Most Americans rightly look upon our U.S. Constitution with a form of reverence. So it might surprise you to learn that it was fiercely debated in the Congress and the state assemblies prior to its ratification.
Why? Because the draft constitution authorized a revised central government, but did not include guaranteed rights for member states or citizens of the new Republic. This government could (and did) take possession of your property, throw you in prison without cause or expectation of release, confiscate your rifles and ammunition, supersede state laws on any matter, and much more.
We’d won independence from the King of Great Britain, but the New Boss looked a lot like the Old Boss.
So the states (and We the People) insisted on amendments to the Constitution that would limit the central government’s power and ensure individual rights. It’s the first ten amendments to the Constitution, and we call it the Bill of Rights.
There are historical reasons why the people insisted on enshrining these rights in the Constitution, but the result was that the rights would be permanent. Take, for example, freedom of the press. If the people of this country became enraged at a press that was controlled by one political philosophy, they could sweep into power a Congress and a President who would be inclined to pass laws to censor the press, to control the content of newspapers and television.
And though that might seem reasonable to some, it would be unconstitutional. Because freedom of the press is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the federal government cannot enact legislation or issue executive orders that limit the freedom of the press. Unless they can get away with it unchallenged.
Tragic events often prompt cries for action by elected representatives. We are always tempted to do something – anything – to respond to these emotional appeals. In our rush to enact legislation the focus can be narrow. Too often, unforeseen consequences emerge from hastily enacted law. House Bill 1 (2012 Special Session) is one example.
Another potential example is today before us. The terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School where children were murdered in a “gun-free” school zone has renewed cries for bans on weapons. President Obama said “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” and “We can’t put this off any longer.” He issued 23 executive orders and called for sweeping legislative changes.
No one is emotionally immune to the heartbreak of Sandy Hook. But no one truly believes that any of the President’s actions or proposals would have prevented it. Nevertheless, Congress is under pressure to enact law that will restrict our rights to gun ownership, or make it difficult for law-abiding citizens to rely on their use of guns that they already have, if they are needed. In our anguish, we wonder why anyone needs a weapon capable of such devastation. Our focus is narrowed.
But our Rights are in the Constitution so that they are removed from emotional and political considerations. These rights are not a matter of opinion, nor do they depend on who was most recently elected to office. They are permanent, and the bedrock of America’s unique character.
If we believe that no one should be entitled to own a firearm, then we can propose a revision to the U.S. (and Kentucky) Constitution, thus removing all doubt. After all, the amendment process is described in our Constitution.
Meanwhile, there already are laws that restrict our unlimited freedom of Religion, Speech, Assembly, Arms, Etc. It’s important that we guard against further erosion of our rights by any means. And it’s not just my job; it’s yours as well.