By Rep. Virginia Foxx
Feb. 1, 2013. The Constitution of the United States of America was written to put in statute the limits of government’s authority over citizens. It does not bestow rights or permit freedoms upon American people. Rather, it delimitates what government of the people, by the people, and for the people can and cannot do.
Since well before our country’s founding, Americans have exercised the right to keep and bear arms, a right formally protected by the ratification of the Second Amendment in 1791. As a lifelong defender of Second Amendment freedoms, I am committed to ensuring that any new proposals considered in Washington do not infringe upon the constitutionally-guaranteed rights of law-abiding citizens.
In the wake of devastating tragedies, well-meaning people feel compelled to “do something” and the government, likewise, to intercede. But good intentions don’t often make good, or constitutional, laws, and they certainly are no match for those set on being lawless.
Many headlines in recent days have documented President Obama’s actions and proposals relating to the Second Amendment. Hundreds of North Carolinians have contacted me seeking clarification about what the President’s executive actions would actually accomplish, and whether they violate the separation of powers.
The President’s executive actions are comprised of twenty-three directives. One order requires federal agencies to communicate with each other better; another requires that a Director be nominated to lead the federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms (ATF) Division within the Department of Justice; and yet another calls for a “national dialogue” on mental health to be launched by the Secretaries of the Departments on Health and Human Services and Education.
These executive actions at face value do not appear to exceed the limits of executive power, nor do they have the capacity to impact honest, law-abiding citizens who currently own or wish to purchase firearms. Thus, these actions on their own are not sufficient cause for declaring a “constitutional emergency.”
The same cannot be said for the ideas behind the President’s legislative proposals which could easily make it harder for law-abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights. But the President cannot enact his ideas independently.
By constitutional design, federal lawmaking is the collaborative responsibility of Congress. As the President’s gun control proposals are introduced and the legislative details they contain come to light, I will scrutinize them from a constitutional perspective.
The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
If the text alone were not explicit, our Founding Fathers clarified the purpose of the Second Amendment. James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 46, “Americans have the right and advantage of being armed – unlike the citizens of other countries whose governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.” And even more applicable to our current situation is this excerpt quoted in Thomas Jefferson’s Legal Commonplace Book which reads, “Laws that forbid the carrying of arms… 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…”
The rush to action in the wake of tragedies sadly heaps the price of criminal wrongdoing onto law-abiding, responsible gun owners. When such is the case, government flirts with construing the desire to exercise Second Amendment rights as suspect behavior, it deems some Second Amendment utilities as superior to others, and it ignores the root causes of mass violence focusing instead on the means by which violence is accomplished. Those mistakes must never be made. Federal proposals must be well-thought, data-driven, and constitutionally sound.
The right to keep and bear arms is not one for hunters and sportsmen alone. For centuries, it has been a right for every American citizen to arm themselves to defend their property and the people they hold dear. And it is a right that cannot be infringed.