President Obama zipped over to Colorado for the latest installment in his taxpayer-funded perpetual political campaign, in this case stumping for more gun-control laws. There he discussed the “realities” of public safety and the gun rights, proclaiming his belief that “there doesn’t have to be a conflict in reconciling these realities.”
“There doesn’t have to be a conflict between protecting our citizens and protecting our Second Amendment rights,” the President continued.
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there does. The Bill of Rights is a barrier to government power. When political ambition encounters that barrier, the result can fairly be described as conflict. We have an elaborate court system that spends a great deal of time resolving such conflicts.
Later in the same speech, Obama warned, “Every day that we wait to do something about it, even more of our fellow citizens are stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun.” That sounds like a very significant conflict right there. The only way to prevent the theft of lives by those nefarious bullets is to ban firearms. But the Second Amendment says the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In practical terms, we’ve essentially given up on the literal meaning of “infringed,” and replaced it with “shall not be infringed too much.” But even the most elastic definition of the Second Amendment would not support the complete banning of firearms.
Obama had not been reluctant to expound upon other conflicts between the Constitution and public need in the past. To cite one example, at the time of the “YouTube video riots” racing across the Islamic world, Obama spoke at great length about the conflict between freedom of speech and (depending on whether you assign more value to his words, or his circumstances) religious tolerance or public safety.
The Constitution is not merely a barrier to politicians themselves. It also provides a barrier against the democratically expressed will of the people. America’s Founders were deeply concerned about mob rule. The rights they enshrined in the Constitution are, therefore, not gifts from either the government, or our fellow citizens. They cannot be rescinded by popular vote – not with a majority of 51 percent, 81 percent, or 99.9 percent voting in favor. The people do have the option of amending the Constitution, which is appropriately difficult to do. But as currently written, it cannot be overruled by any political leader, no matter how popular he is.
Barack Obama’s inability to understand this is profoundly disturbing:
???You hear some of these quotes: ???I need a gun to protect myself from the government.??? ???We can???t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,??? Obama said. ???Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It???s a government of and by and for the people.???
The reasons given for the exercise of a citizen’s Second Amendment rights are not subject to judgment by Barack Obama, or anyone else. That’s the point of having an “inalienable right.” In fact, you don’t have to give any reason at all, because that puts us on the defensive against the political class – moving us further toward the model of rights as a gift that our rulers may choose to reclaim, if we can’t provide a convincing justification for retaining them.
The President’s portrayal of himself as the avatar of popular will – empowered to do just about anything, because he won an election – is inconsistent with the principles of the American constitutional republic. You may have noticed that nearly every dictator in the world, over the past century, has justified his power on the grounds that the people longed for his wise stewardship. Many of them go through a ritual of sham elections, occasionally resulting in Western media more-or-less seriously reporting that they won 90 percent or more of the “vote.” Pretending that he gives a fig what “the people” think provides dictators with a durable base of power, and has the useful side effect of making dissidents worry that they are outnumbered by loyal supporters of the regime.
Limitless ruling power is not legitimized by victory in popular elections, and from a practical standpoint, it is a hideous fraud perpetrated on the American people to tell them government power is adequately restrained by the menace of angry voters bouncing an overweening politician out in the next election. That’s not a sufficient limit on power, and it grows less satisfactory as the size of government increases, because a given official gains countless new means to purchase his re-election, while each individual transgression becomes smaller in the minds of voters. It takes a lot of political energy to unseat most incumbents. It is not, and never has been, good enough to reassure voters that politicians fear their wrath too much to trample their rights.
And in any event, that possibility would hardly provide protection for the minority against the tyranny of the majority. What solace is a person whose position commands, say, 40 percent popular support supposed to take from a promise that he can vote offensive politicians from office? Realistically, it doesn’t even take a 51 percent majority to trample the rights of a minority; a much smaller base of support is good enough, if they are more motivated than those who would resist their demands. Obama’s idea of “government of, by, and for the people” is inherently aggressive – we’re perpetually challenged to put together a voting coalition large and energized enough to thwart whatever he has decided is “for the people.”
The only logical way to avoid that kind of government aggression is to maintain a sturdy constitutional set of absolute, non-negotiable restraints on the power of the State. Those chains must be impervious to rust from any volume of heartfelt tears. If We the People want to modify the Second Amendment to do away with certain classes of weapon, or ban the private ownership of firearms entirely, we have the means to do so. But we should accept absolutely no substitutes for that imposing process.