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Not Given, Not Granted: Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms

Many gun rights activists unwittingly do harm to the movement by referring to gun ownership as their “Second Amendment rights.” While this phrase may be used with good intentions, it is not only incorrect to refer to the amendment as “giving” us rights, but it actually gives gun control advocates a strategic path to erode our natural rights by attacking the meaning of the amendment itself.

The “Second Amendment rights” phrase infers that we can keep and bear arms because the Second Amendment says so, and only because it says so. Put another way, if it weren’t for the Second Amendment, the federal government would have the authority to restrict our ownership of firearms. Not because it says anywhere in the Constitution, mind you, but because there is no clause restricting the federal government.

This runs counter to the original intention of the Founders who penned the Constitution, which intended for a limited government with only expressly delegated powers.

The phrase “Second Amendment rights” also implies that if the amendment was revised or changed, then our ability to keep and bear arms could be altered, as well. Or, if the Supreme Court reinterpreted its meaning, a legal tactic not unknown to our modern-day ephors.

The truth is we don’t need the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms anymore than we need the First Amendment to attend a worship service. Our rights are an innate part of our humanity.

And even if those amendments were to be changed on paper, our rights would remain intact, regardless.

As the Declaration of Independence states, our rights are endowed by our Creator. Not the federal government. These rights are also unalienable. No government has the legitimate authority to take away rights except when the person is violating another person’s rights.

The other problem with the “Second Amendment rights” perspective is that it requires the person to admit that Americans had no right to keep and bear arms before 1791, when the Bill of Rights were ratified. 

Again, this causes a flawed understanding of the first ten amendments to the Constitution. They were not written to provide a list of activities citizens were permitted to do by their government. If this had been the case, they would be called “privileges.” People do not need to ask for permission to do something they have a right to do.

In fact, anti-federalists initially opposed such amendments to the Constitution because they were afraid that including them might later be construed as placing limitations on the people, rather than the federal government. Because it was a limited list of rights, it might have led to the argument that those rights are the only rights people had.

The Ninth Amendment was specifically included to prevent this misunderstanding. 

Instead, the first ten amendments to the Constitution articulate rights citizens already had. This includes the right to keep and bear arms, in order to prevent the feds from ever claiming it has the authority to restrict our access and ownership of firearms.

The preamble to the Bill of Rights says, in part,

“The Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution….”

In Federalist 28, Alexander Hamilton refers to the “paramount” right of self-defense against tyrannical governments. The essay was written to convince Americans to vote in favor of approving the proposed Constitution, which hadn’t been ratified yet. Neither had the Second Amendment. 

Thus, Hamilton was referencing a right that already existed.

So let the use of “Second Amendment rights” cease, along with all misunderstanding on the part of gun right activists. Second Amendment or not, we don’t need the government’s permission to keep and bear arms.