The Second Amendment Is Not a 'States' Rights' Issue, Governor Perry

In the wake of a recent deadly shooting near Texas A&M University, anti-gun advocates have yet again taken the opportunity to position a horrific event as a momentous signal to introduce stricter gun control laws.

Governor Rick Perry quickly responded by laying out his defense of gun rights.  "When it gets back to this issue of taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, and somehow know that's going to make the country safer, it's just that I don't agree with that," he told Fox News.  "I think most people in Texas certainly don't agree with that, and that is a state-by-state issue, frankly, that should be decided in the states and not again a rush to Washington, D.C., to centralize the decision-making."  And a majority of Texans, he offers, "believe that law-abiding citizens should be able to have their weapons."

I would certainly agree about the majority of Texans' firm belief in the right to keep and bear arms.  But as to his claim that the right for law-abiding citizens to "have their weapons" is a "state-by-state issue," my question would have to be: since when?

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads:  "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."  Thus, the right to bear arms is a fundamental right of all Americans, meant to ensure the maintenance of our security and freedom -- not a right that is simply allowed to be granted or denied by individual states.

The problem with Rick Perry's tepid defense of gun rights is that it suggests a troubling reality --  that many conservatives, even one so readily labeled a right-wing extremist by the left as Perry, have relegated themselves to a lethargic defensive state.  The leftist narrative among politicians and pundits has long been that conservatives are ideologues pushing their radical, insensitive agenda upon others, and in conservatives' constant defense against that accusation, they seem to have become conditioned to naturally fall back on the notion of federalism and an invocation of the Tenth Amendment.  In essence, a proclamation that conservatives understand that other people have differing opinions on a given subject, and that states have the right to legislate differently if they so choose.

While this may be a relevant and useful approach to arguing against the federal government's attempts at usurping those "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution," like the federal legislation of same-sex marriage legality or a federal mandate that Americans purchase health insurance, it is a meek and feeble approach to defending our fundamental rights.

Imagine the implications of Rick Perry's claim -- imagine that fundamental rights can be malleable, shaped at an individual state's discretion.  If this were so, New York could choose to outlaw publishing the relatively conservative New York Post in the state, because the fundamental right of free expression is a matter best left to state officials' political whims.  California could bar the doors of any churches it deems contrary to tolerance, Florida could refuse to accept a defendant's right to due process in a court of law, and Arizona would not need to explain lawful reasoning to search and seize anyone's person, because the fundamental freedoms granted by our Bill of Rights are to be applied willy-nilly at the behest this local American constituency or that one.

The right to keep and bear arms is every bit as essential as these other fundamental rights.  In fact, it is perhaps more so.  Americans' "God-given" right to life and liberty is profoundly tied to the ability to defend oneself from assailants and tyranny, both acts which require weapons of a specific potency.  This is why our founders so fervently believed that the right to keep and bear arms is essential to "the security of a free state," and why this right was so conspicuously protected from infringement.

The left, however, often rejects this notion.  This is evidenced by liberal Justice Stevens' denunciation of our founders belief, when he wrote in his opinion on the 2010 case McDonald v. Chicago (which firmly upheld that state and local governments are subject to the same limitations as the federal government in matters of gun control) that "firearms have a fundamentally ambivalent relationship to liberty." 

Logic unequivocally betrays his contention, of course.  If our founders were wrong, and liberty and firearms do indeed have an "ambivalent relationship," what would be the sense of Western powers vigorously arming Libyan rebel forces to help them attain liberation from Gaddafi's brutal regime in 2011?  Even more to the quick, why did Gaddafi maintain such strict gun control laws in the first place, where no private citizens could lawfully own weapons, if not for the simple fact that it would make them more suitable for the oppression he wrought?  Stevens' comment, it seems, is less an observation based upon evidence or reason, and more a proclamation of blind belief. 

And this is the reality that we must accept.  The issue of gun rights, even at the Supreme Court level, is not a debate conservatives enter into with reasonable dissenters.  Reason dictates the necessity of gun rights, as our founders knew and as history shows. Furthermore, murder rates, despite the incessant claims of anti-gun advocates, bear little direct correlation with a population's level of gun ownership unless the data is skewed to suggest that it does. 

The left does not arm itself with reason or facts, though.  It arms itself with nothing more than the ideological intent to compromise a fundamental right promised to us in our foundational contract by which we choose to be governed.  So when confronted by those who would rob the American people of the means by which they are able to protect their right to life and liberty, how can we be so timid as to say that such efforts are anything other than an egregious and unacceptable assault against freedom, and declare that it will not stand? 

The right of Americans to keep and bear arms is not a "state's rights" issue, Governor Perry.  It is a fundamental right of all law-abiding Americans -- and it is not, nor was it ever intended to be, negotiable.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.

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