I f I were pressed to put my finger on a date in history, a specific moment when we lost the battle, I would say it happened on June 26, 1934. That was the day the Second Amendment was lost, forever, and the right to keep and bear arms disappeared, vanished, from the face of the earth.
The right was not taken away from us, because rights cannot be taken away. They can only be given up, surrendered—relinquished. The American people voluntarily abandoned a God-given prerogative of self-defense over eighty years ago. I seriously doubt we will ever get that right back.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Private ownership of guns is still legal in the U.S., so we never really lost our right to keep and bear arms. We still have that right, or else we would no longer have guns at all.
Unfortunately, this is not true.
On June 26, 1934, America made a purchase, similar to the one made by Jabez Stone in the old story, “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” We traded something of great value in exchange for something worthless. This time there won’t be a lawyer like Webster coming to defend us against our folly, to win an unwinnable battle for us.
Before the National Firearms Act was passed by the 73rd Congress, American citizens had the right to keep and bear arms. Once that bill, Statute 1236, became law, our right was gone, and in its place was a privilege. There is a huge difference between a right and a privilege.
As mentioned, a right cannot be taken away, only given up. Rights come from God, and if you don’t believe in God you can name another higher power to whom to ascribe the granting of rights.
Even atheists, however, must admit that rights are not granted by human largess. All humans being equal, no one person has more power than another, and a right is a possession that must come from a being with more power than the receiver. We can respect one another’s’ rights, but we cannot grant them, and we cannot take them away. If we say we have taken a right from someone, we are saying we are not equal to that person, but greater.
A privilege is a license, a watered-down right, given by a person or entity in a position of power to one who is under that power. Privileges can include almost anything we can think up. Rights are very basic and specialized. We never had many rights to begin with, so the loss of one is not to be taken lightly.
Some rights we all recognize are mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The same sentence includes where those rights came from, our Creator, and mentions the fact that we are all equal. It also says these facts are self-evident, meaning we don’t have to explain them, because everyone already knows these things. At least, at one time everyone knew them. I’m not sure anymore.
But during the bad old days of a hundred years ago, after the War To End All Wars was over, and everything was supposed to be civilized, we decided we wanted to buy safety. Safety was thought to be extremely desirable, and therefore valuable, so we had to buy it with something that was also very valuable—a right. So we bought safety, paying for it with our right to keep and bear arms, our right to self-defense.
When the sun came up the next morning,we found that we had indeed given up a right, but what we had bought was an illusion. We found we were still not safe. The entity that had promised to protect us was inadequate to do so. It still is. We had stationed a guard outside the henhouse, but the fox was locked inside with the chickens.
Some of us almost get it. Almost. A recent article decried the claim, made by many of late, that “The Second Amendment is my gun permit.” The article pointed out that this is not true, and that saying that the Second Amendment gives us the right to keep and bear arms is the same thing as saying that right was granted by the government. The Second Amendment, the article said, never granted us a right; it only protected a right that was already ours.
Before June 26, 1934, this was correct. We had a right to be armed then. But once that law was passed, we no longer had a right, we had a privilege, and privileges can easily be infringed.
Every time some court strikes down a gun ban, or forces a city to issue concealed weapon permits, or rules that a homeowner is allowed to defend his family, the fact is reinforced that we don’t have a right to keep and bear arms. Instead, we are dependent on our government to tell us what we can and cannot do. We are asking for privileges. Any court that can grant us those privileges can also take them away.
We could, conceivably, regain our right to keep and bear arms, but that would involve two huge steps. We would first have to give up our illusion of safety, and then we would have to water the tree of liberty. But the Second Amendment branch of that tree has been dry for more than eighty years. It may never sprout again.
Email Kendal Hemphill at [email protected]