Second Amendment Does Not ‘Give’ Us a Right to Keep and Bear Arms
Some people (maybe many) may be outraged by the title of this article. But it’s true. The right to keep and bear arms is an inalienable right. We have the right to protect ourselves. If there are people with knives who want to do me harm, then I have a right to defend myself with a weapon in kind.
The same is true of firearms.
The White House website puts a subtle twist on the Second Amendment that most Americans, even some gun rights supporters, might not catch:
“The Second Amendment gives citizens the right to bear arms.”1
Don’t be surprised if some of your friends agree with the word “gives.”
The assumption is that if we didn’t have the Second Amendment – the government granting Americans the right to keep and bear arms — then nobody would be permitted to own any kind of weapon until the government enumerated that right.
The right is seen as a “gift” of government. What the government gives, the government can take away.
This is not what the Second Amendment says. The right existed before the Bill of Rights was drafted and passed.
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Wikipedia gets it right:
“The Second Amendment (Amendment II) to the United States Constitution protects the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.”
The right was already there, as were the freedoms found in the First Amendment. The states wanted to make it doubly sure that future officials of the new national government would not be under the false impression that any government is the grantor of fundamental rights.
Why would those who fought in the War for Independence all of a sudden give up a fundamental right like keeping and bearing arms in the creation of a new government that replaced a government that overstepped its civil governing boundaries?
The good folks at Gun Owners of America sent a letter to the White House offering a needed corrective:
“The Second Amendment does not ‘give’ citizens any rights. Rather, as the U.S. Supreme Court explained in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Second Amendment codifies,’2 ‘protects,’3 and ‘secure[s]’4 a right — rather than ‘grants,’ ‘bestows,’ or ‘gives’ one.
“The Supreme Court explicitly stated that ‘it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The Second Amendment text recognizes the right as pre-existent, declaring only that it “shall not be infringed.”’ Id. at 592 (emphasis added). That is why the Court concluded in Heller that the right to keep and bear arms ‘belongs to all Americans.’ Id. at 581 (emphasis added).”
“Thus, the Second Amendment protects a right granted us by our Creator, as described in the nation’s charter, the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
It’s important to note that the three unalienable rights are only three of many (“among these”) such rights.
“By way of contrast, the White House website correctly states that the First and Fourth Amendments ‘protect’ rights, and nowhere except in reference to the Second Amendment does it describe rights as being granted by government.”
This article would be a good way to help your children understand the nuances of deceptive language and the need for proper constitutional hermeneutics.5
- United States Constitution: http://www.whitehouse.gov/our-government/the-constitution. [↩]
- District of Columbia v. Heller at 576. [↩]
- Id. at 599. [↩]
- Id. at 603. [↩]
- Hermeneutics: The art and science of interpretation. [↩]