Nearly eight years after retiring from public service, former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens penned an article in The New York Times calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment. Just as he had done in his dissent in the landmark case District of Columbia v. Heller, Stevens expressed his belief that the Second Amendment does not protect an individual right to keep and bear arms. He also went further by stating that Article V amendment procedures should be utilized to “weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation.” In essence, Stevens believes that killing the Second Amendment would result in killing the foundation for our right to have a firearm.
However, Stevens is categorically wrong there, too. To believe that the Bill of Rights, which includes the Second Amendment, provides the people with individual liberty is to assume that government granted them. However, our Founding Fathers did not believe that to be the case. Recall 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 unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Jefferson did not write that clause out of a vacuum; he wrote it based off the underlying principle that the people had natural rights that neither government nor man could interfere with. His emphasis on natural law and natural rights emanates from John Locke’s The Second Treatise of Government. In his seminal work, Locke made the emphatic case that government only exists by the people’s consent and that government deserves to be dissolved when it interferes with the social contract between the state and those who consented to its power.
Locke states the following in Chapter II:
To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any other man.
A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another, there being nothing more evident than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another, without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.
Locke writes that the state of nature requires that men are intended to live as freely as possible without interference from anyone or anything else. The natural order requires that the state and the people share reciprocal powers as a means to check each entity from infringing upon powers and rights.
But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence; though man in that state have an uncontrollable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind, and not unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
Locke emphasizes a seemingly universal principle that individuals not only have rights and liberties, but they do not possess any rights to infringe upon those of others. He states that no man can harm life, health, liberty, possessions, or interfere with one’s property. More importantly, he states that man is “bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully.” This highlights the natural right of self-preservation, which states that man has an obligation to defend himself from actors who seek to infringe upon his natural liberties. This includes not only man, but also the government itself.
He illustrates that right of self-preservation:
And that all men may be restrained from invading others’ rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of Nature be observed, which willeth the peace and preservation of all mankind, the execution of the law of Nature is in that state put into every man’s hands, whereby every one has a right to punish the transgressors of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation. For the law of Nature would, as all other laws that concern men in this world, be in vain if there were nobody that in the state of Nature had a power to execute that law, and thereby preserve the innocent and restrain offenders; and if any one in the state of Nature may punish another for any evil he has done, every one may do so. For in that state of perfect equality, where naturally there is no superiority or jurisdiction of one over another, what any may do in prosecution of that law, every one must needs have a right to do.
Locke does not sugarcoat his profound stance on the right of self-preservation when he states that all men have the natural right to “punish the transgressors.” If an entity intends to invade our natural rights, then the state of nature implores us to act within our means to counter such tyranny and to fight back against it. Locke’s idea that such a state of war requires swift retaliation is further articulated in Chapter III:
The state of war is a state of enmity and destruction; and therefore declaring by word or action, not a passionate and hasty, but sedate, settled design upon another man’s life puts him in a state of war with him against whom he has declared such an intention, and so has exposed his life to the other’s power to be taken away by him, or any one that joins with him in his defence, and espouses his quarrel; it being reasonable and just I should have a right to destroy that which threatens me with destruction; for by the fundamental law of Nature, man being to be preserved as much as possible, when all cannot be preserved, the safety of the innocent is to be preferred, and one may destroy a man who makes war upon him …
And hence it is that he who attempts to get another man into his absolute power does thereby put himself into a state of war with him; it being to be understood as a declaration of a design upon his life. For I have reason to conclude that he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it; for nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force to that which is against the right of my freedom- i.e. make me a slave. To be free from such force is the only security of my preservation, and reason bids me look on him as an enemy to my preservation who would take away that freedom which is the fence to it; so that he who makes an attempt to enslave me thereby puts himself into a state of war with me. He that in the state of Nature would take away the freedom that belongs to any one in that state must necessarily be supposed to have a design to take away everything else, that freedom being the foundation of all the rest; as he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those of that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design to take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war.
Therein lies the natural right of self-preservation. From natural rights theory, man has the ability to act in accordance with his rights without the express permission of any man or government. This demonstrates where Justice Stevens categorically fails in his belief that repealing the Second Amendment would deny the National Rifle Association’s ability to perpetuate what Chief Justice Warren Burger foolishly called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud.” When the rights of man are implemented by G-d as opposed to government, then it is neither Congress’s nor the judiciary’s place to impose restrictions on how individuals seek to exercise their rights whether it is the right to free speech or to keep and bear arms.
Interestingly enough, the Founding Fathers understood the problem with having a Bill of Rights at the time of the Constitution’s ratification. Alexander Hamilton wrote the following in The Federalist No. 84:
I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed? I will not contend that such a provision would confer a regulating power; but it is evident that it would furnish, to men disposed to usurp, a plausible pretense for claiming that power. They might urge with a semblance of reason, that the Constitution ought not to be charged with the absurdity of providing against the abuse of an authority which was not given, and that the provision against restraining the liberty of the press afforded a clear implication, that a power to prescribe proper regulations concerning it was intended to be vested in the national government. This may serve as a specimen of the numerous handles which would be given to the doctrine of constructive powers, by the indulgence of an injudicious zeal for bills of rights.
The federalists correctly understood that the Bill of Rights would constitute a danger insofar as it would imply that it was government, not the Creator, who effectively provided these natural rights to the people. The federal government, which only exists to structurally maintain those natural liberties, would then be seen as the arbiter to determine who can exercise these rights, what their limitations are, when individuals should be able to exercise them, and why such seemingly “reasonable” restrictions imposed by government ought to exist. This, in turn, represents an overreach in the federal government’s control over the people and denotes an interference in the social contract between the federal government and the people who consented to said government by ratifying the United States Constitution.
Despite Hamilton’s warning, the First Congress reached a compromise and allowed James Madison, one of the authors of The Federalist Powers, to carefully articulate the Bill of Rights that exist today. Since then, we have seen the Supreme Court of the United States opine on issues of our individual rights and how and when the government should impose restrictions on when people can exercise them.
Coincidentally, the same Supreme Court Justice who opined on the need to repeal the Second Amendment fleeced the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause in his Opinion of the Court in Kelo v. City of New London and sought to severely limit the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause in his dissent in Citizens United v. FEC. It makes sense that an individual who possessed little regard for the theory of natural rights exemplified the very tyrannical force that the Founding Fathers both rebelled against during the American Revolution and proactively feared in carefully constructing the United States Constitution.
While too many useful idiots will latch onto Justice Stevens’s flawed ideological reasoning, Americans can take comfort that the Left will forever fail to infringe on the natural rights of man. No individual and no government can possess the moral or natural authority to force us how we should live freely. If they attempt to do so, we can utilize that same natural right of self-preservation to ensure that our rights will remain secured for generations to come.
μολὼν λαβέ, leftists.