"We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain Unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
Virginia was a crucial state in the ratification process of the new Constitution. Mason and Madison refused to sign off on it unless the rest of the Convention agreed "at the earliest practable date" to include a Bill of Rights as amendments to the original document. It was so agreed, which allowed the ratification process to proceed. In 1789, it was done and the United States of America was in business. Two years later the Bill of Rights (the first 10 Amendments) were added to the Constitution.
Mason and the others knew instinctively three fundamental principles about any government institution. The first is that government administrations are not necessarily humane when there is a competition between efficiency and peoples' rights.
Secondly, rights not specifically spelled out are not "inalienable" which, by definition, means "not to be separated, given away or taken away." Thirdly the most dangerous enemy of the people is not foreign armies, but the government itself! Activist judges, venal legislatures and power hungry executives are far greater threats to the peoples' rights.
The provisions of the "inalienable rights" spelled out in the Bill of Rights have largely gone unchallenged. They had never been limited until the District of Columbia passed a law some 31 years ago making it illegal in the District for anyone to possess a handgun in their house unless it was disassembled or otherwise made unusable. This is a clear contravention of the Second Amendment's provision that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
A lower court recently found that the D.C. law was such an infringement, but the lawyers for the District determined to destroy the Second Amendment rights of the entire country by arguing that the Second Amendment has been misinterpreted for all these years. They argue that the meaning of the amendment is that only government-run military organizations (in early days militias, and today National Guard units) and not the people themselves fit the definition.
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but on the narrowest of grounds. It seems that the court understands the meaning of "inalienable rights." The court will only hear arguments that the D.C. law does or does not violate the Second Amendment and not the reverse.
The Second Amendment is second only to the First Amendment, which guarantees freedoms of religion, of speech and of assembly. It is second in the Bill of Rights not by accident but by design. In the final analysis, only the peoples' right to keep and bear arms offer the ultimate protection against all enemies foreign and domestic. We must not let that ultimate right be diminished in any way.
Donald Currier is a Smithsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail./