There is no legal right to own a firearm in the United States. The Constitution does not give citizens the right to own weapons, and no legal or historical arguments support the idea that it does. Instead, a much deeper and more important philosophy provides for gun ownership: natural rights. These rights are not given, but protected. Not to expand citizens’ rights, but to limit government’s power.
Gun ownership is so integral to the United States’ DNA because armed Americans overthrew the world’s most powerful military empire using guns. The freest, most prosperous nation in human history, and a good deal of prosperity around the globe, owes its origin to guns. But the issue is far deeper than guns; it is about rights.
In a properly functioning America like the Founders envisioned, a repeal of the Second Amendment would be virtually meaningless. The right existed already; the Constitution merely secures it. Unfortunately, our society has loosened its grasp on natural rights philosophy and devolved into dependency on government-sanctioned rules. Today, however, even unambiguous text is under scrutiny by Democrats as prominent as former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
The Distinction Between Natural and Legal Rights
The Constitution mentions both natural and legal rights, and the distinction is critical. Within the Bill of Rights, some activities, like speech, are innate human rights protected against government interference. Other rights, like a speedy trial, are legal rights, which are products of the structure the Constitution created.
This distinction is crucial, because natural rights are articulated as endowed by God, while legal rights are endowed by government. The Founding Fathers understood natural rights to exist independent of—or in spite of—government. They simply exist for free people walking the earth. Legal rights are granted by men, and can be altered or destroyed by changes to law or the structure of government. The natural and legal rights in the Constitution are so fundamental that the Bill of Rights was added as an explicit bar to encroachment from the federal government.
The right to keep and bear arms is a natural right. It can be derived and is protected in multiple ways. Inherently, humans have natural grounds for self-preservation and defense. This right is beyond the reach of any person or government. Individuals can protect themselves using any necessary tools or actions.
Individuals also have a natural right to own property. Far be it for the federal government to regulate the personal items a free citizen enjoys in her home. To regulate personal property in private use on the grounds of its danger would be to inspect every knife, lighter, hammer, gardening tool, and gas-powered stove.
Owning a gun is well within the canon of natural rights that any free people should enjoy. Natural rights are so critical because they are innate in us. If the government dissolved or a new one took its place, it should have no effect on the basic entitlements of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of his own happiness. The righteous task of the founding, therefore, was to craft a government impotent to crush these rights.
Constitutions Don’t Establish Rights, But Secure Them
Many state constitutions included a list of natural rights, not to provide for these rights, but to promise the people that the government would not tread on them. The federal Bill of Rights comes as a series of amendments, not because they were afterthoughts, but because the U.S. Constitution was written to limit the power of the federal government such that it would be powerless to act where it was not authorized.
Debate persisted for years over whether the people’s natural rights should be enumerated at all. Some argued natural rights were so obvious that an enumeration was unnecessary, not to mention the government’s limited reach and small scope at the time. In a 1787 letter to James Madison, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “a bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no government should refuse, or rest on inference.”
Jefferson and others believed that leaving natural rights to “inference” put far too much trust in government and future generations in power. Still others believed that enumerating certain rights would create a presumption against other rights. If the government only mentioned a few natural rights, the government could encroach on every other right a free citizen ought to enjoy, citing no bar against its encroachment.
That’s Why We Have the Ninth Amendment
The solution was the Ninth Amendment, which preserves “other rights retained by the people.” Combined with the rest of the Bill of Rights, the federal government is clearly prohibited from trampling on free citizens’ natural or legal rights. According to the Ninth Amendment, a free citizen retains the right to self-protection and property, among a vast reservoir of other rights, and the government cannot interfere.
At its most basic level, a gun is a tool and item of personal property, which any person has a natural right to acquire independent of, and especially in spite of, government. A repeal of the Second Amendment should not truly harm gun ownership. Nevertheless, there is a reason it was explicitly included in the Bill of Rights, and listed so prominently. The reason is that human nature cannot be trusted, and both time and power destroy the protections created for free people.
Today, it is all too clear that if the Second Amendment were not so explicit, the tyranny of the majority would have suppressed the right long ago. The government did not create the right to own a gun, it secured that right, and thank God the Founding Fathers had the foresight to unambiguously prohibit the government from infringing on that right.
The calls to repeal the Second Amendment are voiced by radicals. Despite their high level of education, these radicals have not internalized the philosophy of natural rights or the significance of the Ninth Amendment. Yet the people retain their God-given rights, no matter how tyrannical protestors become.