Sometime back I was invited to speak at a civics club. Its members consisted of parents and their teenage children – and the purpose of the club was to study the Constitution. The subject matter of that day was the Bill of Rights.
It is widely believed that several important states, Virginia in particular, would not have ratified the Constitution without assurances that there would be a Bill of Rights.
While I am no expert on the Constitution, I know that the Bill of Rights is the most important body of law ever enacted. It is uniquely American and it defines individual liberty and freedom. The day spent in discussion with that group of youngsters and their parents was a great opportunity for me to re-learn and to gain perspective.
It turned out to be an eye opener. Clearly every one of the amendments contained in the Bill of Rights is important. However, toward the end of the discussion, I couldn’t resist asking the group which one they thought most important. The vote was unanimous – it was the Second Amendment: The right to keep and bear arms.
Due to recent tragic events, the Second Amendment is the subject of intense public discourse. In the mainstream media there is a perceptible bias toward gun control. Talking heads rattle off statistics, but statistics cut both ways. There are times that when seconds count the good guys are minutes away. We pray that it will never happen, but turn, turn, turn, there’s a time for self-defense.
In Australia, since disarming its citizens through legislation enacted in 1997, tragically, violent crime, including murder, has increased dramatically. Home invasions, previously unheard of in that country, have skyrocketed. Meanwhile, in Switzerland, where gun ownership is high, the crime rate is low.
But the Second Amendment is not about statistics, it is not about crime and it is certainly not about hunting. It is about rights. To paraphrase our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence, our rights are not derived from the government; rather we are born with inalienable rights that government is sworn to protect. One of those inalienable rights is the right to bear arms. It is a matter of national security and individual liberty. It is also a matter of trust. Gun control laws indicate that the government does not trust you. How much do you trust the government, or rather, how much do you trust politicians, especially those in Congress?
The Constitution provides for checks and balances on many levels. On the federal level there are three branches of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judicial – each is supposed to provide a check on the power of the other. An even more important check on federal power is found in the Tenth Amendment in the Bill of Rights: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.” The people are empowered by the Second Amendment. This is an integral part of our history and culture.
There are some localities that have adopted some form of gun control. In Washington D.C., and Chicago, the Supreme Court struck down their gun laws as unconstitutional. However, here in West Virginia, there is a strong tradition of respect for the Second Amendment. In 2008, West Virginia enacted the Castle Law, affirming your right to use whatever force necessary to defend your home and there are few restrictions with regard to gun ownership in our state.
However, legislation has been proposed in Congress, with the support of the president, aimed at restricting the sale of firearms and ammunition. As a result, several states have initiated legislation to assert their rights under the Constitution to prevent the enforcement of federal law that infringes upon the right to bear arms. In Wyoming, legislation has been introduced that would make it a felony for a federal agent to attempt to enforce federal laws that contradict state law.
Similar legislation is planned for introduction in West Virginia in the upcoming session. There is considerable support for it in the Legislature. We need to let Washington know that enough is enough.
— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry.