My father was a tough guy. He was an Irish-Catholic New Yorker who fought through the Chosin Reservoir battle of the Korean War alongside his fellow Marines. When he spoke, I listened.
As the years go on, the words he left with me make more and more sense. I may not have appreciated it at the time, but he had a way of telling me the things I needed to hear, not what I wanted to hear.
The same can be said for our Founding Fathers. More than 200 years ago, our Founding Fathers were radicals, but the visionary words they left us, the framework of our government and the necessary limits on it, show us that the need to protect and preserve our rights is enduring.
Our Founding Fathers had bold ideas considered treasonous by the British crown. First, they believed their rights were granted by God. No king, no government, no committee in marbled halls could tell Americans what church to worship in, what could be published for the masses to read, or how they could gather. Their mind-blowing realization was that these weren’t privileges that were granted to a select class, or only enjoyed at the whims of a faceless bureaucracy.
These are inherent rights. They are birthrights. They are unalienable. They are sacred and beyond the reach of government. They’re not constitutional rights. They are rights, period.
This audacious realization wasn’t left only to notions of free thought or expression, but the very tangible right to keep and bear arms.
Let’s be clear. The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, tells the government in eight of those, what the government can’t do. The reason, those aren’t privileges granted by a government, but are God-given rights.
Despite Justice Scalia’s opinion in the landmark Heller case, some still claim our Second Amendment is oddly-worded. Those who abhor the idea of private gun ownership love to parse through the commas and clauses, trying to bring a new meaning out of the 27 words that make up the recognition of the limits of government.
But it’s really simple. Critics need only read the words the Founders left us. When it comes to the Second Amendment, they had plenty to say.
“The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes… Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”
– Thomas Jefferson, Commonplace Book (quoting 18th century criminologist Cesare Beccaria), 1774-1776
“The Constitution shall never be construed… to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”
– Samuel Adams
On this Father’s Day, the foresight of our Founding Fathers shows us they knew from what power our rights are derived and told us we would need to carefully guard against government infringements.
We’d be wise to listen still.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.