Land: Citizen's right to bear arms undeniable
Posted on May 14, 2002 | by Dwayne Hastings
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--American citizens have the constitutional right to keep and bear arms, a Southern Baptist public policy expert affirmed May 13.
Richard Land said it was a 1939 Supreme Court decision centered on the government's right to ban sawed-off shotguns that institutionalized the faulty view that the Second Amendment pertained only to the states' right to organize a militia. The Clinton administration and others made the argument that the nation's founding fathers intended for the right to keep and bear arms to refer only to a state militia or National Guard before them, he explained.
"There has been a long-term assault on your Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms," continued Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and host of the nationally syndicated radio program, "For Faith & Family."
"Our forefathers understood that a free people had to be able to defend themselves against the government which seeks to gather more and more power to itself and wants to disarm its citizenry," Land said. He expressed appreciation for the Bush administration's calls to the U.S. attorney general and solicitor general to argue for a reversal of the specious argument before the Supreme Court that denies individuals the right to own firearms.
The Justice Department told the Supreme Court May 6 that the Constitution's Second Amendment "broadly protects the rights of individuals" to own firearms.
"The right to keep and bear arms is an individual right," Land said. "It is your constitutional right as long as you are a law-abiding citizen."
In a May 9 Washington Post story, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh affirmed Land's perspective, saying the Bush administration's view is "tremendously orthodox." He said the "individual rights" view of the Second Amendment was the "only view around until the early the 1900s," falling out of favor in the 1930s.
Land said the Bush administration's move to secure the people's right to keep and bear arms is a "tremendous step in restoring your Second Amendment rights under the Constitution." He said Solicitor General Ted Olson's plea before the Supreme Court is "absolutely essential to the defense of our liberties in the U.S."
"It is a ridiculous and dangerous argument that says the Second Amendment is referring only to the armed forces of the United States," Land said. "The Second Amendment protects the right of individuals."
He said the nation's founding fathers understood the need for the Constitution to secure the individual citizens' rights against government encroachment.
"Examined in the context of history, the framers of the Constitution would not have dared to prohibit individual citizens from owning guns. This was a citizenry that had just freed itself from the tyranny of a power-hungry government -- England. It is inconceivable that they would have submitted to a new governing authority that demanded they turn in their weapons," Land explained.
The militia was defined as every able-bodied man between 17 and 45, and now would probably include women within that age range, Land said. When the militia was called up, they were expected to have their own firearms, he continued. "The Minute Men showed up with their own weapons and ammunition to resist the British at Concord and Lexington," Land said, explaining, "The militia are the people, not just the National Guard."
Quoting from an April 22, 1775, letter by a British officer to Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, that describes an encounter with the Minute Men, Land noted the letter said the British regiments came upon a "body of the country people drawn up in military order, with arms and accoutrement, and, as appeared after, loaded" as the British were moving "to seize the two bridges on different roads beyond Concord."
These were volunteers who would be ready at a minute's warning to take up arms to protect their families and their liberty, Land continued. "This was not a standing army. These were farmers and shopkeepers who zealously guarded their right to keep and bear arms," he said. "There is no question that our Constitution's framers likewise sought to preserve this right in the Second Amendment.
"I am grateful we have an administration that puts Americans first and the defense of our rights over what some gun-control activists want," Land said. "We must expect assaults on the tremendous freedoms that we enjoy as Americans. It is the nature of government and of people who want power."
This does not mean everyone has the right to keep and bear arms, he noted. "If you are a lawbreaker, have served time as a prison or can't be trusted with the judgment and responsibility of having firearms, there are laws in place to restrict your possession of guns.
"Yet for all but a few Americans, we need to understand that the right to keep and bear arms is essential to our protection and our liberty," Land said. "It is a right enshrined in the Constitution."
Weapons can be dangerous if they are not handled properly, Land admitted. But blaming a gun for killing someone is like blaming a fork and knife for someone's obesity, he said.
Gun owners must practice proper safety measures when handling or storing their weapons, Land said. "Guns are not the problem; it's people who use guns improperly," he said. "We have laws in place that if properly enforced will take guns out of the hands of criminals."
Land suggested that such firearms as sawed-off shotguns might not be constitutionally protected weapons because their sole purpose is to allow the concealment of a powerful weapon that can be used at close range to harm or threaten people. "It doesn't have any military significance," he added, saying as well that individuals should not necessarily have the right to own artillery pieces, howitzers or machine guns. He said ownership of these weapons should be addressed by state or local governments and not by the courts or the federal government.
"The right for individuals to keep and bear arms is guaranteed in the Constitution," Land said. "The government ought to have to prove its case when it wants to take away a particular kind of weapon from you or restrict your right to own that type of weapon. The burden of proof ought to be on the government, not on the citizen."