The 2nd Amendment's Greater Meaning

Karen Testerman was a guest this past Saturday at the Tri-Rivers Friends of the NRA dinner in Franklin, which affords us an excellent opportunity to reflect a bit on the US Constitution’s 2nd Amendment and her uncompromising support of it.

In New Hampshire, the politician who would publicly disdain the 2nd Amendment is rare to the point of non-existent. The campaign websites for three of New Hampshire’s arguably most liberal candidates – Paul Hodes, Carol Shea-Porter and Anne McLane Kuster – are utterly silent on it. Perhaps wisely so, as the orthodox liberal opinion of gun rights is almost universally negative. Conservative candidates such as Karen happily proclaim their defense of gun rights from the rooftops, and are rewarded with significant voter acceptance. It is a perennial conservative issue.

The reason for this is that the 2nd Amendment has greater sophistication than words on a page. The philosophical foundations of it constitute the essence of American liberty, the very soul of the ardent Constitutionalist. The leftist’s skepticism of individual liberty is revealed in the sorry catalog of his policies, one government-run purgatory after another: health care, housing, energy, education. It is no different with the self-defense of Americans. To limit or even remove the ability of the citizen to arm and defend himself creates a corresponding dependence on the state to defend you, in the form of law enforcement. Although conservatives are second to no one in respect for our police, we insist on the right to determine for ourselves the circumstances of our defense: its timing, its degree, its target, its duration. No one – least of all the orthodox leftist – can appreciate those circumstances better or more quickly than we can.

If these facts seem obvious to us, they would have certainly been obvious to the Framers as well. Why then include the obvious in the Constitution? In the Bill of Rights? Second only to freedom of speech and religion? It is because the Framers understood that the necessity for bearing arms referred to more than just confronting a mugger on a sidewalk. At the time of the Ratification, the first police force in world history would have still been decades away – and on the other side of the Atlantic. Defending against local crimes would not have been nearly as important to them as defending against the abuses of an overreaching government, something with which they would have been painfully familiar. Keeping and bearing arms of at least comparable power to those employed by the state would be the citizen’s last, surest stronghold against tyranny. Such an interpretation of the 2nd Amendment would be in perfect harmony with the letter and spirit of the entire Constitution, the most government-limiting document ever devised.

No one should be surprised that conservatives – with their fondness for rule of law, stability and tradition – embrace the amendment as written and in its larger meaning. The question, rather, is why the left does not. This is, after all, the same crowd which finds constitutional justification for abortion hidden deep in the misty “emanations” and “penumbras” of the Constitutional jungle. Yet they are woefully blind to the high-visibility, reflective surface of the 2nd Amendment billboard standing directly in front of them. There is no escaping the conclusion – they don’t see it because they don’t want to.