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NRA And The Second Amendment

Monday, June 11, 2001

Those who founded our state and federal governments conferred upon them extensive powers but reserved to the people certain individual freedoms. Citizens demanded that our original federal Constitution be amended to include a Bill of Rights with specific provisions to safeguard cherished individual liberties.

The language and intent of the framers of the Second Amendment were perfectly clear two centuries ago. Based on the English Common Law, the Second Amendment guaranteed against federal interference with the citizen`s right to keep and bear arms for personal defense. Too, the revolutionary experience caused our forebears to address the second concern--the need for the people to maintain a citizen--militia for national and state defense without adopting the bane of liberty, a large standing army. An armed citizenry instead of a standing army was viewed as preventing the possibility of an arbitrary or tyrannical government.

As Patrick Henry put it, the "great object is that every man be armed . . . . Everyone who is able may have a gun." James Madison, who noted in the Federalist Papers that Americans had "the advantage of being armed," which was lacking in other countries, where "the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms," authored the Second Amendment. It was based on the Virginia bill of rights--and similar protections against state interference with that fundamental right.

The Founding Fathers distrusted a government which wouldn`t trust the people regardless of the level of government. The authors of the Bill of Rights made it clear that individual rights were at issue. Madison wrote that the Bill of Rights was "calculated to secure the personal rights of the people." and Albert Gallatin, later to serve as Jefferson`s Treasury Secretary, said "lt establishes some rights of the individual as unalienable and which consequently, no majority has a right to deprive them of."

Since the adoption of the Second Amendment--"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"--there have been two methods of trying to destroy that fundamental freedom.

The anti-gunners` first approach is, simply, to deny that a key provision of the Bill of Rights was ever intended to protect individuals. They can never cite an 18th century source for their claim that the Bill of Rights, or any provision of it, was intended to protect the "rights" of anyone but individuals. Yet they constantly assert, with the acquiescence of the news media, that only some vague "right of states to have militias" was meant. Sometimes they also allege that modern firearms were unforeseen. They ignore the fact that states had "powers," not "rights," and that a number of states guaranteed the right to keep and bear arms as well. And media types--who can spread lies around the nation in a fraction of a second, when it took over a week for news to travel throughout the early U.S.--insist the Founding Fathers could never envision guns which could be fired about twice a second rather than twice a minute.

There are those today who assert that the Second Amendment is out of date and obsolete in a modern age. If the Second Amendment is to be viewed as nothing more than a dusty 18th century relic, buried by scientific advances, then what about the First Amendment? How can those civil libertarians who forcefully denounce each and every abridgement of the First, remain absolutely silent before each and every attempted infringement of the Second?

The direct and blunt and anti-developmental approach is easy to reject for anyone willing to read history. The second--and in some ways more serious--threat to our freedoms is the incremental approach. Some lawmakers have deserted gun owners, claiming to support the right to keep and bear arms but also saying that right must be "balanced" with the needs of society as a whole.

Some also claim that banning certain guns, or parts of guns, or features of guns doesn`t constitute a serious infringement of rights. They claim society`s "greater good" outweighs the individual right to own a semi-auto with a large-capacity magazine, or a large capacity magazine itself, or . . .

The incremental approach, where the individual`s constitutional guarantee is weighed against some alleged governmental or societal need, inevitably leads to the loss of rights, sometimes to their total destruction.

The incremental approach can similarly undermine a freedom by claiming the reasons for it no longer exist. An answer to the question, if all they want is a few rifles and handguns, or a few restrictions, why not give it to them?" is that that`s not what they want. Since none of the infringements is aimed at the problem of criminal violence, each and every one is doomed to failure. The anti-gunners are sure to follow up each failure, not with an admission their policies were misguided and should be repealed, but, instead, with a call for still more restrictions on the grounds the earlier restrictions weren`t enough. Thus, every infringement, far from reducing the pressure for more restrictions, simply increases the pressure for the next curtailment of the freedoms for which our forefathers fought and died.

For 130 years the National Rifle Association of America has stood in opposition to all who step-by-step would reduce the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms to a privilege granted by those who govern. NRA continues to fight against those who would dictate that American citizens should seek police permission to exercise their constitutional rights.

NRA believes that the Second Amendment speaks to far more than a right to enjoy firearms for hunting and target shooting, the phony "sporting purposes" notion to which so many cling. Such notions trivialize an essential freedom which NRA is honor bound to defend, a constitutional safeguard as worthy of defense as freedom of speech.
Read NRA`s Friend of the Court Brief in U.S. v. Emerson.


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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.