Guns & government: Don't allow tragedy-exploiting "progressives" to shoot up the Constitution
If you've listened to President Obama and Vice President Biden talk about guns over the past month, you've heard them express a decided commitment to use the powers of the federal government to maintain safety in the United States. You also have heard congressional voices from politicians in both parties condemning violence and promising to do something about it.
This sounds very caring and inside the wheelhouse of what we hire and pay the federal government to do. But it is clearly unconstitutional.
When the Founders created the American republic, they did so by inducing constitutional conventions in each of the original 13 states to ratify the new Constitution. The idea they presented, and the thesis accepted by those ratifying conventions, was that the states are sovereign; they derive their powers from the people who live there.
The purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government of limited powers — powers that had been delegated to it by the states. The opening line of the Constitution contains a serious mistake: “We the People” should read “We the States.” As President Ronald Reagan reminded us in his first inaugural address, the states created the federal government and not the other way around.
Notwithstanding the Constitution's preamble, the states delegated only 16 unique, discrete powers to the new federal government. And all of those powers concern nationhood. The Constitution authorizes the feds to regulate in areas of national defense, foreign affairs, keeping interstate commerce regular, establishing a post office, protecting patents and artistic creations, and keeping the nation free.
The areas of health, safety, welfare and morality were not delegated to the feds and were retained by the states.
How do we know this? We know it from the language in the Constitution itself and from the records of the debates in the state ratifying conventions.
The small-government types, who warned at these conventions that the Constitution was creating a behemoth central government not unlike the one in Great Britain from which they had all just seceded, were assured that the unique separation of powers between the states and the new limited federal government would guarantee that power could not become concentrated in the central government.
It was articulated even by the big-government types in the late 18th century — such as George Washington and Alexander Hamilton — as well as by the small-government types — such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison — that the new government was limited to the powers delegated to it by the states and the states retained the governmental powers that they did not delegate away.
At Jefferson's insistence, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution to keep the new government from interfering with natural rights such as speech, worship, self-defense, privacy and property rights and the 10th Amendment was included to assure that the Constitution itself would proclaim affirmatively that the powers not delegated to the feds were retained by the states or the people.
The Supreme Court has ruled consistently and countless times that the “police power” — that is, the power to regulate for health, safety, welfare and morality — continues to be reposed in the states and that there is no federal police power.
All of this is consistent with the philosophical principle of “subsidiarity,” famously articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas, who argued that the problems that are closest to the people needing government intervention should be addressed by the government closest to those people. Its corollary is that all governmental intervention should be the minimum needed.
Now, back to Obama and Biden and their colleagues in the government. If the feds have no legitimate role in maintaining safety, why are they getting involved in the current debate over guns? We know that they don't trust individuals to address their own needs — from food to health to safety — and they think — the Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding — that they know better than we do how to care for ourselves.
Obama and Biden and many of their colleagues in government are the same folks who gave us ObamaCare, with its mandates, invasions of privacy, increased costs and federal regulation of health care.
They call themselves “progressives,” as they believe that the federal government possesses unlimited powers and can do whatever those who run it want it to do, except that which is expressly prohibited.
This brings us back to guns. The Constitution expressly prohibits all governments from infringing upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This permits us to defend ourselves when the police can't or won't. It also permits a residue of firepower in the hands of the people with which to stop any tyrant who might try to infringe upon our natural rights and it will give second thoughts to anyone thinking about tyranny.
The country is ablaze with passionate debate about guns and the government is determined to do something about it. Debate over public policy is good for freedom. But the “progressives” want to use the debate to justify the coercive power of the government to infringe upon the rights of law-abiding folks because of what some crazies among us have done.
We must not permit this to happen.
The whole purpose of the Constitution is to insulate personal freedom from the lust for power of those in government and from the passions of the people who sent them there.
Andrew P. Napolitano, a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at Fox News Channel.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Prime time not kind to Heinz Field
- Starkey: Hockey hypocrites, unite
- Woman’s body found in Mars home
- Penguins veteran defenseman Scuderi’s game looking up
- Steelers offense puts up gaudy numbers in season’s 1st half
- Police: 2 anti-violence organizers beat ex-roomie in Washington
- State police trooper seriously hurt when hit by vehicle in East Huntingdon
- Clairton police rounding up street-level drug dealers
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger, offense must adjust with CB Smith out
- Movie studio owner building in McKees Rocks is $540K in red
- Profit falls at vitamin retailer GNC Holdings in third quarter