THE FIRST TEN AMENDMENTS to the United State Constitution, commonly called the Bill of Rights, were added to protect the rights of the individual American citizen. In the first blush of the new republic the meaning of any of those rights was crystal clear. The fact that all had been ignored or crushed by the soldiers of King George made them easy to understand. Yet time passed and newer generations forgot the tyranny of an English monarch. The rights became commonplace, taken for granted, and then slowly erosion began.
Every amendment in the Bill of Rights was eroding. Then in the 1920s the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stood up for the First Amendment despite those who would try and curtail it. As a result the First Amendment has regained its former stature.
In the nineteen thirties the Second Amendment came under attack when violent mobsters using machine guns terrorized citizens in New York, Chicago, and other metropolitan areas. The carnage led to the first national gun control law enforced by the Treasury Department. Then it was the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy in the 1960s that resulted in more federal gun control laws being enacted.
In order to justify more and more restrictions on firearms the proponents put forth the notion that the Second Amendment, unlike all the other amendments, was not an individual right, but a collective one. An entire lobby and historical justification industry grew up around such a bogus idea.
Succeeding administrations and federal courts nurtured and propagated that myth. And with every succeeding heinous criminal act committed with a gun, the gun ban lobby added more and more laws.
Yet, those that supported the original meaning of the Second Amendment fought back. Historians and lawyers researched and wrote scholarly papers about the true intent of the founding fathers. With each passing year more and more scholars added to the body of knowledge that examined the roots of the Second Amendment leading to the inevitable conclusion that it was an individual right, not a collective right.
A week ago Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Bush Administration’s point man on the Second Amendment, threw down the gauntlet to the gun banners. In footnotes to briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Bush Administration states, "The current position of the United States, however, is that the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia or engaged in active military service or training, to possess and bear their own firearms, subject to reasonable restrictions designed to prevent possession by unfit persons or to restrict the possession of types of firearms that are particularly suited to criminal misuse."
Law Professor Eugene Volokh explains in the Wall Street Journal that the government is "returning to a much broader consensus: the view, adopted throughout most of the nation's history, that the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’ is as individual a right as ‘the right of the people to be secure ... against unreasonable searches and seizures’ or ‘the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’"
Yet the government’s mild language has caused consternation beyond belief in the gun ban community and the mainstream media. The media has picked up the quote, "government position of more than 60 years" from the Violence Policy Center (VPC) and used it in story after story. VPC was the gun ban lobby that gave us the term "assault weapons" and helped craft the Clinton administration’s policy to ban "assault weapons."
In editorial after editorial the media is trying to spin the story as Armageddon for gun control. Bill Press, who co-hosted Crossfire several years ago and screamed, "Guns, Guns, Guns" at me during an interview, wrote a diatribe against Ashcroft and the National Rifle Association. He calls Ashcroft a "dictator" and accuses him of a "shocking display of executive arrogance."
They have all ignored the fact that in both the Emerson vs. United States (see my article "Emerson Ruling Both Good and Bad for Gun Rights") and Haney vs. United States, the Bush administration has asked the court to turn down the appeals from both men. The Bush administration believes that the laws under which both men have been arrested and convicted were within the parameter of "reasonable restrictions" on the Second Amendment.
Why all the raucous and hysterical wailing and hand wringing? You see it’s really not about gun restrictions; it’s about banning guns. If the gun control lobby were really sincere about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, they would welcome the Bush administration policy, but there is no sincerity. The hysterical reaction is all about not being able to ban the private ownership of guns. Again and again their true intent becomes clearer: registration, gun bans, and finally confiscation. That’s why they will oppose the Bush administration’s policy with all their might. Under Bush, bans are not "reasonable restrictions."