Good news: Second Amendment stands

For those who worry that the United States is falling, little by little, under the domination of Big Brother, last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of individuals to own guns was a ray of hope.

It is really beyond dispute that we Americans, like frogs in a pan of heating water, have slowly been seduced into dependence on government for all manner of services and, in return, have given up all manner of aspects of our independence.

Government now provides food, clothing, housing and healthcare for millions of Americans, from Sweet Home to New York, through welfare, Medicare and other progams, and food stamps. It provides retirees and widows/widowers with Social Security. It maintains the safety of our food, or at least presumes to. It watches out for the safety of our children. It manages the airwaves. It decides whether or not we are allowed to travel. It requires public education for every American who doesn’t opt for private instruction — through a school or at home.

Of course, all of this comes at a price, a cost such as the California appeals court ruling a few months ago that parents without teaching credentials were violating the law by home schooling their children. It’s the cost of giving judges and social workers immense power to decide who is a family and how that family should operate. It’s the increasing taxes we pay for the many services government provides in addition to its fundamental role as laid out in the U.S. Constitution: to provide for the common defense.

With the advent of the era of the Terrorist Threat have come numerous additional encroachments on our private lives and rights. Under the Bush Administration, government agencies have gained enormous power to arrest and hold people they suspect may be involved in activities deleterious to our nation’s security.

They can tap our phones more easily, check our library usage habits and they have more power to demand information about each of us and to create secret databases with that information. They have increased surveillance of political activists. There’s been serious movement toward requiring what essentially are national ID cards.

One of the areas of great concern is the slow but inexorable rise of “political correctness,” with resulting restrictions on the free flow of ideas in our schools and on our streets. We’re seeing it in Europe and in Canada, and there’s a steady movement in our nation to crack down on “hate speech” and other forms of behavior that certainly disturb people but in the past have been permissible under the First Amendment.

Freedom of speech (and belief) have always involved some unpleasantness; but which is worse — anger at something someone is saying or writing or thinking, or having a majority of the population dictate to you what you can say or believe?

Increasingly, courts have been disinclined to do much to stop this, particularly with regard to issues of religious liberty.

So when this particular decision was handed down from the nation’s highest court, that the Second Amendment does indeed allow private individuals, not just those who are in a state militia, to own and bear arms, it was cause for some relief. Justice Antonin Scallia’s ruling that the Second Amendment is not “outmoded” despite our military might and “well-trained police forces” is on the mark. “What is not debatable,” Scallia wrote, ” is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”

Why is this decision important? It’s because it involves much more than just the right to keep a handgun in your house.

We say that because it’s easy, today, to forget (or never be aware of) the reason why the Second Amendment exists in the first place. Recall that the colonists who put together the Declaration of Independence, the document that we celebrate this Friday on Independence Day, were living under a despot king, located thousands of miles away, whose policies were becoming increasingly tyrannical.

The people who wrote our Constitution were familiar with the role that armed citizens were able to play in the formation of a new nation. How else could citizens ride themselves of a government that showed diminishing concerns for their welfare?

“But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government,” wrote the Framers in the Declaration of Independence.

Despotism from within or without is a relatively foreign thought for us today, living in a nation that hasn’t been invaded (in a major way) by a foreign power in more than 200 years. Although the notion that Japanese military leaders nixed the idea of trying to invade the West Coast because they knew they’d meet armed (and angry) citizens has been dismissed as a myth, the concept still makes sense. It did to our forefathers.

Perhaps more uncomfortably, at least for those who favor Big Government, an armed citizen militia also is a defense against the eventuality of an increasingly intrusive, controlling government.

It may not be in our mindset today, but our Founding Fathers certainly were thinking that way when they instituted that right in our Constitution. They had just been through just such an action.

Happy Fourth of July!

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