply believe, that the 2nd Amendment is a corporate right, intended to maintain militias as a check of Federal power. I shall dispense with this silly argument briefly, by pointing out that the principal grievance of those at the South in antebellum America was founded on a false understanding of the Bill of Rights.
The Civil War resolved the issue of states’ rights; they are inferior to those of the Federal government. This anyway is what we are typically taught. But there is a deeper lesson. The 10th Amendment says nothing of states’ rights in the first place. The 9th Amendment explains that the people have other rights which have not been put in writing. But the 10th explains that there are many powers which the states retain. A power is not a right. The 10th is not a protection of corporate rights, it is a final check on Federal power. This raises an implication about the 2nd.
The proof resides in the Declaration of Independence. People are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; governments are instituted among them, for the single purpose of securing those rights. This alone demonstrates that the American system is predicated on the idea that governments do not grant rights to people; in fact they possess no rights to grant or exercise.
The Bill of Rights protects individual rights from government tyranny, exclusively.
As a philosophic refresher, this is all well and good. I should hope the argument clear enough to sway some honest thinkers. My higher aim though, is to upend the debate over gun control.
It is a sad irony that the greatest moral battle of 20th Century America has led to an electorate convinced that they have no need for all of their rights. The civil rights movement successfully persuaded Americans and their elected representatives that it was wrong, based on nothing more than the color of one’s skin, to prevent millions of their neighbors from equal participation in governing this country. This is not the place to detail the countless victories and failures over the last few decades. The point is that the two principal conflicts, voting rights and education, made Federal issues out of topics barely addressed by the Constitution; education was such a local issue the word isn’t even in the Constitution, and control of elections was explicitly reserved to the states.
This is not to suggest that civil rights are not Federal issues; clearly when representative government fails at lower levels, redress must be sought from a higher authority. This is the purpose of the 14th Amendment. Indeed, this is why so many wish for Congress to “do something” about guns; they believe that lower governments are failing to contain nuts with guns.
The shift I am pursuing is the recognition that the bearing of arms is a civil right. We are given rights, equally, by God; it is a disingenuous oversimplification to claim that the majority of colonists thought of Jefferson's god when hearing the Declaration. The Founders were particularly sensitive to having their liberty dangling at the end of a thread tied to the king’s finger; their government was to have explicit limits to its power. Its acceptance hung finally on the inclusion of the Bill of Rights. Since we agree that the ability to vote, like the freedom to be educated, are vital to our health as a nation, we should also be able to agree that each of the rights, enumerated in the Bill of Rights, including those of both pen and sword, are equally fundamental.
American citizens (those who support the erosion of the 2nd Amendment are in fact not citizens but rather subjects) need to reconsider its importance. We also need to seize control of the narrative. It was largely Democrats who opposed the original civil rights acts in the 1860s. It was Democrats who built Jim Crow, instituted poll taxes, and fought integration. It is Democrats who are, once again, maneuvering to eviscerate the Bill of Rights, through speech codes and gun registries. One need not imagine how all that might end. Conservatives, Libertarians, and Republicans must demonstrate, rhetorically and legislatively, that the citizen, free to live and worship as he sees fit, is the only reason this country exists. The final expression of that is the defiance, and destruction, of tyrants. And on this Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Day of Independence, we would all do well to remember this struggle is that of all mankind.
Kevin W Boyd