So Friday morning in all the aftermath of the Colorado movie massacre, someone asked me on Facebook, “Owning guns is a right. They can’t take our rights away, can they?”
I didn’t answer. The truth is that I didn’t have a good answer. I didn’t want to say that, no, of course they couldn’t —“they” being the government. I also didn’t want to be flippant and say, “Why, the Second Amendment is only an Amendment, and what is amended to the Constitution can be un-amended, so, yeah.”
So here’s the long answer, Heather: the government can only take away our rights if we allow them to, and we allow them to whenever we’re scared, which is why now is such a dangerous time. Look at the aftermath of 9/11. The whole country was in a panic. I remember us sitting, huddled in front of the television for hours, watching the same footage over and over. Even Tyler, Texas (where I was attending college) was convinced that al-Qaeda was among us. In fact, the greatest danger at that time was not al-Qaeda, but ourselves and our willingness to give up anything in order to be promised that Big Daddy government would protect us and not let this happen again.
And so now we have the PATRIOT Act, and the Department of Homeland Security, including that misbegotten make-a-job program called the Transportation Security Administration. Goodbye, Fourth and Fifth Amendments!
The First Amendment has been ebbing away for the last fifty years or so. It started with religion, when we started allowing the government to force out religious principles in favor of “impartiality” and to protect those whose delicate sensibilities would be offended by a morning prayer, when in fact, the First Amendment was written to protect the churches from the state.
But in the early 20th Century, the Protestant Church, worried that the Catholics might gain too much influence, began pushing a more defined separation. By the mid-20th Century, it was too late for the tide to be turned and precedent had been established. (For more on this, see Francis J. Beckwith’s Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft)
Then free speech began to be attacked, although, technically, that’s been under attack since the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1801. There are now free speech zones at protests and colleges to ensure no one gets their feelings hurt—which, in turn, implies that free speech isn’t allowed anywhere else? While initially intended to make sure protests didn’t get out of hand, they’ve become one more symptom of political correctness run amok.
As for the Tenth Amendment, it’s never had teeth or been respected by the federal government. I would love to say that it carries the same weight as the First Amendment or the Second Amendment, but despite triggering the Civil War, it’s kind of like the nerdy little brother that no one likes. One day when it grows up to be a Marine Corps drill sergeant, it will be respected, but until then, it’s just a kid in glasses that gets shoved around on the bus.
So there are at least four amendments we’ve partially given up, and in some places, like New York and Chicago, they already don’t have the Second Amendment. The citizenry is (mostly) frightened of gangs and the government there has convinced them that the police departments, stretched thin, will nonetheless be there to respond so quickly that the citizens can abdicate their own responsibilities for self-defense.
How do we protect what we have left and gain back what we’ve lost? At the most basic level, it’s being informed and voting appropriately. No, seriously, don’t laugh, but there are people who still go into the voting booth with no idea whom or what they’re voting for and just pick names. Everyone has their own personal litmus test that a candidate must pass. For me, it’s where they stand on abortion, the Second Amendment, and how they interpret the Constitution.
Secondly, we need to take responsibility for highlighting injustices. If that means writing 40 letters to the newspaper editor about why gun control would be dumb, so be it. If it means attending protest rallies, or just getting the word out on Facebook, do it. Any way that we can repeatedly remind our fellow citizens about how we’re losing our rights and simultaneously remind the government that we’re going to legally fight it every step of the way is good.
Finally, it may ultimately mean a little bit of civil disobedience is in order—but exercise your own judgment in how far you want to take it. Be the lone person protesting outside the free speech zone. If you have a concealed carry license, start using it (if it’s concealed and they’re not using metal detectors, how will anyone know you have a weapon anyway?). Learn what nullification means and when it’s an appropriate argument to use so if your elected officials start arguing for it, you know whether or not to support it.
We may not be able to regain all the ground we’ve lost in our lifetimes, but we may make it a lot easier for our kids. And if we can hold on to the rights we have left, that will make it a lot easier to keep the federal government mindful that they answer to us—not the other way around.
Image courtesy of Nick Wolfinger (Otto Normalverbraucher)