Former Reagan administration official Alan Keyes was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Social and Economic Council and a 2000 Republican presidential candidate. Be sure to visit Alan Keyes’ communications center for founding principles, The Declaration Foundation. (As posted at WorldNetDaily.com)
By Alan Keyes
© 1999 WorldNetDaily.com
Despite the heroic efforts of Sen. Bob Smith to turn it back, the latest batch of irrational and servile restrictions on the Second Amendment continues to ooze its way through that allegedly deliberative institution, the Congress. Perhaps because the gun control debate is now so entirely drenched in the emotive sludge that is the principal intellectual food of our political establishment, this seems a good moment to recall the deep reasons, the fundamental context, that must inform any responsible deliberations on the question of an armed citizenry.
I believe that underlying all of the prominent issues of the day — abortion, the breakdown of the family and of our educational institutions, the betrayal of our national sovereignty and military readiness, and the ongoing expansion of government’s tyrannical claims to tax and regulate — we can discern what is essentially one moral challenge which manifests itself in many areas. Simply stated, that challenge has to do with the corruption of our understanding of freedom, which leads to the abandonment of respect for law and individual responsibility, the twin pillars which ought to under-gird true freedom.
As a free people, our way of life depends upon certain moral ideas. As a matter of personal conscience, I believe that Christianity most perfectly embodies those ideas. But since Americans come from many different religious backgrounds, in dealing with issues of public policy, we must derive these ideas from sources that are open to support from all the people.
Nothing meets this purpose more completely than the principles and logic of our own Declaration of Independence, so American citizens and statesmen should make it the explicit basis for dealing with the moral crisis we now face.
The Declaration is fundamentally a statement of the principles of justice that define the moral identity of the American people. It presents a certain concept of our human nature and draws out the political consequences of that concept.
All human beings are created equal. They need no title or qualification beyond their simple humanity in order to command respect for their intrinsic human dignity, their “unalienable rights.”
The purpose of government is to secure these rights, and no government is just or legitimate if it systematically violates them.
But the Declaration is more than just an assertion of rights. It also makes a clear statement about the ultimate source of authority which commands respect for those rights. God, the Creator, the author of the laws of nature, is that source.
Thus the effective prerequisite for human rights is respect for God’s authority and His eternal laws. This is also the prerequisite for the idea of government based upon consent, which includes free elections, representation, due process of law, etc.
If we accept the logic of our Declaration of Independence, this reverence for God is not just a matter of religious faith. It is the foundation of justice and citizenship in our republic.
Therefore, our freedom is derived from our respect for law, especially the highest law as embodied in the will of the Creator. Thus freedom, rightly understood, cannot be confused with mere licentiousness. It first of all involves the duty to respect its own foundations in the laws of nature and nature’s God. That’s why our rights are “unalienable,” which means that we do not have the right to surrender or destroy them by our choice or actions.
Indeed, if we make the judgment that our rights are being systematically violated, we have the duty to resist and overthrow the power responsible. This duty involves both the judgment and the moral and material capacity to resist tyranny. These principles constitute our character as a free people, which it is our duty to maintain.
It is in the context of these principles that we must understand the purpose of the Second Amendment, and the duties that it implies. The Founders added the Second Amendment to the Constitution so that when, after a long train of abuses, a government evinces a methodical design upon our natural rights, we will have the means to protect and recover those rights.
If we make the judgment that our rights are being systematically violated, we have not merely the right, but the duty, to resist and overthrow the power responsible. It is very hard to do this if the government has all the weapons, something that our Founders and the generations before and after them knew from repeated and first-hand experience, as well as from a study of history. A strong case can be made, therefore, that it is a fundamental DUTY of the free citizen to keep and bear arms.
The claim that the Second Amendment is principally concerned with the maintenance of state militias — military bodies under the direction and control of state governments — is not just historically false, it is also fundamentally incoherent. It would make no sense whatsoever to restrict the right to keep and bear arms to state governments, since the principle on which our polity is based, as stated in the Declaration, recognizes that any government, at any level, can become oppressive of our rights. And we must be prepared to defend ourselves against its abuses. The gun control movement is incompatible with the sovereignty of the people, because it aims to eliminate one of the key material supports of that sovereignty.
This is not the principal danger of the gun control movement, however. Perhaps more important than the physical disarmament the government is attempting is the moral disarmament that accompanies it. If we accept the view that the American people cannot be trusted with the material objects necessary to defend their liberty, we will surely accept as well the view that the American people cannot be trusted with liberty itself. Why should a man who can’t be trusted to refrain from murder be trusted with the much more difficult and morally subtle task of choosing his leaders responsibly?
The advocates of gun control take as their first principle that the American people are morally incompetent creatures of passion. The America they envision for us is, accordingly, more like a national 24-hour day-care center than a self-governing republic of free men and women. If we agree to accept this apparently comfortable arrangement, we will have to check our citizenship at the door along with our guns.
If, on the other hand, we intend to exercise the duties of self-government and justice that are our patrimony as free and rational creatures, then we will need to think clearly and coherently about securing the means necessary to do so. We must defend the moral self-confidence of America by reasserting the capacity of our people to make the most important decisions and bear the most important responsibilities themselves. And we must retain the material means necessary to shoot the windows out of the national day-care center, if it comes to that.
Second Amendment rights are sacred because of their connection to higher rights and higher duties, which are the very substance of liberty and justice, and to the God that America has always acknowledged as the source of both. We cannot surrender our guns without surrendering the vision of human dignity under God which is our national soul. The slow erosion of our national understanding of this fact is continuing in the Congress. Only a citizenry armed with a clear understanding of what is at stake can ultimately save us from the civic imbecility to which the gun control movement leads. By disarming, we will confess to our government that we no longer aspire to sovereignty, and wish our rulers to take up this burden in our stead. We will be signaling with great clarity that we wish to be comfortable slaves — and slaves, at least, we will soon become.
The terrible history of the 20th century should make clear enough that subjection to unlimited government is not desirable. But a clear and thoughtful examination of our national principles teaches us also that it is our duty to shun such servitude. It is our right, and it is our duty, to remain free.