Sometimes there’s so much going on in the world, it almost feels like there’s nothing going on in the world. By that I mean, there’re so many “big” headlines that none of them really feel big anymore.
Potential economic collapse? Check.
Gun control debates? Check.
And the list could go on and on. So, while I like to focus on educational Constitution exploration on Fridays (aka: The Amendments currently), I like to take Wednesdays to talk about something more current. What’s happening now and how does the Constitution inform that?
That’s the thing. Today, Tuesday, I’m combing through the news and everything just seems so… tragic, difficult to discuss, emotional and it’s all happened before. I guess that’s just how life works though, isn’t it? There’s nothing new under the sun.
And maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s the beauty of the Constitution and the rule of law. Yes, things do change and update and progress over time, but they also stay the same. Everything is just an updated version of something that’s already happened. A pandemic? Sure, maybe it’s a different virus this time, but pandemics are not new. Economic hardship? Yup, this round is personal to us and unique to our time, but economic hardship is a problem as ancient as the world itself. The Constitution was built to weather each cycle of horror and to contain the power of the government no matter what.
So, I’m going to attempt to insert the Constitution’s voice into the raging “gun” debates currently circulating. Please remember, I try my best to give the Constitution’s voice on matters, not mine. This does not mean that I don’t have opinions or feelings about things, it simply means that my feelings and opinions on things don’t really matter. What matters is what the Constitution says that government can and by default, can’t do. Unfortunately, most news sources are simply trying to play on emotions and fear rather than reasoned, practical reality.
Full disclosure. This article is NOT about the school shooting last week. That’s its own story and should be treated as such. I struggle even mentioning it because of the emotions and horror the story stirs in me and in all of us. I’m not here to stir up emotional rage and horror. Leave that to the political pundits and politicians who want your vote or support for whatever legislation they intend to use this tragedy to pursue. I’m here to educate. That’s it. So, in light of last week’s events, I will attempt to bring a little Constitutional education to a, yet again, trending topic.
The emotional horror at last week’s events in Texas should have no bearing on our Constitutional response. I may really hate guns, have a problem with them and want them legislated against or I may love guns and wish every American had them. I could list off statistics about why countries with guns are so much safer or countries without guns are so much safer.
But, fundamentally, that’s like someone critiquing a lower level employee for how well or unwell he’s carrying out the role of a manager. We can whine and complain all day about how poorly or wonderfully this employee could manage a firm but until this employee actually becomes a manager…our opinions on this really don’t matter. We’re insinuating that this employee has powers he does not have by arguing and complaining about how he would use these hypothetical powers. What matters is how well this employee does his current job. It’s healthy and normal to debate the virtues or vices of formally changing the employee’s position, perhaps promoting the employee … as long as these debates stay in their proper place and according to proper protocol, so as to avoid this low level employee thinking too highly of himself and taking more power than he has been given.
So, remember this real-world example when debating and discussing government-our employee-behavior.
Quick crash course reminder. The founders wrote the Constitution to enumerate power to the government, not to enumerate rights to the people. We have liberty because our government’s power is not arbitrary (limitless, unconfined and undefined). We do not have Constitutional rights per se. We have liberty, under which rights exist.
I usually cringe a bit when someone says, “That’s my Constitutional right”…as if there are unconstitutional rights?
Yes, there are some “rights” or liberties that the Bill of Rights specifically commands the federal government (these amendments exist in many state Constitutions as well) that it cannot make laws about–but there are no rights given in the Bill of Rights. Remember, no amendment says “This right is given…”. It aways says, “Such and such right shall not be infringed…” Again, the document limits government power.
I’m really working to help shift the mindset here in this country back to what the framers originally conceived.
See, the Constitution defines and then confines federal power and anyone who’s read Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution would know that there’s no threat to religion, arms (including guns), speech or any other “rights” listed in our Bill of Rights. In other words, if the federal government actually followed the Constitution there wouldn’t even be a debate about what a “armed militia” is or what “free speech” means because the government couldn’t ever make any legislation within these realms. The Bill of Rights are incredibly redundant. They TELL our government that it cannot do what it already cannot do.
"The sense of the Convention delegates was that a bill of rights, in the context of the federal Constitution, was unnecessary and even dangerous. It was considered unnecessary because the national government was a limited government that could only exercise those powers granted to it by the Constitution, and it had been granted no power to violate the most cherished rights of the people. There was, for example, no need for a provision protecting freedom of speech against Congress because, as James Wilson put it, 'there is given to the general government no power whatsoever concerning it'.
They even maintained that inclusion of a bill of rights would be dangerous, because it might suggest that the national government had powers that it had not actually been granted. As Alexander Hamilton put it, bills of rights “would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and on this very account, would afford a colourable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done, which there is no power to do?” Moreover, any list of rights would be incomplete. Such a list might indirectly endanger any rights not included on it.
The Tenth Amendment’s simple language—'The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people'—emphasizes that the inclusion of a bill of rights does not change the fundamental character of the national government. It remains a government of limited and enumerated powers, so that the first question involving an exercise of federal power is not whether it violates someone’s rights, but whether it exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers." Constitution Center
Remember, the danger of our government acting outside of its Constitutionally enumerated powers is this: from where does it get the power to do what it does if not from the Constitution? Well, if it doesn’t come from the Constitution, it comes from nowhere and if it comes from nowhere, that power is arbitrary–limitless. If the federal government can do one thing outside of the Constitution, it can do anything.
The Conversation About “Gun Rights” or “Gun Control”
Here’s the real issue. We’re getting it all wrong when we say, the federal government needs to “protect our gun rights” or “increase gun laws”. Neither of these statements has any real basis in the Constitution.
What is our government’s job description? We the people have to know this if we’re going to know “whether it [gun legislation in this scenario] exceeds the national government’s enumerated powers” rather than simply noticing or reacting to when government has violated a perceived “right”. That’s not how our government or the citizenry was supposed to function. As the employers of government, we have the privilege of actively governing our own government via the Constitution.
But we can’t do that, if all we’re doing is paying attention to the Bill of Rights and not the Constitution–we’re ineffective employers.
Sure. The Second Amendment is important because it confines federal power — regardless of my thoughts or beliefs about guns — but the Second Amendment pales in comparison to the Constitution. If the federal government was following the Constitution, debates about the Second Amendment would be moot.
But we the people must know this Constitution if we’re to actually hold government accountable to it, rather than playing the game of rights and semantics. And that means, the topic isn’t really the point — the topic could be anything. What matters is the Constitution and whether or not said topic is within the confines of Constitutionally enumerated powers.
Theoretically, there’s always an answer to the why behind the Constitution. Why did the framers choose to leave the power for Congress to legislate on guns (via Article 1, Section 8–not the Second Amendment, which is a redundant extra precaution) out of the Constitution? In other words, why isn’t legislating or regulating guns part of our federal government’s job description?
They believed that it was far more dangerous for the citizenry to leave “arms” only to those in power than for all citizens to have “arms”. You have to remember that the founders had a very poor view of human nature, especially of those in government. Could the average citizen do bad things with a weapon that they had access to? Yes.
Theoretically, the founders would rather take that risk than the risk of only those in government potentially doing bad things with weapons and the citizenry having no recourse. In other words, the founders had seen and read too much history and too many accounts of government oppression to trust the government with exclusive access to bearing arms (“I make a point of saying arms because this meant all forms weaponry”)–Again, these terms are irrelevant since gun legislation is not part of the legislative job description.
Does that mean states are unable to make laws regulating arms or guns? Technically, before the 14th Amendment, no. So, states could regulate guns (if their Constitutions allowed) but the federal government could not. These few quotes will give you a glimpse into the minds of the founders, who were, as I said, very wary of government and the potential abuse government could wreak on an unarmed citizenry.
Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. – George Washington
To disarm the people… was the best and most effectual way to enslave them. – George Mason
No clause in the Constitution could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. – William Rawle
Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed, as they are in almost every country in Europe. — Noah Webster
I implore everyone who reads this to avoid getting caught up in the emotional politics that our politicians and media love to play after a tragedy. That’s how governments coerce and control. Don’t let them use last week’s tragedy to manipulate, coerce and control you.
The debates about “guns” really have nothing to do with guns. It’s all a game of distractions and heart strings. Some argue that with guns we’re doomed, while others argue that without guns, we’re doomed. People hold up the Second Amendment to argue for or against gun control and yet few, if any, actually talk about what the Constitution says is the federal government’s job in this realm–nor does anyone explain or discuss why it’s of upmost important for our government to stay within it’s job description. The stakes are high and that has nothing to do with guns, but rather, arbitrary power. A government that can do one thing arbitrarily and get away with it, can do anything.
I’ll end the way I ended my discussion on Roe v. Wade.
Regardless of anyone’s stance or beliefs about guns or any topic not listed in the Constitution as part of the federal government’s jurisdiction, legislating about guns is not a Constitutionally enumerated federal power and won’t be unless the states hand that power to the federal government via a Constitutional amendment.
Until that time, all debates, all emotional diatribes, all discussions about the number of Americans who want or don’t want gun control, are moot and arbitrary.
Let’s deal in reality. Want to debate gun control? Sure, but remember while debating what you believe about it that it has nothing to do with the federal government. It’s far healthier for liberty for everyone to keep that perspective while ranting and railing for or against guns.
The Liberty Belle