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Protecting citizens' rights

| Friday, April 26, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

When considering whether to ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States, a number of the former colonies expressed concern that the proposed new national charter failed to provide enough of a safeguard against the federal government developing into a tyrannical regime trampling the rights of the people in much the same manner as did Great Britain.

Thus was born the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments clearly defining what no future government could take away from “We the People” and placing strict limits on its power.

After first securing our religious freedom, right to free speech, freedom to assembly and the right to petition government, the Framers of the Bill of Rights added an enforcement mechanism: the Second Amendment, which states in plain language that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The new nation was born out of armed conflict with what had been the pre-eminent military power of the age. Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the fact that the greatest protection against tyranny was an armed populace.

Today we are engaged in a great battle over whether this firewall against tyranny will stand. At all levels of government, an epic struggle is taking place over whether this most basic American right will survive for another generation. The stakes could not be higher, for if this right is abridged, the ability of the people to defend themselves against their own government will be gone — and it won't be long before the entire Bill of Rights is consigned to the dust bin of history.

The United Nations recently approved an Arms Trade Treaty. This gun ban, were it to be ratified, would effectively nullify the Second Amendment. Fortunately, there is virtually no chance the U.S. Senate will ratify the pact. Ratification requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and — if public pressure continues to be exerted — even a simple majority will not be possible.

It is at the national and state levels where our rights face their greatest threat. Acting upon former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's dictum that no good crisis should go to waste, President Obama has shamelessly played upon the victims of the Connecticut school shooting to advance his gun-control measures. It appears the more restrictive of those measures lack the votes for passage. But, rights are more often lost by a continual chipping away rather than by outright taking.

Meanwhile, a number of states — Connecticut, New York and Colorado, most noticeably — have passed restrictive and likely unconstitutional gun-control measures. Federal litigation is sure to follow, and many of these provisions will be struck down. Here in Pennsylvania, where we are known for “clinging” to our guns, new laws are not only unlikely but would violate Article I, Section 21 of the state Constitution, which says the right of the people to keep and bear arms “shall not be questioned.” It would be a violation of a legislator's oath of office — and an impeachable offense — to even introduce gun-control measures.

Thomas Jefferson observed that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” While always true, the need for vigilance and citizen involvement in defense of our liberty have seldom been as necessary and as crucial to the survival of a free nation as they are today.

Lowman S. Henry is chairman and CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.

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