(UPDATE: I've updated this essay to respond to some of the questions raised in the comments.)
Gun lovers take note. The Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights guaranteeing the right to bear arms has just been repealed by the Bush Administration.
You may not have seen it coming. You may not have even realized it was gone. But it is. And any right you had to own a gun is gone with it.
Now, no one has "officially" repealed the 2nd Amendment. As you know, that would take a two-thirds majority vote in the US House and US Senate, followed by ratification in three-fourths of the state legislatures. That has not happened because it would be too obvious, and you would object. What the Bush administration has done is much slicker than that, and much more telling.
Real despots, real dictatorships, real tyrannies don't ask for permission before they take your rights away. When jack-booted thugs want to steal your most basic rights as free citizens, they come in the dark of night, you won't even know they've been there, and by the time you find out what they've done, it will be too late.
What exactly am I talking about? Read on.
Your right to bear arms is protected by the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. It is one of ten amendments to the Constitution that we call the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights were adopted in 1791 to protect your basic rights and freedoms as Americans from an overzealous government. Among those rights and liberties, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to bear arms, and the right to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures. What Bush has done to justify his recent domestic spying is to say that the Constitution in general, and the Bill of Rights in particular, are no longer either absolute or the law of the land. Instead, Bush, as commander in chief during war time, can overrule the Bill of Rights with a secret executive order whenever he wants. Not only is this absurd, but it's an incredibly dangerous precedent for our democracy and everyone living under it.
What Bush has just done is to say that the Constitution no longer dictates what he can and can't do as president. That means your rights under the Bill of Rights are no longer absolute or guaranteed, they're no longer the law of the law, they're now just simple "suggestions" without teeth, that can be brushed away by the federal government whenever it sees fit. If the Bill of Rights no longer give us absolute protection against our government, and can be overruled at a whim by that government, then the protections they afford no longer exist - they no longer exist.
The same logic that Bush applies to the 4th amendment applies to 1st or the 2d or any of the others. Bush has now established the precedent that his power as commander in chief overrules ANY protections you have in the Bill of Rights, and that would include the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. And as Bush has been doing all of this in secret - we only found out because the story apparently leaked to the New York Times THREE YEARS after Bush brushed the Constitution aside - how do YOU know that Bush hasn't already begun secretly violating the constitutional and legislative rights of gun owners, to further the war on terror, of course? And even if he hasn't, yet, who's to say he, or any future president, won't sometime down the line?
1. Now, you may say you know Bush hasn't taken away your rights as gunowners because you'd know if he had.
You mean if the Department of Homeland Security (one of the largest, if not the largest, government agency to exist in the history of the world), the CIA, the NSA, the Department of Defense, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, INR at State, DIA at DOD, or any other government spy agency decided to do a little research on you and every registered gun owner in America, you'd know about it?
And how exactly would you know if the federal government secretly broke the law in order to spy on every gunowner in America?
2. But, you might be saying, the law prohibits all of those agencies from snooping on America's gunowners.
Yeah. And the law also prohibits the president from using the military or any other government agency to spy on American citizens without a court order. We now know he does it anyway, quite proudly in fact, and has been doing it for years to spy on hundreds if not thousands of American citizens in direct violation of the law.
3. But my congressman is pro-gunowners' rights, you say, he'd never let the federal government do this to gunowners.
In fact, the White House says both Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress have been briefed on the program (and as it turns out, it sounds like more Republicans than Democrats were actually told about it). But in any case, guess what happened? Your pro-gun buddies in the congressional leadership - Senator Frist and Congressman Hastert - were told that Bush was breaking the law in order to spy on American citizens and no one lifted a finger. What makes you think they did anything different if and when Bush notified them that he was investigating gunowners as well?
4. But, you say, owning guns is different than being involved in the war on terror, the president would never come after us.
Really? Tell me exactly how owning a machine gun won't put you on the radar screen of a federal machine hell-bent on trying to stop, by any means necessary, legal or illegal, a terrorist from walking into a suburban shopping mall and gunning down innocent men, women and children? Yeah, Bush would have no incentive to look at records of who's been buying guns of late, not at all.
5. But you'd tell me, there's no way the federal government could get their hands on gun-purchase databases run by the various states.
Well, let me quote a pro-gun defender of yours:
The federal government has every gun registered. The registration is at the state level. Question: Whom do the states report to? The government that's who. If the government perceives a potential danger on any scale, who do you think they will contact first. They will contact the state government for the gun registration list or the FOID list. Also, do you really think that your state governor will refuse to turn over that list? Think again. That list will be in the hands of the federal agents and the military in no time flat. They will be knocking on the doors of the law-abiding citizens informing them of the surrender of all arms to the government. They will also have the list of any and all arms that are registered to that household in hand. Heaven forbid you cannot find one. I am sure the agents will be empowered to search your residence to locate said firearm. It happened in Europe. The tactic was sound so why not use it again. Sounds good to me.6. Then you'd say, that's impossible because many states, like Florida, must destroy records on gun sales within 48 hours of the purchase.
For example, read the following from the Brady Campaign Web site:
In Florida for example, "State law generally forbids police from keeping any record of gun sales. Police must destroy records on gun sales within 48 hours and are prohibited from maintaining gun sale records that could be used for gun tracing and criminal investigations."Well, yes, that is what the law says. That would be the same law that says the federal government can't spy on American citizens without a court order - the law that President Bush just admitted breaking over 30 times in the past three years in order spy on at least 500 American citizens, if not thousands of them. Tell me again how "the law" is going to stop the government from investigating every gun owner in this country in order to further the war on terror? As President Bush said himself this morning at his White House press conference, the Constitution gives him the right to break the law in furtherance of the war on terror, even if the law he's breaking is the Constitution itself (whether it's the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure, or the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms).
The 2nd Amendment is gone. The entire Bill of Rights is gone. The federal government has declared that anything they do is legal, and everything you do is suspect. No law will stand in their way, no man will stand in their way. This isn't just conjecture. They've now admitted it.
7. Finally, you may say, this is only a temporary threat because the government is only taking these extraordinary measures while we're at war.
And that's right. So long as we're at war with terrorism these extraordinary measures will be in place. Of course, President Bush told us during his re-election campaign that the war on terror will NEVER END:
Do you really think we can win this war on terror in the next four years?So if Bush is allowed to ignore the Constitution and federal law so long as we're at war with terror, that pretty much means forever.
President Bush: I have never said we can win it in four years.
Lauer: So I'm just saying can we win it? Do you see that?
President Bush: I don't think you can win it.
Once the government has the unfettered right to take away any and all of your rights at whim, those right are already gone and rendered meaningless. If the government has the right to obliterate the protections in the Bill of Rights by presidential fiat, with no judicial oversight and in clear disregard of the law of the land and the will of our elected representatives, then those rights no longer exist. Period.
The Bill of Rights is gone. It no longer has any power to protect the absolute rights of citizens against an overzealous government. Yes, you may still have your guns, you may still assemble peacefully in the town square, you may still run a newspaper, but you no longer are guaranteed THE RIGHT to have a gun, the right to assemble, or the right to a free press because President Bush just told us that any and all rights under the Constitution exist at his will. Thus those rights, as enumerated in the Constitution, are no longer absolute checks on government power as the government has decided it can overrule those "rights" in secret, unchecked, and at a whim. They are no longer rights at all.
But Bush hasn't taken on the gun owners, that we know of, and you all still have your guns (though you have no idea if your gun registrations have been illegally kept beyond the 48 hour period and whether those records have now been given to federal anti-terror officials in secret). But still, you have your guns, you might say.
Well, there is a big difference between saying you still have a gun and saying that you still have THE ABSOLUTE RIGHT under the Constitution to have a gun.
You may still have the former, but George Bush just made it clear that the latter no longer exists. Your rights are gone, your mechanism to enforce your rights is gone, and if that's fine with you as a gun owner, then click your mouse and move on. But if that's the case, if you don't see a massive threat to your constitutional rights as a result of the president determining that the Bill of Rights doesn't apply to decisions made by the executive branch, then don't tell me that attempts by the anti-gun lobby to repeal the 2nd Amendment is any big deal, because it's just been de facto repealed by President Bush and you don't seem to care. The Bill of Rights are not suggestions for action, they are absolute rights of the citizens vis-a-vis our government. When the government is permitted to say otherwise with impunity, those rights are per se gone.
In the end, the time to get worried about your rights isn't when they come for your guns, your megaphone, or your printing press. It's when your government establishes the precedent that permits it to ignore the protections already in place - protections that guarantee you your guns, your speech and your press. The precedent has now been set, those protections have now been dismantled. But hey, like I said, even an actual repeal of the 2nd Amendment doesn't NECESSARILY mean the government would come knocking on your door to take away your guns, so I'm sure none of you pro-gun folks object to an actual repeal. All that a repeal would do is take away the absolute protection for your right to bear arms, it wouldn't necessarily immediately take away your arms.
Well, the same thing is happening here: George Bush just took away the absolute protection of your rights enunciated in the Bill of Rights. It doesn't necessarily mean he's going to act on the new power he's suddenly seized. But are you really willing to sit back and wait to see if he does?