William Schreiber: Ignorance about the Constitution

Published: Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 21, 2013 at 2:16 p.m.

The ignorance of people regarding that most sacred of American documents, the U.S. Constitution, is appalling. This lack of knowledge has again reared its head in the arguments used by the proponents of gun control.

From listening to their faulty reasoning, one would think that the Second Amendment reads this way: “A well regulated hunting season being necessary for the management of game animals, the right of the people to bear hunting rifles and shotguns shall not be infringed.”

However, the Second Amendment says absolutely nothing about hunting or the sporting use of firearms. If those who want to see it repealed would study the thinking of the founding fathers, they would know that the militia referred to in the actual amendment is composed of citizens who provide their own, private firearms. It is not the National Guard or any other government military organization.

Why were the founders so concerned about this? Because they feared the establishment of a large standing army and were afraid of the tyranny that could be imposed by such a force. It wasn't duck hunters and target marksmen who responded to the advance of the British troops, part of a large standing army, at Lexington and Concord – it was the citizenry, armed as free men, who rose to face them. The armed citizenry, the militia, is to be a countervailing force against such a large standing army.

The sad thing is that Americans today have lost sight of the true purpose of the Constitution, which is to limit the power of government, not expand it. It protects us as free men and individuals from abuses by government. Unfortunately, following such tragedies at Sandy Hook, people, ignorant of the wisdom of the Constitution and without truly thinking, will rush to surrender their liberty for security.

Ben Franklin said it best when he remarked that those who give up essential liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security. The greatest danger to liberty lurks in the insidious encroachment of men with zeal, well meaning but without understanding,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

I fear those in power will use the Sandy Hook tragedy to push an agenda far beyond apparent concerns for public safety, knowing that many Americans are vulnerable to appeals for more stringent controls and are ready to jump to support any measure, even ones dangerous to their personal freedom, perceived as “fixing” the problem.

William H. Schreiber lives in Branford.

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