Top Liberal Constitutional Law Expert: Gun Ownership Is An Individual Constitutional Right As Important As Freedom of Speech Or Religion

To Protect Against Abuse By An Oppressive Government

Professor Jonathan Turley is one of the nation’s top constitutional law experts.   Turley:

  • Is the second most cited law professor in the country
  • Has worked as both the CBS and NBC legal analyst during national controversies
  • Ranks 38th in the top 100 most cited ‘public intellectuals’ in a recent study by a well-known judge
  • Is one of the top 10 lawyers handling military cases
  • Has served as a consultant on homeland security and constitutional issues
  • Is a frequent witness before the House and Senate on constitutional and statutory issues

As Wikipedia notes, he’s also a “card-carrying liberal”:

Professor Turley is widely regarded as a champion of the Rule of law; his stated positions in many cases and his self-proclaimed “…socially liberal agenda…” have led liberal and progressive thinkers to also consider him a champion for their causes, especially on issues such as separation of church and state, environmental law, civil rights, and the illegality of torture. Politico has referred to Turley as a “liberal law professor and longtime civil libertarian.”

So one might assume that Professor Turley believes that the Second Amendment is to protect hunting or militias … and not the right of people to protect ourselves from government abuse.

In fact, Turley wrote in 2007 … in a post entitled “A Liberal’s Lament: The NRA Might Be Right After All“:

For more than 200 years, progressives and polite people have avoided acknowledging that following the rights of free speech, free exercise of religion and free assembly, there is “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Of course, the very idea of finding a new individual right after more than two centuries is like discovering an eighth continent in constitutional law, but it is hardly the cause of celebration among civil liberties groups.

Like many academics, I was happy to blissfully ignore the Second Amendment. It did not fit neatly into my socially liberal agenda.

***

It is hard to read the Second Amendment and not honestly conclude that the Framers intended gun ownership to be an individual right. It is true that the amendment begins with a reference to militias: “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.” Accordingly, it is argued, this amendment protects the right of the militia to bear arms, not the individual.

Yet, if true, the Second Amendment would be effectively declared a defunct provision. The National Guard is not a true militia in the sense of the Second Amendment and, since the District and others believe governments can ban guns entirely, the Second Amendment would be read out of existence.

***

More important, the mere reference to a purpose of the Second Amendment does not alter the fact that an individual right is created. The right of the people to keep and bear arms is stated in the same way as the right to free speech or free press. The statement of a purpose was intended to reaffirm the power of the states and the people against the central government. At the time, many feared the federal government and its national army. Gun ownership was viewed as a deterrent against abuse by the government, which would be less likely to mess with a well-armed populace.

Considering the Framers and their own traditions of hunting and self-defense, it is clear that they would have viewed such ownership as an individual right — consistent with the plain meaning of the amendment.

None of this is easy for someone raised to believe that the Second Amendment was the dividing line between the enlightenment and the dark ages of American culture. Yet, it is time to honestly reconsider this amendment and admit that … here’s the really hard part … the NRA may have been right. This does not mean that Charlton Heston is the new Rosa Parks or that no restrictions can be placed on gun ownership. But it does appear that gun ownership was made a protected right by the Framers and, while we might not celebrate it, it is time that we recognize it.

Indeed, the Founding Fathers’ own words prove Professor Turley right:

What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms.
– Thomas Jefferson

A free people ought not only to be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.
– George Washington

(The Constitution preserves) the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation…(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.
–James Madison.

If the representatives of the people betray their constituents, there is then no recourse left but in the exertion of that original right of self defense which is paramount to all positive forms of government…
– Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist (#28) .

To disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them.
– George Mason

The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed, and constitute a force superior to any bands of regular troops that can be, on any pretense, raised in the United States.
–Noah Webster, “An Examination into the Leading Principles of the Federal Constitution (1787) in Pamplets on the Constitution of the United States (P.Ford, 1888)

The Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.
–Samuel Adams, debates & Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 86-87.

Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are ruined…The great object is that every man be armed. Everyone who is able might have a gun.
–Patrick Henry.

Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who didn’t.
– Ben Franklin

Arms discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as well as property… Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.
–Thomas Paine

Are we at last brought to such an humiliating and debasing degradation that we cannot be trusted with arms for our own defense? Where is the difference between having our arms under our own possession and under our own direction, and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?
– Patrick Henry, 3 Elliot, Debates at 386.

The right of the people to keep and bear…arms shall not be infringed. A well regulated militia, composed of the people, trained to arms, is the best and most natural defense of a free country…
–James Madison, I Annals of Congress 434 (June 8, 1789).

The best we can hope for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.
–Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers at 184-B.

[T]he unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or the state governments, but where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the People.
– Tench Coxe, Pennsylvania Gazette, Feb. 20, 1788.

And – as hard as it might be to believe – Gandhi also railed against gun control by the British in India as taking away the right of the Indian people to defend themselves from abuse by the government.

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  • wunsacon

    Sorry, Carl. Whatever the original aim of the 2nd Amendment might be, the fact is:

    *The Second Amendment has become a Maginot Line!*

    It is an anachronism, a relic from a time when there was musket-vs-musket parity. Worse, the gun zealots focus on the 2nd amendment to the practical exclusion of all else. They hurt their own interests — and everyone else’s.

    There are 4m NRA members. How many of them also support either the ACLU, something similar, or movements like OWS? No, generally, NRA members oppose or even hate those other groups — the very groups that are defending freedom and justice in all the other venues so that we never get to the point of violent revolution.

    As Chomsky pointed out, it’s cheaper for [plutocrats] to brainwash people than station troops on every street corner. The focus on guns — which will never be used until we’ve given up too much of everything
    else — is counterproductive.

    Our plutocrats — an enduring community of interest, not a country club with a fixed group of members — don’t need to remove the gun from anyone’s “cold dead hand”. They just hand themselves oodles of money and foreclose on everyone else.

    • wunsacon

      And, oh, I know someone’s going to retort with: “Hey, if you think rifles are no match for the federal arsenal, explain Iraq and explain Vietnam!”

      Well, let me tell you: the Iraqi and Vietnamese people did not “win” either. For the ones that survived, they “won” the right to rebuild their entire freaking countries from scratch. Is *that* what 2nd amendment “patriots” are going to rely on? Forget it.

      What’s more: the US really did *win* the Cold War. And the conflict in Vietnam was part of its victory. In the same way Russians torched their own resources to deny them from Napoleon, so did the USA deny anyone else the use of Vietnam’s resources. You call that “losing”? Well, my good friend, you’re not Henry Kissinger!

      • wunsacon

        And one more item. Gun zealots tell me all the time that:
        - If you take away guns, people will kill each other just as effectively with cars, blunt objects, etc.

        Well, if that’s reaaaally true, then these statements should be true, too:
        - Patriots don’t need assault rifles to defend us from tyrannical government. All you patriots need are cars and blunt objects. Huzzah! We’re saved.

        - The US Army should save money by issuing blunt objects, instead of rifles.

        Gun lovers seem to lose most of their objectivity and reasoning skills when discussing these issues. So much so that I think the NRA is more “organized religion” than anything. Seemingly rational people lose their marbles when talking about these deadly toys.

        Frankly, I don’t know that I give a damn about guns or gun control. But, I do give a damn about having to listen to really dumb arguments from otherwise intelligent, responsible people (who’s hearts are generally in the right place, too).

        • a.t.

          Your an idiot. Your so one sided it makes you blind. You state all the negative stuff about guns. What about all the times guns were used for good? You don’t bring any of that up because it puts holes in your wanna be elitist mindset.

        • montyjack

          The “if you take away guns then people will kill each other other ways” argument is a bit of a straw man. It’s pretty rare I hear a gun owner make that argument. Generally it’s framed by anti-gun people who claim to be making a pro-gun argument to debunk it.

          It’s technically speaking, true- there’s never been any statistical consensus that gun ownership increases overall violence. But that doesn’t really matter- you’ll never realistically be able to take all the handguns away from the citizens of this country, and that’s what’s being used in the VAST majority of gun homicides. If you want to cut down on gun violence, you should seek to end the drug war and spend those wasted billions on education and social programs for our inner cities. We have a massive disenfranchised segment of our society who feels the only way they can claw their way out of poverty is through a life of crime, and the drug war guarantees they have an endlessly profitable array of merchandise to sell.

          Through programs such as harm reduction and legalization we can increase the well being and the liberty of all of our citizens, allowing all of us to unite rather than constantly be at each other’s throats.

          But that’s not really in the interest of those holding the reins of power, is it? Sound conspiratorial? Not really, it’s just the way things run. Consider this, our current administration which claims to support “common sense gun control such as background checks” has only given the NICS (background check) system 5% of its allotted funding. Joe Biden has said the government won’t bother to prosecute people who lie on background checks because “there’s no time.” Well, perhaps if you gave enforcement of these provisions more than 1/20th of their total funding, you’d have the resources to accomplish that. Lastly, gun owners have been BEGGING for access to the NICS system so that they can run background checks for private sales (the “gun show loophole”) yet they have been denied that. Why? Seems odd that people in favor of “common sense gun control” would fail to take such common sense steps.

          I know you think we’re nuts. I know you think we’re irrational. I grew up thinking the same thing (the bulk of my family works at Harvard). But it’s not true. It’s a lie propagated by the chattering classes that keeps us turned on one another, and it’s as pernicious as other lies such as “gays want to recruit you and they’re all child molesters.” We should seek to unite ourselves, as there is always someone seeking to divide us.

      • Libertys_Ghost

        Afghanistan? You left that one out…I’d love to see you jump through flaming hoops backwards to argue your points again in that context? It’s kind of a moot point though. You obviously are so blinded by your hatred of anything that challenges a “collective” vision that I couldn’t argue against your points better than you already have :-) Does the ACLU support the NRA? I don’t even know…I’m just curious if they have to or if the NRA just has to support the ACLU or how your twisted logic works in these ways? HAHA. And however you want to see it does not really matter. And Iraqi and Vietnamese (to mention just the two you mentioned) did win plenty. You saying it didn’t doesn’t make it fact. You’re wrong. Sorry…someone had to tell you I guess. You ask any Iraqi, Afghan or Vietnamese if they would rather have been fully conquered or “won” the way they did and I think you know what the great majority will answer…they live to fight another day and they understand progeny linkage and the grander battle for freedom as a species…something you have been “educated” to minimize. It’s unfortunate. Maybe someday you will find happiness outside of having to be a productive cog in the grand collective you envision. This hate stuff will be the end of you…just saying.

        We thank you for you support.

    • montyjack

      I’m a so-called gun-zealot. I marched with Occupy Wall Street, I drove 400 miles to march against the gulf war. I’ve spoken out time and again against things like PRISM and ECHELON, against warrantless wiretapping and every other abuse of our constitutional rights.

      Every gun owner I know feels the same. The idea that NRA members somehow hate all the other amendments in the Bill of Rights is a neo-liberal fantasy. Something neo-liberal authoritarians tell themselves to justify trampling our rights just as surely as the neo-conservatives did.

      But here’s the oddest thing- nothing in your comment gives any reason why we should give up our right to bear arms. In fact, you make a very good point- the revolution was fought in large part with privately owned artillery. You’re making the case for the legalization of greater classes of weapons.

      So why the hate on one of our rights? Chomsky’s right- it is easier to brainwash people than to keep them at gunpoint. It’s easier to tell them that it’s not the government that’s their enemy, but their fellow citizens. Those people who own the guns. They’re the ones who are killing your children. We need to take them all away before they kill YOU. It’s for your own safety.

      If you’ve noticed, that’s the same bullshit line of reasoning used to step on the first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments. Surely you opposed that. So, why so willing to throw the 2nd under the bus? There is ZERO statistical consensus gun control laws do ANYTHING to reduce overall violence. There isn’t even a consensus that they reduce GUN violence. All the studies that conclude they do make a point of lumping gun suicides in with gun homicides. There’s a reason for that- a suicidal person will use the most efficient tool for the job. If there’s a gun around, that’s it. Remove suicides from the equation and the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence drops dramatically. And there’s never been a correlation between gun ownership and overall violence.

      So in closing, you’ve made no real points other than “gun owners hate freedom!” which is sickeningly reminiscent of something George W. Bush would say (just replace gun owner with terrorist). But I don’t hate freedoms- any of them. I’m not your enemy. Why do you seek to make yourself mine?

    • montyjack

      I’m a so-called gun-zealot. I marched with Occupy Wall Street, I drove 400 miles to march against the gulf war. I’ve spoken out time and again against things like PRISM and ECHELON, against warrantless wiretapping and every other abuse of our constitutional rights.

      Every gun owner I know feels the same. The idea that NRA members somehow hate all the other amendments in the Bill of Rights is a neo-liberal fantasy. Something neo-liberal authoritarians tell themselves to justify trampling our rights just as surely as the neo-conservatives did.

      But here’s the oddest thing- nothing in your comment gives any reason why we should give up our right to bear arms. In fact, you make a very good point- the revolution was fought in large part with privately owned artillery. You’re making the case for the legalization of greater classes of weapons.

      So why the hate on one of our rights? Chomsky’s right- it is easier to brainwash people than to keep them at gunpoint. It’s easier to tell them that it’s not the government that’s their enemy, but their fellow citizens. Those people who own the guns. They’re the ones who are killing your children. We need to take them all away before they kill YOU. It’s for your own safety.

      If you’ve noticed, that’s the same bullshit line of reasoning used to step on the first, fourth, fifth and sixth amendments. Surely you opposed that. So, why so willing to throw the 2nd under the bus? There is ZERO statistical consensus gun control laws do ANYTHING to reduce overall violence. There isn’t even a consensus that they reduce GUN violence. All the studies that conclude they do make a point of lumping gun suicides in with gun homicides. There’s a reason for that- a suicidal person will use the most efficient tool for the job. If there’s a gun around, that’s it. Remove suicides from the equation and the correlation between gun ownership and gun violence drops dramatically. And there’s never been a correlation between gun ownership and overall violence.

      So in closing, you’ve made no real points other than “gun owners hate freedom!” which is sickeningly reminiscent of something George W. Bush would say (just replace gun owner with terrorist). But I don’t hate freedoms- any of them. I’m not your enemy. Why do you seek to make yourself mine?

  • charlieprimero

    Please stop promoting the Neo-Con Orwellian backwards meaning of the word “liberal”.

 

 

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