For the last month, a passionate debate over guns has taken place in the United States after a school shooting in Parkland, Florida left 17 students and faculty of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School dead. On one side there are students in the media spotlight, celebrities, and Democratic lawmakers, who have proposed assault weapons bans and other forms of gun control on federal and state levels. On the other, the GOP, the NRA, and millions of gun owners citing the Second Amendment as their guarantee to the right to own a firearm. Many conservatives fear that a repeal of the Second Amendment will give way to a ban on assault weapons, which will lead to a ban on semi-automatic firearms, and before long, the United States will have a mandatory buyback of all guns. It might sound unrealistic, but sentiments expressed in Congress and gun control polls are starting to show that a Constitutional amendment might be in the foreseeable future.
The Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States reads “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” The language used in this seemingly simple amendment is crucial to its meaning. First, it declares gun ownership a right possessed by the American people. Very clearly stated, it is not a privilege. Second, it warns that this right shall not be infringed upon by the government rather than saying the right to bear arms originates in government and is gifted to the people. This is one of the distinguishing points between the right and the left. The left believes that rights come from the government. The right believes life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness not only exist in nature but that it is the government’s primary role is to protect them.
Then the question is whether gun ownership is a natural right. Not necessarily, but the Second Amendment is more complex than simply owning a gun for purposes of recreation or hunting. It is fundamentally based off of the right to self-preservation, defense against an authoritarian government, like King Henry III’s tyrannical reign that the framers had defeated in the Revolutionary War. Such government could intrude on the inalienable rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Guns at that time were the most effective way to ward off an abusive government. Whether or not the founding fathers anticipated the arrival of a tyrant in the future of the Union, it is certain they believed that guns were necessary to deter such threats.
The Second Amendment isn’t the only Constitutional prescription that is written to protect Americans from federal government encroachment. The First Amendment allows the people to petition the government. The Tenth preserves states’ rights. The Constitution is a set of restrictions not on the people, but on the central government, and the motivations for these provisions are identical to the beliefs of modern conservatives. Altering or repealing certain amendments gives even more power to the bloated government in Washington D.C. and sets the dangerous precedent that it can take away rights for its own interests.