The Nation's Pulse

What America Is All About

Firearms, and freedom, on this Fourth of July.

By 7.3.08

Fourth of July weekend, here's as good a time as any to review what the American idea really means.

And how far we have fallen away from that idea.

Conveniently, we find a news hook: The Supreme Court's recent 5-4 ruling affirming that the Second Amendment to the Constitution really does assure citizens the right to keep and bear firearms.

Along with many another commentator, I find that close decision frightening. How can there be any doubt? How can there be any argument?

Let's review:

Our Founders said, explicitly, that when a people found their rulers had usurped the rightful reach of their powers, it was the people's right to "alter or abolish" that government. And no mistake, our Founders, being realists, knew that "alter or abolish" might mean "change the government by violent means, if necessary."

Even in modern times, a lightly armed and aroused populace can cause a government a whole s**tload of trouble -- something of which tyrants are well aware.

Government began with extortion. Some landed character with muscled henchmen in hire threw a barrier across a road, and demanded tribute from all who would pass. Keep that concept in mind, because it underlies all that follows.

MOVE AHEAD A DOZEN YEARS from "alter or abolish" (in the Declaration of Independence), to the Constitution, and to the negotiations to get the colonies to ratify that document. Taking stock, writing letters, tapping the political currents of the day, the framers of the Constitution found that they could not pass it without an appended Bill of Rights.

What did the Colonies want from a Bill of Rights? Assurance that government could not do certain things. A list of "Thou shalt nots" for government. A series of guarantees that "Congress shall make no law..."

Governments extort. The Colonies knew that. They wanted assurance that the new government of the United States of America would not take away their weapons, limit their right to free speech, forcibly board soldiers in their homes, require their membership in a state church, imprison them without due process, and so forth.

On this Fourth of July, let us remember what the Colonies knew, and what the Colonies insisted upon. That government should keep the hell out of its citizens' business, should respect the limits of power, should respect the rights that God alone can confer -- along with freedom -- upon free people.

IN 1967, A BOSS OF MINE IN NEW YORK CITY one day came to work with two rifles and a shotgun. He explained that the city had just passed a law requiring the registration of long guns, and the obtaining of a permit to own them. He was, therefore, moving his guns to New Jersey.

That was an abomination. Let us remember that, too.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.