By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor
The Constitution of the United States does not grant any rights, it merely guarantees them. Our rights come from God, not from a piece of parchment. The main purpose of the Constitution is to limit the power that the federal government wields over the citizenry. There isn’t a single clause in the Bill of Rights that puts limitations on the individual. The Second Amendment gives the Constitution teeth. It is a last resort; a warning from the people; a thin red line that tells tyrants, “You will not tread on me.” It is the last guarantor of freedom when all else has fails. It is the most basic of rights, one shared by every organism on the planet: the right to fight for its own life.
Everyone has their own philosophy about life, which is simply a narrative that helps define the world in which we live; an individual search for truth. In American politics, truth lies somewhere in between the philosophies of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes. Locke postulated that mankind is inherently good but realized that conflicts sometimes arise. For this reason, civilized people give up a portion of their sovereignty to a governing body, whose sole purpose is to administer justice. They give civil government the power over themselves only to the extent that it better protects their rights. Hobbes, on the other hand, believed that, left to their own devices, “the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” He theorized that people could only live together peacefully under the subjugation of absolute power held by a common master. Hobbes believed people sacrificed all freedom in exchange for self-preservation. He was a “real hoot” at parties.
Both of these philosophers were English, though Hobbes was Locke’s senior by 44 years. While their lives overlapped, their experiences differed greatly. Hobbes’ outlook was shaped by a world in constant conflict. Locke, on the other hand, was a teenager when the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War (1648), which was the first major conflict involving the whole European continent. For most of Locke’s life afterwards, the war drums were silent. Westphalia signaled a shift in the international arena; the product was the concept of today’s nation-state, where each country is sovereign and has the right to political self-determination. Locke transposed this notion onto the individual human condition. In doing so, he redefined the role of government. According to Locke, legitimate government maintains its authority solely by consent of the governed; that the duty of government is to protect the natural rights of the people, which include life, liberty and property; and that if the government fails in this role, it is the right of the people to overthrow that government. Sound familiar? Locke was the single biggest influence on America’s founding.
Everyone has their own philosophy, which is adapted to the environment in which they live. Our Founding Fathers lived in a time of tyranny. They knew first-hand how absolutely absolute power corrupts. They were born into Hobbesian struggle, but they fought, and they won. They Locke’d away tyranny by providing Americans with a safeguard to preserve the natural rights of man for generations to come. And generations later, here we are. Our environment has changed, as has our philosophy. For centuries we have lived in the greatest nation the world has ever known. We have never been acquainted with the burden of the struggle; though we recognize it in the world around us, the notion that it could ever breach our shores is as foreign as a drone strike. After all, if you can’t trust your own government, then who can you trust, right?
There is a concept in psychology known as “the false consensus effect,” which essentially means that people tend to overestimate how much others agree with them. Most people assume that they’re normal, that their own opinions, beliefs, preferences, values and habits are the standard bearers of “normalcy” and that most other people think the same way they do (except for the “weirdos”). Most people have no desire to control everyone they know or to attain absolute power, so it is very difficult to imagine anyone else does either. Most people just want to enjoy their lives - find someone to settle down with, raise 2.4 kids in a big house with a white picket fence and a Labrador Retriever. It’s the American Dream.
For the past 100 years we have been incrementally ceding our sovereignty. We give more and more responsibility to our representatives and get less and less accountability in return. We have an apathetic electorate and a dishonest media. As evidence of this, Congress currently has an approval rating of 16 percent and an incumbency reelection rate of 90 percent. As long as you have the right agenda, you can literally get away with murder. Our elected officials, at least at the federal level, have no reason to fear the people. There seems to be no limit to what they can make the electorate believe. Governments without limitation have historically proven oppressive.
There is currently a panic in our nation. The issue, of course, is gun rights; specifically what kind of guns citizens should have access to. There is a lot of disinformation being put out, so let’s go to the source. The Second Amendment states the following:
"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."
Some people will argue the beginning phrase limits the right to keep and bear arms to militias only, namely the National Guard. However, in the 1700s it was common writing style for legal documents to include a preamble. Both the Constitution and the Bill of Rights have a preamble; this style of introduction merely states the purpose by highlighting the most important reasons for whatever follows. You may notice deer are excluded.
The language of the Second Amendment has long been debated and scrutinized. There are even some versions that have extra commas and capitalization, which opponents use to change its entire meaning. According to the Library of Congress and Government Printing Office the ratified version only had one comma and one capital letter. This version, unlike any other contortion, fits with the context of every other amendment in the Bill of Rights. There isn’t a single clause in the Bill of Rights that puts limitations on the individual; rather, each amendment puts a specific limitation on the federal government. As the president tries to convince you that America has a tooth ache, it would be wise to keep in mind that a lion with no teeth will eventually die.
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Clinton Gill is editor of the Glade Sun. His column is published weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.