The Second Amendment
The Second Amendment guarantees Americans the means to protect themselves and their freedom. This right is so basic to human existence and so fundamental to the preservation of all other natural rights that it is beyond the legitimate powers of a government to infringe, and the Second Amendment recognizes this fact.
As a practical matter, weapons in the hands of honest and law-abiding citizens makes us all safer. Simply knowing that there are responsible citizens among us capable of responding with force is itself a powerful deterrent to crime.
Gun control laws are extremely effective at disarming law-abiding citizens, but they are extremely ineffective at disarming criminals and madmen. They produce a society in which decent citizens are defenseless and criminals are as well armed as ever. Gun violence is made worse by gun control laws that disarm law-abiding citizens, because in a society where the law-abiding are disarmed, the gunman is king.
Gun violence is most effectively controlled when good people can defend themselves, when violent predators are incarcerated and when madmen are confined and treated.
Gun Owners of California - Sacramento, California - July 2, 2002
There are two modern views of government that begin from entirely different premises.
There is the 18th Century American view propounded by our nation’s founders. They believed, and formed a government based upon the belief, that each of us is endowed by our creator with certain rights that cannot be alienated, and that governments are instituted to protect those rights. This view is proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence and reflected in the American Bill of Rights.
The second view is 19th Century German in origin and expressed in the philosophies of Marx and Hegel. It is a restatement of philosophies of absolutism that have plagued mankind for millennia. In this view, rights come not from God, but from the state. What rights you have are there because government has given them to you, all for the greater good – defined, of course, by government.
In the 20 years I have been actively engaged in public policy, I have seen the growing influence of this 19th Century German view. It disdains the view of the American Founders. It rejects the notion of inalienable rights endowed equally to every human being by the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” In this view, it is the state, and not the individual, where rights are vested.
I mention this, because of a debate that occurred a few weeks ago on the floor of the State Senate. It was a debate that occurred under the portrait of George Washington and the gold-emblazoned motto, “Senatoris Est Civitatis Libertatum Tueri” – “The Senators protect the liberty of the citizens.”
At issue was a measure, SB 52, which will require a state-issued license to own a firearm for self-defense. To receive a license, you would have to meet a series of tests, costs and standards set by the state.
We have seen many bills considered and adopted that would infringe upon the right of a free people to bear arms. But this was the most brazen attempt in this legislature to claim that the very right of self-defense is not an inalienable natural right at all, but is rather a right that is licensed from government; a right that no longer belongs to you, but to your betters, who will license you to exercise that right at their discretion.
During the debate on this measure, which passed the Senate 25 to 15, I raised these issues. And I would like to quote to you the response of Senator Sheila Kuehl, to the approving nods of the senators whose duty is to protect the liberty of the citizens.
She said, “There is only one constitutional right in the United States which is absolute and that is your right to believe anything you want.”
I want to focus on that statement. “The only constitutional right which is absolute is your right to believe anything you want.”
Compare that to 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 inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
What rights has a slave? There is only one: a slave can think anything he wants: as long as he doesn’t utter it or act on it – he may think what he wants. He has no right to the fruit of his labor; no right to self-defense, no right to raise his children, no right to contract with others for his betterment, no right to worship – except as his master allows. He has only the right to his own thoughts. All other rights are at the sufferance of his master – whether that master is a state or an owner.
Let us continue to look at this new constitutional principle propounded by Senator Kuehl, under the portrait of George Washington to the delight of her colleagues whose duty, according to the proud words above them, is to “protect the liberty of the citizens.”
She continued, “Other than that, (the right to your own thoughts) government has the ability to say on behalf of all the people – I will put it in the colloquial way as my grandmother used to – your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. It’s a balance of your rights and my rights because we all have constitutional rights. And the question for government is how do we balance those rights?”
Indeed, the right to swing your fist does end where my nose begins. An excellent analogy. Shall we therefore amputate your fist so that you can never strike my nose? And would you deny me the use of my own fist to protect my nose?
Senator Kuehl and her colleagues believe government has the legitimate authority to do so. It is simply the question of balancing.
It is very important that we understand precisely what Senator Kuehl and the Left are saying.
A thief balances your right to your wallet against his right to eat. A murderer balances your right to life against his right to freedom. A master balances your right to “work and toil and make bread,” against his right to eat it. These are matters of balance.
The American view is quite different. In the view of the American Founders, the laws of nature and of nature’s God endow each of us with rights that are inalienable, and we are each equal in our claim to those rights. It is not a balancing act. These rights are absolute. They cannot be alienated.
But in a state of nature, there are predators who would deny us those rights. And thus we come together to preserve our freedom. In the American view, the only legitimate exercise of force by one person over another, or by one government over its people, is “to secure these rights.”
Senator Kuehl continues, “My right to defend myself in the home does not extend to my owning a tank, though that would make sense to me, perhaps, that no one would attack my home if I had a tank sitting in the living room.”
Let us put aside, for a moment, the obvious fact that a tank is only an instrument of self-defense against a power that employs a tank. But let us turn to the more reasonable side of her argument: that rights can be constrained by government; that there is, after all, “no right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” How can a right be absolute and yet constrained by government?
To Senator Kuehl and the Left, the answer is simply, “it’s easy -- whenever we say so.” Or, in her exact words, “government has the ability to say (so) on behalf of all the people.”
The American Founders had a different view, also, not surprisingly, diametrically opposed to Senator Kuehl’s way of thinking.
The right is absolute. In a free nation, government has no authority to forbid me from speaking because I might shout “fire” in a crowded theater. Government has no authority to forbid me from using my fist to defend myself because I might also use it to strike your nose. And government has no authority to forbid me from owning a firearm because I might shoot an innocent victim.
Government is there to assure that the full force of the law can be brought against me if I discharge that right in a manner that threatens the rights of others. It does not have the authority to deny me those very rights for fear that I might misuse them.
Senator Kuehl continues, “In my opinion, this bill is one of those balances. It does not say you cannot have a gun. It does not say you cannot defend yourself. It says if you are going to be owning and handling and using a dangerous item you need to know how to use it, and you need to prove that you know how to use it by becoming licensed.”
How reasonable. How reassuring. How despotic.
We must understand what they are arguing, because it is chilling. They are arguing that any of our most precious rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights – any at least they decide are conceivably dangerous -- may only be extended through the license of the government.
If that is the case, they are not rights. With that one despotic principle, you have just dissolved the foundation of the entire Bill of Rights. You have created a society where your only right is to your own thoughts.
Inalienable rights are now alienated to government, and government may extend or refuse them upon its whim – or more precisely, upon a balancing act to be decided by government. Let us follow – in our minds at least – a little farther down this path.
Hate groups publish newsletters to disseminate their hatred and racism. Sick individuals in our society act upon this hatred. The Oklahoma City bombing killed scores of innocent children. Shouldn’t we license printing presses and Internet sites to prevent the pathology of hate from spreading? Such an act doesn’t say you cannot have a press. It does not say you cannot express yourself. It says if you are going to be owning and handling a printing press, you should know what not to say and prove that you can restrain yourself by becoming licensed.
And what are we to do about rogue religions like those that produced Heaven’s Gate and Jonestown. How many people around the world are killed by acts of religious fanaticism every year? Should we not license the legitimate churches? Such an act doesn’t say you cannot have a church. It does not say you cannot worship. It says if you are going to be running and conducting a church, that you must know how to worship and prove that you know how by becoming licensed.
The only right you have is the right to believe anything you want. The only right of a slave. The rest is negotiable – or to use the new word, “balanceable.”
As I listened to Senator Kuehl proclaim that “the only constitutional right in the United States which is absolute … is your right to believe anything you want,” and as I gazed at the portrait of George Washington, and as I thought about the solemn words, “the Senators Protect the Liberty of the Citizens,” I couldn’t help but think of an aide to George Washington by the name of James McHenry, who accompanied the General as they departed Independence Hall the day the Constitution was born. He recorded this encounter between Benjamin Franklin and a Mrs. Powell. She asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?" Answered Dr. Franklin, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
For this generation, that is no longer a hypothetical question. History warns us that to one generation in four falls the duty – the highest duty and the most difficult duty of this Republic – to preserve the liberty of the citizens. It is the most difficult, because it is a threat that springs up not on a foreign shore where we can see it – it springs up amongst us. It cannot be defeated by force of arms. It must be defeated by reason.
Have you noticed yet, that ours is that generation? And how ironic it would be that the freedoms won with the blood of Washington’s troops, and defended by so many who followed, should be voluntarily thrown away piece by piece by a generation that had become so dull and careless and pampered and uncaring that it lost the memory of freedom.
The Athenian Democracy had a word for “citizen” that survives in our language today. “Politikos.” Politician. The Athenians believed that a free people who declare themselves citizens assume a duty to declare themselves politicians at the same time. It is time we took that responsibility very seriously.
In 1780, the tide had turned in the American Revolution, and the Founders began to sense the freedom that was within sight. John Adams wrote these words to his wife that spring. He said, "The science of government it is my duty to study, more than all other sciences; the arts of legislation and administration and negotiation ought to take the place of, indeed exclude, in a manner, all other arts. I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain."
Ladies and gentlemen, the debate is not about guns. It is about freedom. And the wheel has come full circle. Our generation must study politics that we may restore the liberty that our parents and grandparents expect us to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
If we fail, what history will demand of our children and grandchildren, in a society where their only right is to their own thoughts, is simply unthinkable. And be assured, history will find it unforgivable. A generation that is handed the most precious gift in all the universe – freedom – and throws it away -- deserves to be reviled by every generation that follows – and will be, even though the only right left to them is their own thoughts.
But if we succeed in this struggle, we will know the greatest joy of all – the joy of watching our grandchildren secure with the blessings of liberty, studying arts and literature in a free nation and under God’s grace, once again.
Ladies and Gentlemen, isn’t that worth devoting the rest of our lives to achieve?
House of Representatives - Washington, D.C. - December 10, 2015
Ever since the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, leftist politicians have called for more restrictions on gun ownership for Americans. These are the same politicians who have worked for years to open our nation to unprecedented and indiscriminate immigration from hotbeds of Islamic extremism.
The most effective defense against an armed terrorist is an armed American. If one person in that room in San Bernardino had been able to return fire, many innocent lives could have been saved. But Californians are subject to the most restrictive gun laws in the country, making it very difficult for law abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves. And in a society denied its right of self-defense, the gunman is king.
I repeat: The most effective defense against an armed terrorist is an armed American. Yet the President and his followers act to increase the number of terrorists entering through porous borders and lax immigration laws, while at the same time acting to decrease the number of armed Americans.
Their latest ploy was announced by the President on Sunday and has been parroted by his congressional allies this week to the point of disrupting the work of the House. In the President’s words, “Congress should act to make sure no one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun.” He asked, what could possibly be the argument against that?
While serving in the California State Senate a decade ago, I discovered that suddenly I couldn’t check in for a flight. When I asked why, I was told I was on this government list. The experience was Kafkaesque. My first reaction was to ask, “Why am I on that list?” “We can’t tell you that.” “What are the criteria you use?” I asked. “That’s classified.” I said, “How can I get off this list?” The answer was, “You can’t.” I soon discovered another California state senator had been placed on that list. A few months later, U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy found himself on that list.
I, at least, had the office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms to work through – something an ordinary American would not. Even so, it took months working through that office and repeated petitions to the government to get my name removed from that list. The farce of it all was that I was advised in the meantime just to fly under my middle name, which I did without incident.
In my case, it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity with an IRA activist the British government was mad at.
This could happen to any American. And the fine point of it is this. During this administration, the IRS has been used extensively to harass and intimidate ordinary Americans for exercising their first amendment rights. What the President proposes is that on the whim of a federal bureaucrat, Americans can be denied their Second Amendment rights as well, with no opportunity to confront their accuser, contest the evidence, or avail themselves of any of their other due process rights under the Constitution.
The concept that the Left is seeking to instill in our law is that mere suspicion by a bureaucrat is sufficient to deny law-abiding American citizens their constitutional rights. And given the Left’s demonstrated hostility to freedom of speech and due process of law, it’s not hard to see where this is leading us.
I would support the President’s proposal IF it established a judicial process where an individual could only be placed on such a list once he was accorded all of his constitutional rights to be informed of the charges, given his day in court, accorded the right to confront his accuser, contest the evidence against him and submit himself to a decision by a jury of his peers. But that is the farthest thing from the Left’s agenda.
The President’s proposal would have done nothing to stop the carnage in San Bernardino, where the terrorists were not on any watch list. Indeed, one was admitted from Saudi Arabia after vetting that the President has assured us is rigorous and thorough. And several of the guns used in this massacre weren’t even acquired directly, but rather through a third party.
Of course the American people don’t want terrorists to have guns! They don’t want terrorists in our country at all! But the President’s policies have left our nation’s gates wide open – while he seeks to take from Americans their means of self-defense.
So I leave off as I began: the best defense against an armed terrorist is an armed American. That’s what the Second Amendment is all about. It is an absolutely essential pillar of our security.
Our best defense of all is the Constitution itself, and it, in turn, must be defended against all enemies – foreign and domestic.
House of Representatives - Washington, D.C. - November 16, 2011
Today the House will consider HR 822, a long-overdue measure to assure that states recognize the concealed weapons permits issued by other states.
This very simple measure has unleashed a firestorm of protests from the political Left. I noted one polemicist, who obviously has not read the Constitution, fumed that this is a constitutional violation of states’ rights enshrined in the Tenth Amendment.
What nonsense. Article IV of the Constitution could not possibly be more clear: “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records, and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.”
It is precisely this article that requires one state to recognize driver’s licenses, birth certificates or arrest warrants issued by another state. Without it we are not a union but a loose confederation.
We are told it is “dangerous” and “risky” to allow honest and law-abiding citizens to exercise their lawfully issued permits in other states.
Upon what basis do they make this claim? Certainly not upon any empirical data.
The impact of right to carry laws – that is, laws that require the issuance of a concealed carry permit to any law-abiding citizen – has been studied extensively, with the vast preponderance finding that crime rates have fallen in those states after they have adopted such laws. No credible study has ever found that the enactment of such laws has produced an increase in crimes, suicides or accidental deaths.
Overall, states with right-to-carry laws have 22 percent lower violent crime rates, 30 percent lower murder rates, 46 percent lower robbery rates and 12 percent lower aggravated assault rates as compared to the rest of the country. Indeed, right-to-carry laws have been so successful than no state has ever rescinded one.
So if the Left cannot make a rational case on constitutional grounds or empirical grounds, what is the problem?
I suspect it comes down to what Ronald Reagan once called “This irreconcilable conflict…between those who believe in the sanctity of individual freedom and those who believe in the supremacy of the state.”
Years ago, I had the honor to work for the legendary Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Ed Davis. During his 8 ½ years as Chief of the LAPD, crime dropped in Los Angeles while in the same period, across the rest of the nation, it ballooned more than 50 percent. Chief Davis invented “Neighborhood Watch” and “community based policing” and was an ardent opponent of laws restricting ownership of firearms by honest citizens.
His successful philosophy was predicated on the principle that, as he put it, “It is not the responsibility of the Police Department to enforce the law. That is the job of every citizen. The police department,” he said, “is there to help.”
As citizens we are an integral part of the laws we enact. That does not mean we act as vigilantes – but it does mean that each of us has an inalienable right to defend ourselves and our families from violent predators with whatever force is necessary. If we see a child being molested or a woman being robbed or an old man being beaten, we have a moral responsibility to intervene to the extent that we can.
A concealed weapon in the hands of honest and law-abiding citizens makes us all safer. Simply knowing that there are responsible citizens among us capable of responding with force is itself a powerful deterrent to crime.
That is the well-documented experience of every state with a right-to-carry law. But a society in which honest and law-abiding citizens are disarmed by their government is a society in which the gunman is king.
This is a truth that should be self-evident, but it is sacrificed upon the altar of the authoritarian Left, which seeks to concentrate all power in government at the expense of the people.
Perhaps the best test of the self-evident nature of this truth is illustrated in a full-page newspaper ad I once saw that offered a cut-out sign, which in 150-point type read: “There are no guns in this house.” The caption under it asked, “Would you post this sign in your front window?”