- It’s the Constitution that has the final say
The U.S. Supreme Court has twice ruled in the past 11 years that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual pre-political liberty. That is the highest category of liberty recognized in the law. It is akin to the freedoms of thought, speech, and personality. That means that the court has recognized that the framers did not bestow this right upon us. Rather, they recognized its pre-existence as an extension of our natural human right to self-defense and they forbade government — state and federal — from infringing upon it.
It would be exquisitely unfair, profoundly unconstitutional and historically un-American for the rights of law-abiding folks — “surrender that rifle you own legally and use safely because some other folks have used that same type of weapon criminally” — to be impaired in the name of public safety.
It would also be irrational. A person willing to kill innocents and be killed by the police while doing so surely would have no qualms about violating a state or federal law that prohibited the general ownership of the weapon he was about to use.
Can the government constitutionally outlaw the types of rifles used by the El Paso and Dayton killers? In a word: No. We know that because in the first Supreme Court opinion upholding the individual right to keep and bear arms, the court addressed what kind of arms the Second Amendment protects. The court ruled that the Second Amendment protects individual ownership of weapons one can carry that are of the same degree of sophistication as the bad guys have — or the government has.
The government? Yes, the government. That’s so because the Second Amendment was not written to protect the right to shoot deer. It was written to protect the right to shoot at tyrants and their agents when they have stolen liberty or property from the people. If you don’t believe me on this, then read the Declaration of Independence. It justifies violence against the British government because of such thefts.
In America, we do not punish a person or deprive anyone of liberty on the basis of a fear of what the person might do. When the Soviets used psychiatric testimony to predict criminal behavior, President Ronald Reagan condemned it. Now, the president wants it here.
The United States is not New Zealand, where a national legislature, animated by fear and provoked by tragedy, can impair fundamental liberties by majority vote. In America, neither Congress nor the states can outlaw whatever handguns or rifles they want to outlaw or infringe upon the right to own them.
The government can no more interfere with Second Amendment rights than it can infringe upon any other rights. If this were not so, then no liberty — speech, press, religion, association, self-defense, privacy, travel, property ownership — would be safe from the reach of a fearful majority.
That’s why we have a Constitution.
- Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is a regular contributor to The Washington Times. He is the author of nine books on the U.S. Constitution.
Source: Washington Times