Sunday, March 24, 2013

Why the Constitution Matters

In the endless name-calling and emotionalism that characterize our national “conversation” about the role of guns in our culture, we generally seem to be talking past one another.  Those horrified by the outbursts of mass murder like those at Newtown and Aurora are motivated by a determination to eliminate future incidents like these.  Those defending gun ownership rights are motivated by a determination to prevent an erosion of constitutional guarantees.  These differing points of view were on display in the recent exchange between Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) regarding Sen. Feinstein’s proposal to ban “assault weapons.”

Here Sen. Cruz focuses on constitutional rights, while Sen. Feinstein focuses on the human cost of murderous gun users.  Those proposing tighter gun controls administered by the state always pay homage to the Constitution; those resisting these proposals always acknowledge the bloody toll guns can levy.

What drives both positions is respectable and defensible.  But as a matter of public policy they are not both based upon our founding principles, and that is all the difference.

Liberals and other adherents to the Church of the All Powerful State no longer subscribe to those founding principles, which are stated in the Declaration of Independence and enacted with respect to the institutions of government in the Constitution.  Instead they have come to believe that the purpose of government is to “help people,” and so they seek to make the words and articles of the Constitution conform to this heterodox philosophy.

The founders believed that God, not man, was the source of all human rights and responsibilities.  Thus “all men are created equal . . . endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, [which include] Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  Because each human is equal in God’s eyes, no one of us can have more or less sovereignty as citizens.  Government’s role is to “secure these rights,” and it can only “deriv[e] [its] just powers from the consent of the governed.”

Establishing such a government took two tries.  The first, set up under the Articles of Confederation, was crafted to drastically limit its powers to preclude a return to the tyranny the Americans had just thrown off; it turned out to be too weak to actually secure the natural rights of the citizens.  So we tried again, and with the ratification of the Constitution between 1787 and 1790, we founded a government with the right balance of powers to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

The Constitution was carefully designed to grant the federal government only those powers explicitly spelled out in its pages.  The 9th and 10th amendments—key elements of the Bill of Rights—emphasized this.  “Enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”